Harvest season roadway safety tips

Tractor lighting and visibility
New lighting and marking requirements, set by the U.S. Department of Transportation, sets a standard for any equipment manufactured after June 22, 2017. (Farm and Dairy file photo)

By Chris Zoller and Dee Jepsen

Fall means cooler temperatures, football and farm machinery traveling Ohio’s roadways during the busy harvest season. In addition to the acres of corn silage harvested to feed Ohio’s dairy cows, more than 3 million acres of corn and over 4 million acres of soybeans are expected to be harvested in the next few months.

We encourage you to make time to prepare yourself, your employees/family and equipment for this important task. Review the safety tips outlined in this article.

Roadway safety

Whether it’s moving equipment to and from fields or transporting grain or silage from fields, you will be traveling on roadways. Follow these tips to ensure the safety of everyone.

Before traveling on public roads remember to do the following: lock brake pedals; adjust mirrors for good vision; make sure that all warning flashers, lights, SMV emblems and a speed identification symbol (if applicable) are in proper operating condition, clean and easily visible; check tire inflation pressures; inflate the tires to the maximum recommended pressure for long distance travel; check the wheels to see if the bolts are tight; and make sure the tractor is balanced properly.

When pulling onto a public road, use a wide shoulder if available. If the shoulder is not wide enough, stay on the road. Allow extra time to reach full speed. Tractors do not accelerate rapidly, especially when towing equipment.

When traveling on public roads, make sure to do the following:

• Watch for potholes or obstacles that could tip the tractor.

• Listen for cars. Often vehicles will rapidly approach from the rear at three to four times the speed of the tractor.

• Stay alert at all times to avoid a serious incident.

• Keep a constant lookout for pedestrians, animals, and road obstacles.

• Slow down for sharp curves.

• Slow down when going down a hill.


Vehicles traveling on public roads at 25 mph or less are legally required to have a SMV sign. Equipment traveling faster than 25 mph is defined as a trailer and is not permitted to display the SMV emblem, but must be equipped with turn signals, brakes and lights.

Lighting regulations for slow-moving vehicles vary. Before installing any warning light system on a tractor, check the regulations. Generally, the lighting and marking laws for tractors or self-propelled machines are consistent with the recommendations by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and the Society of Automotive Engineers. Only one vehicle classified as farm machinery may be towed by the licensed motor vehicle.

The ASABE recommends that operators have the following: two headlights; two red tail lamps mounted on the rear of the machine; at least two amber warning lights, visible from front and rear, mounted at the same level — at least 42 inches above ground level; and at least two red reflectors, visible from the rear, and mounted on either side.

The scope of the Speed Identification Symbol standard is primarily to identify farm machinery traveling at ground speeds greater than 25 mph. The SIS also identifies the farm machineries’ maximum speeds. The SIS needs to be visible 300 feet to 100 feet to the rear, used in conjunction with the SMV emblem, and comply with ASABE standards. These emblems are reserved for machinery meeting the definition of “High Speed tractors” as declared by the manufacturer.

Lights and emblems must be clearly visible. If lights or emblems are blocked during towing, attach lights and emblems to the rear of the implements. Most tractors can be equipped with auxiliary connectors allowing implement electrical systems to be plugged into the circuit operating the tractor lights.

Additional information

We encourage you to make safety a top priority on your farm. If you are interested in additional information, including agricultural tailgate safety training resources, visit ohioline.osu.edu/tags/agricultural-tailgate-safety-training-operators-and-supervisors.

(Chris Zoller is an agricultural extension educator and county Extension director in Tuscarawas County, and a member of the OSU Extension DairyExcel team. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460. Dee Jepsen is an OSU extension specialist in Agricultural Safety. She can be reached at jepsen.4@osu.edu.)


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