Tractor safety not just for farmers

Jacqui Becker

October is one of the most dangerous times on Iowa’s roadways as motorists and farmers share the roadways.

“The idea of October is it’s the big harvest month,” said Chuck Schwab, ISU Extension safety specialist. “It is also the same time for higher traffic of motorists with all the sports activities during October, weather and just more people driving around.”

Jim Polish, Iowa Farm Safety Council president, said farm safety isn’t just for farmers. “It affects anyone who knows people on the farm and shares a roadway with them,” he said.

Schwab, associate professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering, identified three reasons why motorists and farm equipment drivers have collisions.

The first, according to Schwab’s study, is identified as a left-turn collision that accounts for 22 percent of accidents. “Agriculture equipment drivers are making left turns and swinging wide to the right,” he said. “Motorists are in a hurry to pass and get struck.”

Rear-end collisions make up 20 percent of motorist tragedies. “Because of the slow speed, motorists going 55 mph have a dramatic closing speed,” he said.

With people hurrying home from work or to their next activity, many lose their patience and feel they own the road, Schwab said.

“In road rage, people don’t have patience and think, `Why do I have to sit behind this tractor?'” he said. “If they do it in rash, they are putting themselves in jeopardy and the individual in front of them.”

People are used to driving, optimizing their driving time and may be too familiar with the road, said Risto Rautiainen, associate director of the Great Plains Center for Agriculture Health at the University of Iowa. “They may not be realizing a combine may be coming around the corner or at the bottom of the next hill,” he said.

Schwab said collisions also occur when motorists want to pass tractors too soon.

“They don’t give enough space to get around and sometimes even cut back in too early and clip equipment,” he said.

Steve Freeman, assistant professor in industrial education and technology, said many farmers feel more comfortable letting rear motorists pass them. “As soon as it is safe for [the driver] to do so, the tractor will pull over,” he said.

Freeman said as Iowa becomes urbanized, sharing roadways can be more of a concern.

“As the state is becoming potentially less of a rural state, it has lots of people coming from the urban area that don’t have experience driving on rural roadways,” he said.

To accommodate, Rautiainen said he sees a solution in teaching youth the importance of sharing the roadways and being cautious drivers during fall and spring seasons.

“We should get this message in their driver’s education books. It should have a good section with nice illustrations showing what to do,” he said.

Schwab gave some advice to motorists sharing roadways with October harvesters. “Take your time, slow it down, take caution and be patient passing,” he said.