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Summer brings farmers to area roads where conflict with motorists is possible

Oregon Farm Bureau

For many farmers in the Willamette Valley, summer is the busiest time of year.

The harvest of vegetables, berries, tree fruits, grass seed, clover, and wheat, among other crops, is in full swing with farmers spending long hours in their tractors.Summer harvest means that sometimes large, slow-moving equipment must travel on public roads to move between fields or from farm to field.

Driving a tractor on a highway is a legal and often necessary part of harvest — but it can pose a serious safety risk for both motorists and farmers without caution, courtesy, and patience.

"We're reminding drivers to slow down, be patient, and use caution when encountering a tractor on the road," said Alexis Taylor, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. "Moving equipment between farms is part of a farmer's day-to-day life, but it can make an already dangerous job even more so. Please, let's give them our attention and respect to keep the roads safe for all Oregonians."

The Oregon Legislature is also poised to pass HB 3213, which will create a pilot program to allow local governments to establish safety corridors on county roads. The bill was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate and now awaits the Governor's signature.

"I was proud to introduce House Bill 3213, the Rural Oregon Achieving Driving Safety (aka ROADS) Act, this session. This bill is going to provide a tool for local law enforcement, counties, and communities to ensure that our county roads and farm roads are safe for tractors and farm equipment, and safe for our rural communities that want to get to and from home safely," said Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis.

Farmers and Marion County Farm Bureau members Molly McCargar and Brenda Frketich were driving forces behind the legislation.

"Our rural roads are no longer being used just for getting agricultural products to market. They're now being used as backroad commuting highways," said McCargar. "Nearly every farmer, and non-farmer, I know who live on River, French Prairie, and McKay Roads have stories of close calls or accidents because of increased traffic. In less than a year, there have been 12 fatalities on McKay Road alone."

"As a farmer, a first responder, a mom, and a community member, I can tell you firsthand that a lack of roadway safety is a very scary, all too often deadly scenario. My hope is that raising awareness around road safety in agriculture, and on these county roads, will save lives," said Frketich.

Besides experiencing a few near accidents themselves while driving a tractor on the road, McCargar and Frketich lost a neighbor and fellow farmer in a deadly crash five years ago. Scott Miller served on the Marion County Farm Bureau Board of Directors and was killed in 2014 when a car rear-ended his tractor, which was pulling a trailer.

"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," said McCargar. "Unfortunately, this is something farmers are seeing more every year."

Indeed, as smartphone driving apps become the norm, more motorists than ever before are using rural roads for day-to-day travel. More people are taking advantage of the growing number of farm stands, u-pick fields, and agritourism events available. Summer is also the time when major construction occurs on interstate highways, like I-5, which can cause drivers to seek alternate routes.As the number of cars on rural roads increases, so does the risk of serious accidents involving tractors.

According to the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT), in 2017 there were a total of 42 crashes statewide involving farm equipment, resulting in one fatality and 32 non-fatal injuries. This is a significant increase from only four years ago; in 2013, there was a total of 26 crashes involving farm equipment, with no fatalities and 11 non-fatal injuries.

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