It's that time of year when farmers utilize the roadways for moving equipment from field to field to get the crops in before the winter weather arrives.
"It's the beginning of the harvest season in the county, and motorists need to be more alert than ever of their surroundings during this time of year," Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton said. "Farmers have been practicing safety for years, and are very good about equipment safety and obeying the rules of the road."
Massive farm equipment often take up more than a single lane even if the operator is driving as close to edge of the shoulder as possible. This, along with more traffic, makes traveling the narrow roads in the rural areas dangerous for both farmers and motorists.
Each year, several accidents occur in Indiana between vehicles and farm equipment, particularly during the fall harvest season.
"We had an accident involving a motorcycle and farm equipment earlier this year, but it was a simple accident," Sheriff Heaton said.
In early June, a motorcyclist traveling eastbound on U.S. 40 drove into the back of a Growers Co-op sprayer turning into a field on the south side of the road. Both the driver of the motorcycle and the driver of the sprayer were properly operating their vehicles at the time and speed was not a factor in the accident, but it is an accident that proves motorists need to drive with caution, according to Sheriff Heaton.
"Farmers biggest problem is driver patience," Growers Co-op Manager Jim Mishler said.
Courtesy and patience are important factors for both operators and motorists during the safe transport of agricultural equipment. Equipment operators generally pull off to the side of the road in order to let traffic behind them pass, but increasing traffic levels in agricultural areas makes this difficult.
"People need to realize that farm equipment is bigger, slower and harder to move around than a car. They need to be patient and wait for a farmer to find an area along the road to pull over," Mishler said.
When meeting a steady stream of oncoming vehicles in rural areas with poor visibility due to tree-lined county roads or winding roads and hills, an equipment operator may continue on rather than risk partially pulling off to the side of the road than risk having motorists pass when oncoming traffic may be approaching at high rates of speed.
Sidebar: Traveling? Watch out for farm equipment
The following are a few points to consider while traveling during harvest season.
- Slow down, excessive speed on rural roads is dangerous. In Clay County, the road grades, curves and bridges can limit a motorist's view of what lies ahead on the road, impair their ability to stop if they unexpectedly come upon agricultural equipment and reduce the reaction time an equipment operator has to get out of the way if they meet a oncoming vehicle.
- Use caution when passing farm equipment. Don't assume an equipment operator knows that a motorist is waiting behind them. Visibility behind harvesters and tractors pulling wagons is very limited at best. Farm equipment usually make wide turns, and while some of the newer equipment may have turn signals, much of the older equipment will not.
- Watch for lights and Slow Moving Vehicle(SMV) Triangles at night. Not all farm equipment is moved during daylight hours as farmers rush to get the harvest in. Many different configurations of lights or reflective markings are used by farmers during the transport of equipment during evening hours in an effort to get motorists attention. If a motorist sees a pattern of lights ahead that are not immediately recognizable as a car or truck, the motorist should slow down.