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Watch out for farm equipment on the road

As harvest season is upon us, drivers of passenger vehicles as well as farm equipment need to beware of each other on public roads.

The combination of slow moving farm equipment and passenger cars poses a hazard for drivers not driving attentively and defensively.

Vehicle drivers must remember that farm equipment is big, slow and not very maneuverable therefore extra caution is needed when approaching or following farm equipment.

A majority of farm equipment and motor vehicle crashes occur when the farm equipment operator slows down to turn and the vehicle driver moves to pass. When you pass farm machinery, make sure the driver is not about to turn left.

Before you decide to pass, look for driveways into farms or fields where the farm vehicle operator could be turning. Also, make sure the road is wide enough and watch for road-side obstacles such as mailboxes that might cause the equipment operator to drift to the left.

In addition, make sure that you have enough time and distance to pass safely. It is illegal to pass farm equipment in no passing zones.

Farm equipment operators also need to be cautious when on the road. Replace broken lights, be sure the slow moving vehicle (SMV) sign is visible and adjust mirrors to see as much as possible. Try to avoid moving equipment during high traffic periods such as when people are going to or from work and during the weekend high traffic periods.

Cheryl Skjolaas, University of Wisconsin-Extension agricultural safety specialist offers these tips and reminders for people driving cars on rural roads:

• Farm machinery that goes less than 25 miles per hour (mph) should display an orange 'slow moving vehicle' or SMV emblem on the back. Alternatively, the equipment may have an amber strobe light.

• An automobile traveling at 55 mph will catch up quickly to a piece of equipment going 25 mph or less. That means automobile drivers should slow down as soon as they see farm equipment on the road ahead.

• The farm vehicle operator may not be able to see around the equipment, so don't assume that the operator knows you are approaching.

• Farm equipment operators are not required to drive on the road shoulders. If safe, the farm machinery operator may pull off to allow traffic to pass. Sometimes, wide machinery will need to move completely onto the road to avoid a mailbox or some other roadside hazard.

• Some wide equipment may extend into the oncoming traffic lane.

• Farm machinery may not have brake lights or turn signals.

• Farm machinery crossing the road moves slowly and may be pulling equipment that will take longer to clear the road.

Drivers of farm equipment and passenger vehicles need to respect each others' right to the use of public roads. Each need to drive defensively and be alert at all times to each other.