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As “staycationers” gear up to explore Canada’s backyard and farmers fire up the tractors for a busy planting season, all drivers should pause to ponder the intersection of the two.

Canadian Agricultural Safety Week currently underway brings special attention to road safety and farm equipment at a critical time.

“Road safety is a two-way street,” notes Tyler Brooks, Communications Director of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). “Everybody is responsible for their own safety and the safety of others on the road.” Patience and observation are two key parts of keeping roads safe, he adds.

Whether they be road-trippers, business travelers or farm equipment operators, all drivers play their part to ensure they drive and operate safely, are mindful and follow expectations. For many farmers, their time spent on roadways can be a particularly high-risk time.

Some 13% of farm-related fatalities across Canada are traffic related, and most of these involve tractors. The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association shared that the number of deaths related to motor vehicles and farm equipment has been on the rise in recent years.

Farmer responsibility

Slow-moving vehicle warning sign on a piece of farm machineryFarmers and equipment operators are required to have a bright orange, slow moving vehicle sign if they are moving at 40 kilometers per hour or less. This sign is required to draw attention from oncoming and following motorists to slow down and be aware of the situation. Equipment operators are also advised to take all necessary precautions including ensuring all their lights are functioning and lit, and to be alert for anxious drivers, especially when making turns.

With more Canadians taking road trips in lieu of flying vacations this year, it is worth remembering more motorists may be on unfamiliar roads and are less experienced encountering slow-moving equipment.

Brooks identifies that farmers should also be alert to the risk they may create themselves.

“During busy farming seasons, farmers can experience burnout very easily if they haven’t gotten enough sleep or the stress is competing with their attentiveness to the roadway,” Brooks comments. He advises farmers monitor for physical and mental well-being as an imperative step to ensure safe trips.

Drivers, tune in

While farmers and heavy equipment operators remain alert for traffic issues, they don’t shoulder the sole responsibility for safe road practices. Motorists should be aware of the risks of following or passing a slow-moving vehicle.

“It is difficult to reach past the farming echo chamber to reach motorists that also must hear this messaging.” Brooks has long advocated for road safety through the lens of a farming organization and seeks to reach other drivers to be extra alert outside cities.

The danger zone, approaching and passing

The two most common collision types involving farm equipment are rear end and passing collisions.

According to a Safe Transportation of Farm Equipment guide published by the Government of Alberta, a vehicle moving at 80 km/hour will close in on a tractor moving at 25km/hour within 6.5 seconds. Motorists can easily misjudge how quickly they gain on farm equipment as many are not accustomed to encountering a vehicle driving that slowly on the open highway.

Likewise, drivers can misjudge how long it may take to pass farm equipment, as tractors may be pulling long or multiple attachments. The length of equipment can make it hard to judge openings in oncoming traffic against the time it may take to pass.

Check common assumptions

Brooks warns drivers against risky assumptions that can end badly. He says there may be roads, bridges and roundabouts that are not built to accommodate machinery or can be too narrow for bulky farm equipment. A driver’s instinct may be to assume both can fit, be unaware of the width challenge, or even presume farm equipment would pull onto the shoulder to accommodate their passage.

Brooks explains it can be difficult to maneuver large equipment, especially when there are farm attachments. He emphasizes the equipment operator should never be expected to pull to the shoulder of the road for motorists to pass. While it may not seem risky to an average motorist, loose gravel can cause a tractor to roll, damaging equipment and risking the operator’s life.

The time of year drivers are most likely to encounter tractor and farm equipment is also an intensely busy time for farmers and operators. It is already frustrating enough to have a lot of work in a short window of time and operating at a slow pace, but Brooks adds a farmer’s frustrations are further aggravated when motorists tailgate.

Sharing tips to share the road

The OFA shares tips that motorists can use to make sure they avoid road collisions by respecting the space of large equipment and being courteous. In 2019, OFA launched a campaign called “Share the Road” to educate motorists of the importance of road safety. Farm Bureau Financial Services has also published an infographic on how to safely share the road.

To kick-off the 2021 Canadian Agricultural Safety Week, the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Honourable Marie Claude-Bibeau announced an investment of $1.4 million to improve farm safety over the next two years. This funding will help raise awareness of farm safety campaigns, including road safety, striving to ensure that everyone travels safely on the road and reaches their destination.

This Canadian Agricultural Safety Week, drive home awareness of an AgSafe Canada by slowing down, staying alert and keeping the roads safe.


 

Farmwork to Feed Canada (F2FC) is a national volunteer not-for-profit initiative by Canadian communication professionals, students, and recent graduates in communications. F2FC collaborates with farmers, and agri-businesses amid COVID-19 pandemic-related challenges to Canada’s food supply and food security, to engage Canadians, pro bono, with compelling stories about their food system and build support for Canada’s farmers, food producers, and their essential skilled workers.

Michelle deNijs

Michelle deNijs

Michelle deNijs earned her degree in International Development from the University of Guelph in 2020. She also chose to specialize in agriculture to complement her passion in developing a strong global food system. Michelle currently works for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture as a Communications Specialist and looks forward to future opportunities of public engagement to support growth of the Canadian agriculture sector.

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