Drive carefully; planting season means more farm equipment on the roads

WEST POINT—It’s part of the job: Raising food on a farm sometimes entails moving tractors and other equipment on the road.

“During the planting season, it would be daily,” said Hunter Richardson, a King and Queen County soybean, corn, wheat, timber and beef producer. “At least once a day you’re going to be moving something somewhere on the highway.”

As routine as that can become, it takes some awareness and caution for both equipment operators and other drivers. That goes for the late-summer and fall harvest season as well.

“The best thing motorists can do is be alert—because if you see a tractor or other piece of farm equipment ahead of you, chances are good it’s not traveling as fast as you are,” said Jimmy Maass, safety manager for Virginia Farm Bureau.

They typically travel no faster than 25 mph. “Fifteen to 20 is about the standard,” Richardson said.

As with other vehicles that go no faster than 25 mph, farm equipment is required by state law to display a triangular slow-moving vehicle emblem to warn drivers coming up behind the equipment.

It’s equally important to slow down for oncoming farm equipment, because it sometimes is wider than one travel lane.

“The equipment is wide and travels about one-quarter as fast as other vehicles on roads with limited space,” Richardson said. Sometimes an operator must drive partly on the right shoulder of the road but navigate around roadside mailboxes.

“You’re trying to be mindful of the mailboxes and alert to traffic coming toward you from both directions, and it’s a lot to watch out for.”

In addition, farm equipment takes longer to stop, some equipment requires the driver to swing wide to make a turn, and not all pieces have turn signals. In short, don’t follow too closely. Many farmers use the same three hand signals that bicyclists use to indicate when they are braking or turning. And most will pull over when it is safe to let traffic pass them.

“If you do decide to pass farm machinery, use extreme caution,” Maass said. “If the farm equipment is being followed by an escort vehicle, don’t pass that vehicle and get between it and the equipment. Escort vehicles should be treated as part of the equipment.”

Contact Maass at 804-290-1379 or Pam Wiley, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1128.

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