Every spring and fall, farmers fill roads with tractors, combines, and other farm equipment. Some farm equipment can take up the whole road. That’s why both farmers and other drivers need to pay extra attention this time of year.
It’s legal to drive farm machinery on public roads and it’s often the only way farmers can get from field to field. The combination of slow moving farm equipment and faster cars, however, can be deadly as the time before the two vehicles meet takes only seconds.
If a car is traveling 60 mph and approaching a tractor from behind that is traveling 20 mph, it only takes 6.5 seconds for the car to travel 400 feet and meet the rear of that tractor….….not much time.
This kind of scenario prompted researchers to develop the Slow Moving Vehicle (SMV) sign, a reflective orange triangle bordered with red and mounted on the back of tractors, combines, hay wagons and other farm equipment. The emblem warns drivers to slow down since the vehicle is traveling less than 25 mph, slower than the normal flow of traffic.
Like many safety advancements, the SMV sign was developed in response to statistics that pointed to high traffic fatalities involving farm equipment. In the 1960s, researchers at The Ohio State University noted that almost two-thirds of the highway fatalities involving slow moving equipment were rear-end collisions. Many of these fatalities occurred at night when drivers did not see slow moving equipment on the road until it was too late.
The emblem began as a regular equilateral triangle, but the corners were cut since the sharp points, ironically, became a safety hazard. Testers repeatedly ripped their clothing on the corner of the emblem as they climbed onto a rear-mount tractor on which the emblem had been fitted.
In 1962, design and testing of the emblem was completed and the Goodyear Rubber and Tire Company sponsored initial public exposure. An emblem mounted on the back of a farm wagon, and towed by a Ford tractor, made a 3,689-mile trip from Portland, Maine to San Diego, California. The emblem was then promoted and adopted by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE).
In 1967, The Canadian Standards Association adopted the SMV emblem as a standard and in 1971, it was adopted as a national standard by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Vehicles traveling on public roads at 25 mph or less are now legally required to have a SMV sign. With its unique shape, the SMV symbol has become one of the most recognizable safety signs for equipment worldwide.
Recommendations for motorists
- A majority of farm equipment and motor vehicle crashes occur when the farm equipment operator slows down to turn left and the motorist moves to pass. Before you decide to pass, look for driveways into farms or fields where the farm vehicle operator could be turning.
- When a driver follows too closely to farm equipment, the vehicle might not be visible to the farm equipment operator. Keep a safe distance back.
- Farm equipment operators are not required to drive on the road shoulders. If safe, the operator may pull off to allow traffic to pass.
- Wide equipment may extend into the oncoming traffic lane. Also, make sure the road is wide enough and watch for roadside obstacles such as mailboxes that might cause the equipment operator to drift to the left.
- Farm machinery crossing the road moves slowly and may be pulling equipment that will take longer to clear the road. Don’t try to pass on the left as the equipment may swing out differently than you expect.
- It is illegal to pass farm equipment in no passing zones.
Recommendations for farmers
- Know how wide your equipment is as it could mean the difference between getting to a field safely versus hitting an obstruction, like a bridge and even worse, other drivers.
- Perform an equipment inspection before using public roads to ensure lights, flashers, and signals all work properly and the SMV emblem can be seen.
- Check if hitched equipment obscures lights or signage. The drivers behind you may not realize you’re making a left-hand turn if they can’t see your signals.
- Consider having a pilot vehicle travel with the equipment to warn oncoming traffic and create a buffer between the two. At full speed on rural roads, farm equipment still travels only half as fast as passenger traffic.
- Understandably, you’re eager to take advantage of favorable weather. That’s why farmers often work before daybreak or after sunset — who knows when the next big rain will come? But the combination of fatigue and lack of light can combine to make a dangerous scenario.
What do you think? Have questions? Contact Us!
https://agsci.oregonstate.edu/mycas/section-5-%E2%80%93-appendices/slow-moving-vehicle-emblem; https://fabe.osu.edu/node/1377; https://fyi.extension.wisc.edu/news/2011/04/22/watch-for-slow-moving-farm-equipment-on-rural-roads/; https://ppp.purdue.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/PPP-83-reduced.pdf; https://www.rotochopper.com/resources/origins-of-the-slow-moving-vehicle-sign/;