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Harvest season means more farm machinery and equipment traveling on rural roads

It's the time of year to emphasize caution on rural roads, and even many state highways, in the Willamette Valley and around Oregon.

As the area's harvest season unfolds, more and more slow-moving vehicles will be out on the roads. The Oregon Farm Bureau cites this as the busiest time of year in agriculture, as harvests of major crops such as grass seed, berries, tree fruits, clover and wheat move into full swing.

PMG FILE PHOTO - As the area's harvest season unfolds, more and more slow-moving vehicles will be out on the roads.

That means long hours for farmers and their help; and it also can mean a little longer drive for rural-road motorists as they encounter slower, working rigs.

"While driving a slow-moving tractor on a highway is legal and often a necessary part of harvest, it can pose a safety risk without caution, courtesy and patience," said Kristie Glaser, vice chair of the OFB Health & Safety Committee. "We're reminding drivers to slow down, be patient and use caution when encountering a tractor on the road."

Tractors, swathers, combines and trucks working to bring in the harvest will be common sights on public roads as they move between fields and facilities. OFB officials note that farmers do their best to avoid moving equipment during high-traffic times, but during peak harvest, when the fruit is ripe or the hay is at the optimum level of dryness, they often have no choice; they have to get the job done.

OFB produced a short online video to emphasize road-safety concerns. Those concerns have heightened in recent years as traffic has increased on many rural roads.

As driving apps are being used more frequently, more motorists, more than ever, are using rural roads for everyday travel.

"Our rural roads are no longer being used just for getting agricultural products to market; they're now being used as backroad commuting highways," Glaser said. "Too many people underestimate how dangerous it is when you don't slow down or try to pass a tractor recklessly, or even illegally, over a double line or on a curve."

OFB sources estimate that most farm equipment is designed to travel at speeds of no more than 25 miles per hour, and must display a reflective, triangular, orange-and-red, slow-moving-vehicle sign if going out on public roads. A tractor that looks to be far out on the horizon can be directly in front of a fast-moving car within seconds.

"If you're driving 55 mph on a highway and come upon a tractor that's moving at 25 mph, it can take only 8 seconds to close a gap the length of a football field," Glaser stressed. "You'll be right behind that heavy piece of equipment very quickly."

At that rate of closure, the degree of peril should not be surprising.

In Oregon, there are typically 25 to 35 injury accidents involving farm equipment every year.

Oregon Department of Transportation data show that in 2017 there were a total of 42 crashes statewide involving farm equipment, resulting in one fatality and 32 nonfatal injuries. OFB officials stress that spike is significant when juxtaposed to 2013's total of 26 crashes involving farm equipment, with no fatalities and 11 nonfatal injuries.

Of those 42 in 2017, five were in Clackamas County, four in Marion County (including a fatality), three were in Washington County and Yamhill county had one. The previous year saw 45 such crashes, with six in Marion County, five in Yamhill County, four in Washington County and two in Clackamas County.

"It's heartbreaking to hear about injuries or deaths involving tractors that could've been avoided if drivers had simply slowed down, or farmers had taken a few simple steps," Glaser said.

Safety tips for drivers

• If you decide to pass farm equipment on the road, please do so with caution.

• Be watchful of vehicles behind you that also may try to pass.

• If you must enter the oncoming lane of traffic, do not proceed unless you can see clearly ahead of both your vehicle and the vehicle you will pass.

• 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 grade crossing, bridge, elevation 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 implements, the farmer must make wide left-hand turns. If you are unsure, check the operator's hand signals and look at the left side of the road for gates, driveways or a place the vehicle might turn.

Safety tips for farmers

• Oregon law requires a slow-moving vehicle reflector on any machine that travels the road slower than 25 mph. Always point the triangle up, keep the SMV emblem clean to maximize reflectivity, and replace the emblem when it fades, normally every two to three years.

• Mark the edges of tractors and machines with reflective tape and reflectors. Consider installing retrofit lighting to increase visibility.

• Turn on your lights, but turn off rear spotlights when going onto the road. From a distance, spotlights can be mistaken for headlights.

• Be aware of heavy traffic patterns.

• Consider installing mirrors on equipment so you can see motorists around you. Be careful where the mirrors are placed.

• When moving multiple farm implements down the highway, leave enough space between each vehicle for cars to pass.

— Oregon Farm Bureau

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