On a tractor, even two’s a crowd

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A routine scan of a farm newspaper in Indiana turned up an article on an antique tractor plow day. I glanced at the photographs and started to turn the page, when I looked back at the pictures.

Just about every one of the vintage John Deere tractors in the follow-the-leader plowing formation had an extra rider.

I’m sure if I had played a “what’s wrong with this picture” game to 10 people, probably nine of them would have said, “nothing.” But these pictures reinforce an unsafe farming practice – and one wrong picture can undo a thousand right words.

All too common. We’ve all done it. We’ve all stood on the draw bar, hitching a ride back to the barn, or driven a tractor with someone perched on the fender. We have all broken the “no extra rider” rule.

Shame on us. We know better, but we think we’re invincible. It won’t happen to us.

Well, it happens to more of us than you think.

The National Safety Council reports that agriculture is the most hazardous industry in the United States, with 700 deaths and 130,000 disabling injuries reported in 2001.

And every year, 103 children die in farming accidents.

Far more children, however, are injured while working around the farm. In 1998, an estimated 32,000 children and adolescents were injured performing farm work.

Tough call. The idea of an extra rider on farm machinery is controversial and emotional issue, especially when focusing on children.

Sometimes, there’s no child care. Sometimes, the children are learning to operate the equipment because there’s an economic need for the child’s labor. Sometimes, children are extra riders simply because they love being around their parent or grandparent and beg to go along on the tractor.

There needs to be a stronger, less debatable, idea that farm safety is a priority – and not allowing an extra rider is one way to reduce injuries.

It’s not just an issue for cabless tractors, either. There are numerous cases of fatalities or serious injuries of an extra rider in a cab tractor when an unlatched cab door pops open.

Wagons, too. Carrying extra riders on farm wagons is nearly as hazardous as having them on the tractors.

Personal injury from farm wagons ranks second only to tractor injuries. Just ask my mother. She and I both flew off a loaded hay wagon we were riding back to the barn one day. The loaded wagon rolled over her lower shin.

To this day, none of us know how I avoided serious injury. I slid directly off the front of the wagon, narrowly missing the tongue, and bounced out to the side of the wagon as it coasted down the slight incline.

Can’t stop in time. Operators may think they can respond and stop the tractor in an instant, especially if the tractor is moving very slowly or if only simple tasks are being performed. The most common comment from people involved in tractor runovers is how quickly they happen.

No matter how slow you are driving, you cannot stop a tractor before it rolls over a thrown rider.

Even if you are going only 5 mph, research shows stopping time is 1.6 seconds. The stopping distance is 12 feet. Double the tractor speed to 10 mph and the stopping time is 3.2 seconds, but the stopping distance has more than doubled to 30 feet.

‘Culture of preparedness.’ Since 9/11, we have been a nation on a higher alert to potential risk. Businesses are reviewing emergency procedures; public venues are beefing up security measures. Everyone, it seems, is taking steps to remove unnecessary risks from their lives.

There’s no reason we can’t translate that culture of preparedness into our farming operations.

Unless practices and attitudes change, the tragic pattern of loss of life in farm accidents will continue.

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