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Empire Farm Days

A tractor displays a slow moving vehicle emblem at Empire Farm Days in Seneca Falls in 2016.

There seemed to be an increased number of passenger vehicle collisions with farm equipment reported in the news this past fall into early winter. While there are any number of reasons for this from the motorists' viewpoint, many can be attributed to the late fall harvest season, with some farms still working to get crops harvested. Given the unusually wet fall, farm fields remained too wet to get harvest equipment into the fields, and once fields could handle the machinery, farm crews worked almost around the clock often moving large, slow-moving farm machinery at night.

As more farmland transitions out of production into rural residences and farms grow in size, farms are moving machinery and hauling their equipment many miles to different locations in order to farm. This means driving large equipment on highways, and even through towns and villages.

According to the National Safety Council, about a third of farm tractor-related deaths occur on public roads, with nearly 80 percent of the tractor vehicle collisions happening during daylight hours and on straight dry roads.

Recognizing that slow-moving vehicles such as farm tractors and some construction equipment are now designed to and are able to travel at higher speeds, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed bipartisan legislation that raises the speed slow-moving vehicles can travel from 25 miles per hour to 35 miles per hour.

In use since 1971, the hopefully now-familiar yellow-orange triangle indicating a slow-moving vehicle still needs to be displayed, as it warns others on the road that the vehicle displaying the sign is traveling slower than the normal speed of traffic. Our scenic two-lane rural roads in upstate New York wind through some breathtaking scenery encompassing farms, forests and vineyards, as well as views of the lakes. Due to recent population growth in some traditional farm communities, more traffic travels at higher speeds on rural roads that were never intended for this type of driving.

The motoring public has a responsibility to slow down as soon as farm equipment is seen, especially any displaying the slow-moving vehicle emblem. A car traveling 55 mph will need about 225 feet to stop on dry pavement; when the pavement is wet or has less-than-ideal conditions, more distance and time will be needed to stop. If you do not slow down as soon as you see a slow-moving vehicle, you may not have time to avoid a collision.

According to an Oregon Farm Bureau Rural Road Safety brochure, the more likely circumstance for an accident to occur is when a farm vehicle is preparing to turn left. The motorist incorrectly assumes the tractor is stopping on the side of the road or turning right, when the tractor driver is actually swinging wide to be able to line up with a driveway or field access point.

Some safety tips for sharing the road with large slow-moving vehicles include:

• Driving defensively, especially during planting and harvest seasons

• Slowing down as soon as you see the slow-moving vehicle emblem and then staying back 50 feet

• Only when it's safe to pass, doing so carefully, and maybe with a brief honk of the horn to let the tractor driver know you are there

• If you meet a large vehicle coming in the opposite direction, prepare to pull over a little

• Being patient and checking for turn signals indicating if the driver is preparing to turn

Did you know it is illegal in New York to put slow-moving vehicle emblems on stationary objects, such as mailboxes or driveway posts? These signs are an important warning to motorists to slow down, as they are approving a vehicle that is operating at a reduced speed. They are not intended for marking objects.

When sharing the road with slow-moving vehicles, be aware that some farm equipment operators may have poor visibility of the road due to the loads they are carrying, and any equipment in tow may sway. Animal-powered vehicles are also required to use slow-moving vehicle signs. Drivers should be alert for any unanticipated moves, as well.

As they can, operators of farm equipment causing traffic holdups will try to pull over when safe, and let traffic pass. Motorists who are cautious and patient when sharing the road with farm equipment and other slow-moving vehicles will avoid an accident, thus insuring everyone arrives safely to their destination.

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Judy Wright is the senior agriculture specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County. For more information, visit or call (315) 539-9251 ext. 109.