Be careful around farm vehicles, sheriff's department urges

Vehicles back up behind a farm trailer on M-139 in Oronoko Township on Friday. The Berrien County Sheriff’s Department is asking drivers to use added caution and patience when approaching a slow-moving farm vehicle and not to try to go around them in a no-passing zone, which is illegal and can result in a traffic ticket.

ST. JOSEPH — Local farmers have to deal with wet weather, flooded fields, tariffs on their products and other unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances.

One thing they shouldn’t have to worry about is impatient drivers speeding past their slow-moving vehicles, according to Berrien County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mac Elliott.

The sheriff’s department agrees, and is asking motorists to slow down and be patient when approaching farm vehicles.

At Thursday’s board meeting, Elliott said he has heard of increasing incidents of vehicles trying to pass farm equipment on sections of road with double-yellow lines, indicating a no-passing zone.

This creates a hazard when a vehicle could be coming from the other direction, especially on hilly or curvy roads, he cautioned.

“You’re just seconds away from a tragedy,” Elliott said.

In some cases, farmers have been cursed at, given obscene gestures and even spit at, he said.

Elliott said that the sheriff’s department and township officers are looking into heightened enforcement of illegal passing. He suggested that seeing vehicles pulled over, with drivers subjected to hefty fines, could convince others to follow the rules of the road. That fine could be as much as $200, said Elliott, an attorney.

The sheriff’s department reminds drivers that farmers driving slow-moving vehicles have a right to the road.

“Farm equipment is allowed by law, and most times must operate, on roadways to get from their farm to fields or field to field. Just as motorists are allowed to operate their vehicles on public roadways, farmers are legally allowed to operate farm equipment on these same roads,” according to a news release from the sheriff’s department.

Farm equipment may be wider than one lane, or in some cases wider than the road and travel at slow speeds, typically 10 to 15 miles per hour. Road shoulders may be narrow, steep, wet or soft, so they may not be able to pull over immediately.

“The farmer understands that your trip may be delayed and they most times will pull off the road at the first available safe location to allow you to pass. Patience is necessary to ensure the safety of motorists and operators of slow-moving farm equipment. We all have the obligation to share the road in a safe manner,” the release stated.

Safety tips for motorists following or approaching farm equipment include:

• Pass with caution if a farmer has pulled off the road to allow you to pass, or if they cannot pull off and you feel you can pass in a safe manner.

• Be watchful of motor vehicles behind you that may also try to pass.

• Do not pass if you must enter the oncoming traffic lane unless you can see clearly ahead of you and the vehicle you will pass.

• Do not pass if there are curves or hills ahead that may block your view or the view of oncoming vehicles.

• Do not pass in a designated “No Passing Zone” or within 100 feet of any intersection, railroad crossing or bridge.

• Do not assume that a farm vehicle that pulls to the right side of the road is going to let you pass. Due to the size of some farm implements, the farmer must use wide left-hand turns. If you are unsure, check for turn signals or operator hand signals. Also, check the left side of the road for driveways, gates or any place a farm vehicle might turn into.

• Do not assume the farmer can see you or knows you are there if you are following. Most operators are regularly checking traffic behind them and newer farm equipment is equipped with mirrors, but farmers must spend most of the time looking ahead to keep equipment safely on the road and watch for oncoming traffic.

Michigan State University Extension offers these safety tips for farmers taking vehicles out on the road:

• Michigan law requires a slow moving vehicle (SMV) emblem and additional reflectors on any implement of husbandry, farm tractor and special mobile equipment. It is required on every vehicle that has a maximum speed potential of 25 mph operated on public highways. The Michigan Farmer’s Transportation Guidebook contains additional information on the requirement for operating farm vehicles on public roads.

• Always keep the SMV emblem clean with the point of the triangle up. Replace emblem when it fades, normally every two to three years.

• Turn on your lights, but turn off the rear spotlights when going onto the road. Rear spotlights can look like headlights.

• Use pilot vehicles, one in front and one in back, if you are going a long distance or traveling on a heavily traveled road. Pilot vehicles should be well marked with brightly colored flags or appropriate lighting.

• Install mirrors on equipment to enable you to be aware of motorists around you. Be careful where mirrors are placed so not to obstruct vision.

Contact: jmatuszak@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak