Officials urge drivers to be aware, safe as farm equipment enters roadways

OSCEOLA COUNTY— Tractors, trailers, hay wagons and other farm equipment will soon frequent both main and rural roads and officials are warning motorists to keep safety a top priority.

There were 207 farm equipment crashes in 2013, an increase of 10.1 percent from 2004, according to a report from the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning.

While motorists may be frustrated by the large, slow-moving equipment, tractors and their drivers have the same right to use the road as the average vehicle, said Osceola County Undersheriff Justin Halladay.

“Most farmers do their best to stay over to the side, but sometimes they can’t with small shoulders of the road, so they may take up lane or go into the other one,” Halladay said. “Just be patient and look for an opportunity to pass, just like you would with other slow-moving vehicles.”

Just like when passing an average vehicle, Halladay said safe driving habits are necessary and drivers should not attempt to overtake a tractor in a no passing zone.

Mecosta County Farm Bureau President Jennifer Marfio agrees people attempting to pass tractors while going up a hill or in no passing zones is a big problem.

“The vehicle driver can’t see the oncoming traffic until it’s too late and usually the tractor ends up taking the ditch to allow the car to get back over,” Marfio said. “It would just take a few more minutes to ensure everyone’s safety, and in the long run, it’s worth it.”

Another traffic issue farmers face is drivers attempting to not get stuck behind a tractor, so they pull out right in front of one, Marfio said.

Because farmers may be hauling large animals or equipment, slamming on the brakes is not an option, she added.

“We can’t stop quickly if someone decides to pull out in front of us,” Marfio said. “That’s a lot of weight and there are live animals sometimes in trailers, so for their safety as well as mine and others on the road, we can’t just come to a halt. The biggest thing I stress is for people to just be patient. Rushing is what causes accidents.”

While farmers try to do their part in sharing the road, Marfio asks drivers to pay attention to farm equipment.

“Just be aware of what’s going on,” Marfio said. “We don’t typically have blinkers, so we will crowd into a lane to let the drivers behind us know we’re turning. Look at your surroundings when you’re driving to see if there is a farm or a field the tractor may soon turn into, instead of just being set on where you are going.”

Halladay said most tractors and farm equipment in the area will use rural roads, but they might use roads with larger traffic volume, such as U.S. 10 or Northland Drive, from time to time.

“This equipment will generally not be on highways, but they could be,” Halladay said. “No matter what roads drivers are taking in this rural area, it’s important to always be aware in case there is farm equipment on the roads.”