A dangerous near miss happened this morning on a road near you.
A motorist racing to work came around the bend and found a tractor starting to lumber up the hill. Another vehicle was already behind the tractor, but the impatient motorist figured he could overtake both the car and the tractor. Halfway around them, he suddenly encountered an SUV cresting the hill at 60 mph.
The risky, illegal attempt to pass would have ended badly had the alert driver behind the tractor not braked sharply, creating enough room for the impatient one to slide in. Tragedy avoided, but only by a second.
Spring means it's time for farmers to hit the fields. They use public roadways to get there. Because tractors and other farm implements are often large and slow-moving, other motorists must be especially alert as well as patient this time of year. That includes allowing more time than usual to reach a destination and, obviously, obeying all traffic laws.
"At the end of the day farmers and motorists alike want to return home to their families. Safety has to be a top priority for everyone sharing the road," as Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Jim Holte says.
Since 2011, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has recorded more than 1,300 crashes involving agricultural equipment that resulted in 678 injuries and 26 deaths.
In the last five years, the Minnesota Department of Transportation says there have been 688 crashes involving farm vehicles that resulted in 23 fatalities and 348 injuries. Nearly half of the fatalities were an occupant of the farm vehicle.
WisDOT highlights three scenarios of specific concern:
Passing: Certain sections of roads are no-passing zones for a reason. The law applies to you. Please wait until it is safe to pass.
Farmers are advised not to wave a driver forward to pass. While these actions may seem courteous, they send mixed signals and may create a false sense of security.
Turns: Passing a farm implement that is turning can create a dangerous situation. In the case of a left-hand turn, the tractor will cross the passing lane. In the case of a right-hand turn, the tractor may have to swing wide.
Also, the danger is especially great since some older implements require farmers to use hand signals - rather than blinking lights - to indicate a turn.
Tractors that do have mechanized turn signals also typically have two flashing amber or yellow lights on the cab or tire fenders. When a farmer signals to turn, the light will continue to flash in the direction the farmer is turning, but the other light will go solid. For motorists, this is a very important distinction to recognize.
Controlled intersection: When a motorist legally passes large farm equipment within a very short distance of a stop sign or stop lights, this action can dramatically impact the reaction time and braking distance for the farm equipment operator. Farm equipment is much heavier than a normal passenger vehicle which makes having adequate braking distance critical for the operator. The risk of the passing motorist being rear-ended at the stop sign grows.
Spring is here. Due to flood waters, rain and snow, farmers are a bit behind. The onus is on everyone to act responsibly so we can have a safe planting season.