Keeping farmers safe on the road

SMV signs in use
A farmer operates a tractor on the roadway with two SMV signs visible.

Six seconds, 44 feet.

If you are driving a car down a rural road at 55 mph, come over a rise or around a curve and 500 feet ahead of you is a tractor or buggy going 5 mph, you will be 44 feet from the rear of that tractor or buggy in six seconds.


Slow Moving Vehicle sign saving lives for 50 years

New standards for farm equipment visibility

Speeds and distances will change the seconds and feet a bit, but each player in these potential tragedies have responsibilities to uphold to keep everyone safe.

Nearly everyone who has driven farm machinery on the road has a horror story about another driver that has run them off the road, tried to pass them when they were turning left (with signals), or has actually been hit.

These drivers (also known as idiots) are a hazard to themselves and others and ought to be off the road. They are usually given a variety of creative names by the tractor and equipment operators they try to pass or hit.

Distracted drivers

Now we have to add technologically-distracted driving to the list.

Drivers busy with their phones, texts, snapchats or whatever can quickly create a six-seconds scenario.

The guilt for this condition cannot be laid solely at the feet (or hands) of the “other driver.”
It could be that it is the driver of the farm equipment that is on the phone or using some other gadget when their sole focus should be on driving their equipment safely.

In this case, the farm owner or management team has to set and enforce some rules.

Should employees be on the phone while they are driving down the road or running equipment in the field? Can they play music loudly or use ear buds? If they have loud music or ear buds, can they hear equipment malfunctions?


In addition to making and enforcing rules for the operation of our machinery and equipment, it is also our responsibility to make sure that we are driving machinery, equipment and wagons that are properly marked so that they can be seen when on the road.

Slow moving vehicle (SMV) signs should be permanently attached to tractors and equipment and every farm ought to have a couple extras that can be clipped onto any piece of machinery or equipment that is going over the road.

Driving and operating equipment at night creates its own set of problems. In addition to the daytime issues, some equipment may be more challenging to see in the dark.

Even with equipment that comes with sufficient lighting, make sure all bulbs work and lenses are clean of dust, dirt and manure.

Loaded hay wagons can be very difficult to see in the twilight hours even with an SMV sign as the hay typically blocks any rear truck or tractor lights.

If you have to be on the road, supplement the SMV sign with some flashing lights. Battery operated flashers that can be stuck (with a magnet) or hung on equipment for temporary use are available at farm supply stores.

SMV signs fade

Replacements are available in farm supply stores and through mail order catalogs.
$10 for replacement stickers for the faded sign can be considered a part of your estate plan.

Driving well marked machinery, equipment and wagons can keep our families from having to implement our estate plans earlier than expected.


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Dianne Shoemaker is an OSU Extension field specialist in dairy production economics. You can contact her at 330-533-5538 or



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