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Drivers warned to look out for farm equipment on the road

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A pair of farm tractors traverse along U.S. 301 between Lucama and Selma in rural Wilson County.

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By Drew C. Wilson
The Wilson Times

Thursday, May 17, 2018

WILSON — Recent collisions between passenger vehicles and farm equipment have put a spotlight on the need for drivers to share the road.

Back-to-back wrecks May 2 and 3 on U.S. 301 resulted in tractors being struck from behind.

“One of the tractors that was hit actually turned over, and that driver is very, very lucky to be alive,” said Alice Scott of Scott Farms near Lucama, where both of the farm vehicles had originated. “The tractor was in his lane, and somebody just plowed into the back of him.”

That wreck, on May 3, near Creech Road on U.S. 301 resulted in the driver being injured.

“He had staples in the back of his head and stitches in his forehead, and he was pretty seriously injured, but it was not life threatening,” Scott said. “I don’t know how he survived it.”

In the May 2 crash, near Oscar Loop, the driver was not as seriously injured.

“My son had just spent three hours in our shop putting two light kits on one tractor that were like over $600 apiece,” Scott said. “The man had got out on 301, and he had gone less than a mile before somebody hit him.”

Scott said the crashes underscore the need for drivers to be aware.

“We do live in a rural area and people are aware that tractors are out there and slow-moving vehicles are out there,” Scott said. “They need to pay attention. They need to respect these vehicles. From our standpoint, I don’t know anything else we can do to make our tractors on the road safer.”

Scott said tractor and equipment drivers are all trained in safety.

“That is something that is repeatedly done,” he said. “Our tractor drivers are taught to move over to let traffic go by if they happen to be on a two-lane highway. Of course, they can’t do that if there are mailboxes. They have to wait until they get to a clear spot.

“Some of our equipment that is very slow-moving, we actually have a truck ride right behind him with flashers on,” Scott said. “I don’t know what else we can do to make it safer, but motorists just need to be aware, pay attention and slow down.”

Sgt. Christopher Knox, of the North Carolina Highway Patrol, agreed.

“We know that the farming industry in North Carolina is a big part of our history, a big part of our economy and important to what we do in our state and it impacts the whole country,” Knox said. “We know that the farm equipment is out there, and we know that the farm equipment will, at times, use the same roadways that other motor vehicles use. Just being aware of their presence is the first step.”

The second step is just looking at the road, Knox said.

“We know that distractions are a part of all of our lives and that from time to time we take our eyes off the road to deal with numerous things that happen within a car,” he said. “And because of a farm vehicle’s nature of being a slow-moving vehicle, they might have seen the vehicle down the road and not known what it was, and when they took their eyes off the road to mess with the radio or to deal with children in the car or look at a phone, we know that they can quickly approach that vehicle because that vehicle is not moving at the same rate that they are.”

Tractors sometimes travel at 25 mph or less. In many cases they have large equipment attached to them that may span wider than the normal lane of traffic.

“We have to be aware that they are traveling from field to field and that we have to share the road with them,” said Maj. Tom Futrell of the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office. “When you see a tractor on the roadway, you should consider that it is a slow-moving vehicle, and you should approach it as if you were approaching a caution light. You should slow down so that you give ample room for the slow-moving vehicle where you are not involved in a collision.”

Futrell said it’s hard for tractors to the shoulder due to the equipment that they have attached on them.

“They could hit potholes or other obstructions on the shoulder, which could cause the tractor to lose control when it strikes those objects,” Futrell said. “They are not able to quickly move to the shoulder to allow other vehicles to pass by. Don’t try to pass in blinded spots where there is no passing indicated. If a farmer or a person operating a tractor starts to move right a little bit, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are allowing you to pass. It could mean that they are getting ready to make a left-hand turn. Before you are passing, you need to make sure that the person who is operating the tractor does visually see you as a motorist before you attempt to make that pass.”

According to Knox, there is no state law telling motorists or farm vehicles how to interact with one another.

“What we would hope is that both units would work together,” Knox said. “It’s something that can be mutually handled. It is something that we feel can be easily handled between the vehicles that meet on the roadway.”

Norman Harrell, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension office in Wilson County, said motorists need to remember that this is a busy time for agricultural operations, and drivers should expect to see farm equipment on the roads.

“In 2003, we had a Wilson County farmer lose his life when a motorist rear-ended his tractor,” Harrell said. “Because most farm equipment is limited in speed, rear-end collisions is one of the more common crashes involving farm equipment.”

According to Eric Rodgman, a database specialist with The University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, the most recent available data indicates that in 2015 and 2016 combined, there were 431 crashes involving farm equipment and farm tractors in the state. During the same period in Wilson County, there were 11 crashes. Statewide, in those two years, 22 crashes resulted in death or a serious injury. Some 293 of the crashes statewide occurred on N.C. routes or state secondary roads. The most common type of wreck was a rear-end collision. Some 111 of those were reported over 2015 and 2016 statewide.

Harrell said that farmers are encouraged to make themselves seen on a highway so motorists can see them and slow down.

“Farmers need to have SMV emblems on the rear of their equipment,” Harrell said. “This is an indicator that the equipment is slow-moving. Farmers should also make sure that all lights are properly working and use them on the highway. Many farmers have added additional flashing lights to their equipment to help the motorist see them.”

“We know that farm vehicles can safely navigate the road along with passenger vehicles,” Knox said. “It can all be done as long as we reduce our speeds, we are looking down the road, we are looking for farm vehicles that could possibly be on the roadways and we know that it something that can be done safely and we can all use the roadways in a safe manner along with allowing industry to continue to prosper in our state.”

The main thing is that we all need to share the roads, Futrell said.

“When we are traveling on the roads, adhere to the rules of the road to ensure that everyone makes it home safely,” Futrell said.

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