Respecting Farm Vehicles on the Road

Photo Karen Graham.
Harvest time brings more slow moving farm vehicles on the road.

It’s that time of year again when there is a proliferation of large farm vehicles making their way to and from fields for the harvest.  It’s a critical time for farmers as they work with and/or often against conditions thrown at them by Mother Nature to complete the final critical task in their efforts to earn a living.

An encounter on the road with one of these lumbering machines can challenge the patience of any driver but it’s important to understand the position of the machine operator.  They follow a different set of rules designed to maximize road safety without fostering road rage.

Given the size, weight and general nature of some of the equipment travelling on the road, different rules apply to them that are not always understood by others on the road.  Rules surrounding slow driving do not apply to farm equipment, nor do normal seatbelt regulations or restrictions regarding driving on the shoulder.  While normal vehicles are not allowed to travel on the shoulder, farm equipment may do so and in some cases this is the preferred alternative.  Narrow farm equipment may not straddle the shoulder- it must operate either entirely on the travelled portion of the road or on the shoulder.

As a long line of traffic forms behind a slow moving vehicle, one might expect it to pull over to let traffic pass out of courtesy.  Drivers of these vehicles have sole discretion in the decision to pull over to let traffic pass based on their assessment of the safety of such a manoeuvre.  Leaving the road presents its own challenges, and the decision to move over is not a simple as it seems.

Road safety depends largely on expectations of the behaviour of those sharing the road, which requires clear communication.  Vehicle signs such as the slow-moving sign are designed to establish the expectations of surrounding drivers, telling them that the vehicle will not travel faster than 40 km/hr.  Flags at load extremities, reflectors, lights and turn signals also help, but sometimes the messages get muddled.  According to Rob McCamus who operates a large family farm on Stewart Line, problems occur most frequently when approaching a turn. On the back of most of these vehicles are four way flashing lights, so when the operator puts on a turn signal, the message is often lost on the drivers travelling behind.

At the Farm Vehicle Safety workshop held last December, Peterborough Police officers discouraged the use of casual hand signals like waving traffic around the tractor which can be misunderstood.   Other times the hand signals are quite clear (move over!!) but often it is just not possible to safely comply due to the size of the vehicle.

Sgt. Ryan Wilson of the Traffic Services Unit of the Peterborough Police Service suggests motorists to be patient and alert while following slow moving farm vehicles. These vehicles should only be passed to the left when it is absolutely safe to do while ensuring adequate space, given the size of these vehicles.  He echoes the concern of Rob McCamus, cautioning motorists to be cognizant of farm vehicles turning.  Some of these vehicles are not equipped with turn signals and often enter properties that are not clearly marked so their turns can be unexpected. Patience, courtesy and safety is key in ensuring these vehicles and motorists reach their destinations unharmed.

Photo Karen Graham.

When you come upon a farm vehicle on the road, be patient and remember that they are on the job working under challenging conditions and acknowledge their efforts with a wave- the five-fingered kind.  KG

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