SHREVE, Ohio – Harold Miller puttered down the road at 25 miles an hour. The lights on his tractor flashed. A slow-moving vehicle sign hung on his empty manure spreader.
And a little red pickup impatiently hovered behind him. Faster, hurry, it seemed to say.
But Miller slowed down, his farm was just ahead.
Miller turned on his left blinker, made sure no cars were coming and began turning into his drive.
But just as his tractor’s wheels went over the yellow line, that little red pickup swooped out into the left lane, picked up speed and attempted to pass the tractor.
Just in time, Miller saw the red flash and forced a hard stop. The pickup rushed by him.
If Miller hadn’t braked, the pickup would have splattered onto the side of the tractor’s rear tire.
If the second scenario had happened, who would’ve been at fault?, Miller asked Lt. Herb Homan last week at a highway safety talk for farmers.
Tricky turns. Turning crashes are tricky, said Homan, commander of the Wooster Post of Ohio Highway Patrol.
Liability depends on who was in the left lane first. Was it the farmer who had already started turning? Or was it the truck’s driver who already started passing?
The burden is on the farmer to make sure it is safe to turn, but the burden is also on the driver to be sure it’s safe to pass, Homan said.
A paved ‘crop.’ Liability questions are cropping up more than ever, Holmes County extension agent Dean Slates told the group of farmers at the safety talk.
Farms are getting bigger, there’s more distance between fields, and inevitably, farmers spend more time on the roads, he said.
“We’re farming the roads now,” Slates said, which is the reason Holmes County Sheriff Tim Zimmerly, Homan and trooper Gary Wolfe met with about 30 farmers at Hal and Nancee Tate’s farm in Shreve.
Frustration builds. “Farming” the roads is frustrating – frustrating for farmers whose tractor creep down the road and for the drivers lined up behind them.
It’s particularly frustrating when some of today’s tractors are equipped to safely drive faster but legally, the farmers can’t press the gas any harder.
The neon orange and red triangular signs hanging on the back of tractors mean farmers cannot drive faster than 25 mph – regardless of their equipment’s capability.
But this may soon change, Homan said.
Researchers are looking at a speed indicator symbol, or SIS, to allow some slow-moving vehicles to drive faster than 25 mph.
If newer-model tractors can safely drive at 40 mph, they should be able to travel faster, Homan said. It would help with traffic congestion and make for safer roads, he said.
The new speed indicator symbol should be kept separate from the slow-moving vehicle sign rather than trying to incorporate them into different versions of a single sign, Homan warned.
If a driver is behind a tractor, Homan doesn’t want the driver trying to figure out what the sign means.
Leaving a trail. Tractors trek through fields, and from there hit the road, and then head back to the farm.
What happens? Dirt from the field sticks in those massive tire grooves and comes loose in the street. The result: Mud on the road.
It can be a safety hazard, Homan said, as it reportedly was in a Wayne County case last year when dirt in the road allegedly caused three accidents.
But when the police get calls about dirty roads, there isn’t much troopers can do.
Leaving mud on the road isn’t a criminal offense, Homan said, which means the police can’t make a farmer clean the mess.
But that doesn’t mean it’s OK.
When there isn’t a section of law applying to something that is a public safety issue, it prompts a new law, Homan said.
Rather than having another law, Homan would like to see a group of local people come up with a solution.
Because there’s no criminal punishment, all that is left is a civil suit, he said.
“If it was a criminal issue, the farmer may get a $100 ticket but that’s nothing compared to a civil judgment,” Homan said.
Paying big bucks. Civil liability lawsuits should be high on farmers’ lists of concern.
Farmers should be more worried about a lawsuit than getting pulled over by a trooper for having a light out, Homan said.
If a farmer thinks he or she may get mud on the road, put up a temporary sign to warn drivers, Homan recommended. Or if slow-moving equipment will be traveling on a road, put up a sign saying “farm work ahead.”
Sheriff Zimmerly said he’s noticed more escort vehicles in front of combines or other large equipment warning oncoming drivers to be careful.
If an accident happened, these steps would prove the farmer went above and beyond what was reasonably expected of him, Homan said.
If there’s an accident with a tractor involved, it probably won’t matter whose fault it was, Homan said. If the equipment wasn’t marked properly or the tractor was traveling too fast, the farmer will likely be to blame.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
* * *
Farm crime cost exceeds $1 billion, protect yourself
* Protect your farm equipment
Mark your inventory. Use a die-stamp unit for large machinery or etching tool for smaller equipment. Check to see what type of ID number your sheriff’s department or extension office recommends.
Make a list. Include the type of equipment, model number, serial number, brand name, alternate marking locations and unusual markings or imperfections.
If you leave your tractor in the field overnight, do not park it within easy access to the road. And, when possible, chain and lock your tractors and equipment together, whether in the field or in buildings.
* Protect your fuel tank
Lock your fuel tank with a 7/16 -inch case hardened, steel shackle. Make sure it has a heel and toe locking feature.
The location convenient to you is also convenient for the thief. Ideal placement is where it’s visible from the house, but not the road. The further the tank is from the road, the better.
Lighting is excellent security at low cost. Place lights so they illuminate the area around the tank.
Source: Holmes County Sheriff Tim Zimmerly and National Rural Crime Prevention Center
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