As harvest time approaches, more tractors and other farm equipment can be seen sharing the roads with regular vehicle traffic. Since a tractor's top speed is around 25 mph, it can cause drivers of faster vehicles behind them to become impatient.
When Inman farmer Adam Baldwin slowed his tractor down and drifted to the right side of his lane in order to make a left turn earlier this week, the car following him misinterpreted his actions and passed him in the left-hand lane.
"I was pulling into a field entrance, I had my turn signal on," Baldwin recalled. "...I about got T-boned."
Left-hand turns are the most dangerous time for tractor drivers, as cars following them sometimes assume they are reducing speed to let them zip by.
Baldwin said he understands the inconvenience of being stuck behind a slower vehicle.
"I drive, I know I become impatient at farmers taking too long," Baldwin said.
Besides being slower, tractor drivers also have limited visibility. Each vehicle varies, but tractors pulling grain carts often have no way to see the road behind them. Drivers who tailgate run the risk of being even less visible to a tractor's mirrors.
Baldwin resorted to mounting a video camera on his grain cart so the driver could be aware of any traffic following behind. He also tries to position equipment operators so that they can watch out for each other and communicate when other vehicles are around.
"While we can see behind us, the average driver needs to assume most can't," Baldwin said.
Jay Warner, who farms in western McPherson County, agreed that tractor drivers are often unaware of vehicles until they come into the adjoining lane to pass the farming equipment.
"Generally, if someone comes behind, I'll look for a driveway to pull over and let them pass when I have the opportunity," Warner said.
For farm equipment, which can be 14 feet wide — or more — that tactic is easier on four-lane highways that on two-lane roads without much shoulder room.
"You can't get from field to field without getting on the roads that connect them," Warner said. "...On county roads, there just isn't space."
Drivers who encounter tractors on narrow roads or at a bridge should be especially cautious.
"Most folks are really courteous and slow down or pull over," Warner said.
Both farmers said they try to return the courtesy by paying attention and moving over to allow cars to pass when possible. They also cautioned that, like any other vehicle, not every tractor has a seasoned driver at the wheel.
"During wheat harvest, there's a lot of temporary help," Baldwin said. "...Oftentimes, those are going to be the times when you have some more inexperienced people operating the tractor or grain cart."
A tractor's weight also makes it difficult for the driver to make any changes in its course quickly.
"It's heavy equipment," Warner said. "My tractor by itself is 36,000 pounds. ...I can guarantee the tractor is going to be heavier than a car."
Patience is the key to tractors and regular traffic sharing the road and avoiding crashes.
"Try not to get impatient," Baldwin advised. "Before you attempt to pass someone, make sure they're not turning left and that there's adequate room. ...You have to think, if i'm stuck behind this guy for a mile or half-mile, how much time is that really going to be."
"If both sides can be courteous, it works easier," Warner said.
Here are some tips from the Kansas Highway Patrol on sharing the road with farm traffic:
• Don’t assume the farmer knows you are there. Most operators of farm equipment regularly check for vehicles behind them, however, most of their time must be spent looking ahead to stay on the road and watch for oncoming traffic. Implements are very loud, hindering the farmer’s ability to hear your vehicle.
• Pass with extreme caution. Don’t pass unless you can see clearly ahead of both your vehicle and the farm equipment you are passing. If there are curves or hills blocking your view of oncoming traffic, wait until you can clearly visualize the area you’re passing in. You should not pass in a designated “No Passing Zone,” even if you are stuck behind a farm vehicle. Do not pass if you are within 100 feet of any intersection, railroad grade crossing, bridge, elevated structure, or tunnel.
• When a farm vehicle pulls to the right side of the road, it does not mean it is turning right or allowing you to pass. Due to the size of some farm equipment, the farmer must execute wide left turns, so allow it plenty of room and time to turn, and be alert to see if there might be a driveway or field they may be turning into.
• Be patient. Don’t assume that a farmer can move aside to let you pass. Shoulders may be soft, wet, or steep, which can cause the farm vehicle to tip, or the shoulder may not support the weight of a heavy farm vehicle. The farmer understands you are being delayed and will move over at the first safe location available.
• Think of the slow-moving vehicle emblem as a warning to adjust your speed. When you see the slow-moving vehicle emblem, you should immediately slow down. While the emblems are visible from a long distance away, it is often difficult to judge the speed at which you are closing in on a vehicle, especially at night.
• Pay attention. When you are not focused solely on the road, you increase your chances of a collision, especially if you should come upon a slow-moving farm vehicle.