The four-color photo on the front page of the local daily paper immediately caught my eye, but not with a reaction the editors desired.
The picture, taken during a local festival parade, showed a little boy, probably about 4 or 5, perched between his father’s legs on the seat of an antique John Deere. The pair were driving the tractor as a parade unit.
I’m sure the photographer and editor saw a killer combination: a cute kid and dad bonding aboard an antique tractor. I saw a killer accident waiting to happen.
Ironically, the photograph was published Sept. 16, the start of National Farm Safety and Health Week.
If there’s only one seat on a tractor, there should only be one rider. No one riding on the fender. No one standing on the wagon tongue. No one else in the operator’s seat.
I was raised on a farm and I know many farms ignore this rule. We did. All the time. And I know many homeowners ignore the same rule and hold children while operating their lawn mowers. But as an agricultural journalist, I’ve had the gruesome task of writing about farm injuries and deaths, all because we think it won’t happen to us.
It can. Just this summer in Indiana, a 4-year-old boy died when he fell from a tractor driven by his father. He was riding with his father when the tractor hit a tree, throwing the boy off. The tractor then came free from the tree and hit and killed the child.
The age groups at greatest risk for injury on farms are children around ages 3 to 4 and teens 13 to 14. And tractors are the most common – and most deadly – cause of machinery injuries. In fact, children under 15 account for almost 90 percent of all fatalities due to extra riders.
Many of you will argue for this practice and, indeed, it’s so common, it’s become accepted. In fact, probably every one of you on a farm has been an extra rider at some point in your life. It’s a tradition. We’re careful. It won’t happen to us.
But yesterday I looked at a chart listing causes of recent farm fatalities in Indiana. “Extra rider on tractor fell off” read one explanation. I followed the line over to the victim’s age: 84.
Today, someone must live with the guilt associated with that death.
And in Kentucky, a 16-year-old farm girl – no stranger to tractors and farm work – died when the tractor she was riding as a passenger overturned. She was on the fender when the experienced driver made a pass across the hayfield to stab a bale of hay with an attached hayfork. A wheel ran over the hay bale and the tractor flipped, ejecting the driver, but pinning the teen underneath.
The saddest part is that these accidents can be prevented. Tractors are not passenger vehicles. One seat? One operator.
The National Safety Council picked an appropriate theme for the 2007 National Farm Safety & Health Week: “It’s Easier to Bury a Tradition than a Child.” Who will be the one in your family to take a stand against extra riders on your farm and lawn equipment? Will you?
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)