ANNAPOLIS, MD –Autumn is officially here and harvest season is beginning throughout much of Maryland. The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) reminds motorists that they should expect to see an increase of slow-moving farm equipment traveling on state and rural roads. Motorists and farmers are urged to drive with caution and to share the road.

“Farming is an especially demanding job, both physically and mentally,” said Secretary Joe Bartenfelder. “During harvest season, farmers are working around the clock to get their crops out of the ground so that our families can have the food, fuel, and fiber we need to live our lives. As we head into the fall months, Maryland drivers should stay vigilant for large farm equipment on rural roads. If you encounter any farmers while driving, slow down, be patient, and when safe, pass with caution. Doing so shows your respect for farmers’ safety and ensures we all get to where we need to go.”

Within the United States, agriculture is cited as the most dangerous sector to work in. Harvest season is particularly risky as farmers are busy moving large farm equipment from field to field and farm to farm. With the increased activity on farms, risk for potential injuries and accidents rises. This year National Farm and Safety Health Week runs from Sept. 19-25, 2021, and emphasizes the importance of the health, safety, and wellbeing of all those that work in agriculture.

Maryland is home to 12,429 farms with about two million acres of farmland. The typical harvest season usually extends into late November. A study done by the Maryland Soybean Board found that from 2015-2018 a total of 234 car accidents involved farm vehicles/equipment, with a majority of them occurring between May-October on county and state roads due to a lack of attention.

Farmers are legally allowed to operate farm equipment on public roadways and there are times when farm vehicles must operate on highways. Farming equipment can be large and wide, and will likely share travel lanes while working along adjacent farmland.

If you encounter farm equipment, a farmer understands that your trip is being delayed, so he or she will pull off to the side of the road at the first available safe location to allow you to pass. Do not assume that the farmer can immediately move aside. Road shoulders may be soft, wet, or steep, and this could cause farm vehicles to tip. Shoulders may be unable to support heavy machinery.

More tips for motorists:

  • If you see the slow-moving vehicle emblem (SMV) – the neon orange triangle sign – on a piece of equipment, slow down and increase your distance. This sign warns drivers of vehicles moving under 25 mph.
  • If a farmer has pulled off to the side to allow you to pass, do so with caution and be sure there are no other obstacles in the way.
  • If a farmer cannot pull off to the side, but you feel you must pass, be sure you can do so safely. If you must enter the oncoming lane of traffic, do not pass unless you can clearly see ahead of both you and the farm equipment. If there are any curves or hills ahead that may block your view or the view of oncoming vehicles, do not pass. Do not pass if you are in a designated “No Passing Zone” or within 100 feet of any intersection, railroad crossing, bridge, elevated structure, or tunnel.
  • Do not assume that a farm vehicle that pulls to the right side of the road is going to turn right or is letting you pass. Due to the size of some farm machinery, the farmer must execute wide left-hand turns. If you are unsure, check the operator’s hand signals and check the left side of the road for gates, driveways, or any place a farm vehicle may turn.

Additional tips for farmers operating slow-moving equipment:

  • Install seat belts and rollover protective structures (ROPS) onto your tractor. ROPS, when used with a seatbelt, are 99% effective in preventing serious injury or death in the event of a tractor tip.
  • Before moving farm equipment, make sure the SMV emblem is displayed and warning lights/flashers are working. Adjust mirrors and ensure equipment is working properly.
  • When moving equipment, try your best to avoid traveling during high-traffic times. Travel during the day when there is more visibility and when the weather is clear.
  • On the road, drive slowly and stay alert for obstacles and other motor vehicles. Make sure to always use turn or hand signals when making directional changes. When another car approaches behind you, pull off to the side of the road to allow them to pass whenever there is a safe spot to do so.

For more road safety tips, please visit the Maryland Soybean Board’s Find Me Driving campaign website. For further details on National Farm and Safety Health Week, please visit the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety’s website

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