Safely sharing the road with farmers

Passing slower moving farm implements needs to be done with caution. Motorists are reminded that it is illegal to pass a farm implement or an agricultural commercial motor vehicle in a no passing zone; when passing in a passing zone, be sure there’s a safe passing distance; and look ahead for other vehicles and for driveways into farms or fields, intersections and road structures that may cause the farm implement operator to change road position.

Cheryl Skjolaas, Extension Agricultural Safety Specialist
Department of Biological Systems Engineering
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Total Time: 5:19

0:12 –  Dangers of sharing the road with farm equipment
1:12 – Things motorists should be looking for
2:33 – Legality of passing farm equipment
2:52 – Common causes of crashes
3:39 – Biggest piece of equipment we might see
4:39 – Tips for success and safety
5:08 – Lead out



Adam Wigger: “Safely sharing the road with farmers”. We’re visiting today with Cheryl Skjolaas with the Center for Ag Safety and Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Division of Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and I’m Adam Wigger. Cheryl, what are some of the dangers of sharing the road with farm equipment?

Cheryl Skjolaas: One is speed difference. As that farm equipment is traveling along, maybe 15-20 miles per hour, and you come speeding along at the 55 mile per hour speed limit, the time difference between the two, you know you cover the distance so quickly, that if you don’t recognize the farm equipment up ahead of you, you may not have time for stopping.  The other one is because of the size and the length of a lot of our farm equipment, they need to change their road position when they go to make a left hand turn. And people will often times, who have been in crashes with farm equipment, say I thought they were moving to the right, so that I could make the move to pass around them, and in reality they were moving to the right so they could make a wider swing to make that left hand turn, and then the individuals have crashed into the farm equipment. So those are two of our really big factors.  

Adam Wigger: What should motorists this season be looking for especially now that it’s warmer out, now that we’re all driving on the highways a little bit more?

Cheryl Skjolaas: Once we start the cropping season, here in Wisconsin, because of our dairy industry, we go throughout the summer and into the fall with a variety of different types of farm equipment. So any time you see a tractor up ahead, or a combine, some piece of farm equipment, you know, immediately think slow down. And just take that time to assess that what is up ahead of you. Farm equipment all is required to have what we call a slow moving vehicle emblem. Its that red and orange triangle that will be on the back of the equipement. And that is an indication that it is slow moving – usually under 25 miles per hour. So when you see that SMV emblem, start slowing down around that equipment. Or if you’re meeting oncoming farm equipment, slow down too, because oftentimes equipment is wider than the lane of travel, and they may be over the centerline a bit. If you slow down, it gives them time to shift their position more to the right. While its legal to travel over the centerline, they need to get over, but you slowing down will give them that added time.

Adam Wigger: Giong off of that, is it legal to pass farm equipment on highways?

Cheryl Skjolaas: It is not longer legal to pass farm equipment in no passing zones. So you can legally pass in a passing zone, but any area identified as a no passing zone, you cannot pass farm equipment.

Adam Wigger: I know you mentioned that a common cause of crashes is when farm equipment turn out so they can make a wider turn, are there any other common causes of crashes or accidents that you’ve seen?

Cheryl Skjolaas: One of the other common causes of crashes is just people misjudging the dimensions of equipment, and thinking that I have room to get around it on this road. And that equipment might have a mailbox that they need to go around, or come upon a bridge or some structure that they need to move, and so you don’t have that space that you need to get around, so really realizing the width of the equipment, but also the length of the equipment, that its not the same as passing a little car – you may have 50, 75 feet of distance that you have to pass. So being able to give yourself enough distance if you do decide to pass. In reality, the speed difference, it’s probably gonna take you a mile or two miles, about three minutes at a time time, staying behind it, is probably the safest way to go.

Adam Wigger: Kind of talking about the dimensions, what might be the biggest piece of equipment we might see on the road this summer?

Cheryl Skjolaas: Our large equipment runs our self-propelled equipment, so our combines, our forage harvesters. We also have a lot of ag equipment in this state due to the canning industry, so the fresh vegetables – sweet corn, bees, pea harvesters. That equipment used to harvest those vegetable commodities is pretty good sized too and we don’t often think about them and the move from one area to another area, often kind of like in a train between the harvesters. Be watching out for that large equipment too.

Adam Wigger: To wrap up, what are some tips that you can give motorists to be better drivers at the same time as farm equipment?

Cheryl Skjolaas: Our best advice for sharing the road is just to slow down. Give that operator of the farm equipment the space, the time on the road – they will be watching for you. Also don’t travel close behind the same as a semi. Its big equipment, their mirrors may not see you in a blind spot, so staying back and slowing down.

Adam Wigger: Thank you so much, Cheryl! We’ve been visiting today with with Cheryl Skjolaas with the Center for Ag Safety and Health, UW-Madison, Division of Extension in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and I’m Adam Wigger.

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