Like most farm kids, I learned to drive long before I was 16. In fact, I was 10 years old when first given the job of driving Daddy’s tractor through the hay field while hired hands stacked square bales on a flat-bed wagon. It wasn’t long before I was driving our farm trucks across fields and pastures and up and down our tar-and-gravel road where only my grandparents and about a half-dozen other neighbors lived. That made it a relatively safe place to learn the rules of the road and how to properly operate a vehicle.
As our son and daughters edge closer to driving age, I find myself already anxious about their safety behind the wheel. I’m not just worried about their own driving skills, but also those who will share the road with them. My husband and I are constantly pointing out bad habits of other drivers, asking our children put these observations in their mental file of “things to avoid when you learn to drive.”
That’s why a recent report titled, “The Worst Drivers in America,” caught my attention.
Missouri was ranked as the ninth-worst in the nation based on DUI arrests, accident fatalities, insurance status and Google search trends of more than 500 phrases such as “get out of a ticket,” “car accident lawyer” and “DUI lawyer.” You can see the full report at www.fltlaw.com.
The report lists 285 DUI arrests and 18 collision fatalities per 100,000 people of driving age in Missouri. Some 14% of the state’s drivers are uninsured, and Missourians looked online for dubious driving-related phrases 154 times per 100,000 searches.
This time of year, bad driving habits are of utmost concern for farmers. They’re hustling to get crops in the ground, working long hours and moving oversized equipment from farm to field. In doing so, they often have to drive down rural roads that barely leave room for a car to pass or navigate bustling four-lane thoroughfares where speeding drivers may not be prepared for slow-moving vehicles.
Roadway crashes involving agricultural vehicles were found to result in fatalities five times more often than non-ag crashes, according to a study by the New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health. More than 80% of the incidents reviewed in the study were caused by collisions of motor vehicles and farm equipment. According to the data, crashes on rural roads occurred most often on straightaways with a grade, likely due to motorists attempting to pass slower-moving tractors or farm machinery.
In 2019, the latest data available from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, there were 193 Missouri traffic crashes involving farm equipment. In those crashes, three people were killed and 64 were injured. In my book, that’s three deaths and 64 injuries too many.
Missouri law allows agricultural machinery and implements to be operated 24 hours a day on state highways provided such vehicles are equipped with the required lighting. A white light must be on the front of the equipment and red light on the rear—both of which must be seen from at least 500 feet away.
Lights aren’t the only things needed for safe travel during this busy time. Make sure your equipment is properly marked with a “slow-moving vehicle” sign and always drive as far to the right as possible. If traffic backs up in areas where drivers can’t pass safely, try to pull over and let the other vehicles go around. Give the proper turn signals or hand signals at least 100 feet before making a turn, pulling onto the road or slowing down to stop. Courtesy to other drivers goes a long way.
For non-ag drivers, it’s important to stay alert if you live, work or commute through an area populated with farm fields—especially during planting season. When you come up behind tractors and other farm machinery, slow down. These vehicles typically run at 15-25 mph, so it takes less than 7 seconds for a car traveling at 55 mph to rear-end a tractor that’s 300-400 feet away. Be patient and wait to pass until you have a clear view of the road ahead. Never pass on a hill or curve.
Collisions commonly occur when a motorist tries to pass a left-turning farm vehicle. A tractor that appears to be pulling to the right side of the road to let you pass may be making a wide left turn. Watch the farmer’s signals closely. Pay even closer attention at dawn or dusk when it’s more difficult to see vehicles on the road.
Traffic safety is everyone’s responsibility. Farm equipment operators and other drivers need to share the road and do their part to prevent crashes from happening. Remember, it’s not only someone’s livelihood at stake. It’s also someone’s life.
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