Savannah Valley District

Safe Driving Tips During Planting Season

Marion Barnes, Senior County Extension Agent – Clemson University

There are certain times of the year when farm vehicles and equipment will be more prevalent on the highways, such as spring planting and fall harvest, and motorists need to be aware of this increased activity and exercise caution and patience. With planting season underway in South Carolina, motorists and farmers alike should use caution when traveling on rural roadways. Although modern farm equipment has more safety features, including better lighting and higher visibility, tractors, combines, agricultural sprayers and other farm implements are much larger today and pose a greater risk for potential collision. These types of equipment can be two to three times the height of a passenger vehicle, take up more than one lane of traffic and weigh many, many times that of an automobile. When collisions do occur, the outcome is usually not good for the smaller passenger vehicles, with more severe injuries to motorists.

Collisions between farm equipment and motorists are happening at an alarming rate on our rural roadways. The rear-end collision is an all-too-common occurrence between farm equipment and motorists traveling on public roadways. Few drivers realize that farm equipment travels at only 20 to 25 miles per hour or less, which can give the motorist only a matter of seconds to avoid a collision when they approach slow-moving farm equipment from the rear.

The left-turn collision is another type of farm equipment/ vehicle collision that happens on our rural highways. It occurs when farm equipment is making or about to make a left turn when a motorist behind the farm equipment decides to pass. To avoid left-turn collisions when passing farm equipment, motorists should slow down and never assume that farm equipment is turning right or pulling off the road if they slow down or pull to the right. Allow the equipment operator to complete the turn, as they may have restricted rear visibility and be unaware of your presence behind their equipment. Also look for driveways into farms or fields into which the farm vehicle could be turning.

Here are some tips for both farmers and motorists as they share the road during planting season.

For motorists:

  • Be aware – Watch for slow-moving farm equipment. It’s important to remember that farm equipment does not behave like cars and trucks when it comes to speed, turning or breaking.
  • Practice good driving habits- Avoid texting or talking on the cell phone so you can devote 100 percent of your attention to the task at hand, safe driving.
  • Slow down – Reduce speed, especially in agricultural areas where farm equipment may be entering or leaving the roadway.
  • Keep your distance – Drivers should always follow at a safe distance behind any vehicles they may be following.    
  • Pass with care – Pass only where and when it is safe and legal to do so and where you have good visibility. Make sure farm equipment is not swinging wide to make a left turn.
  • Be patient – Most farmers will pull over in heavy traffic conditions but can only do so in areas where it is safe.
  • Transportation laws – Follow all vehicular traffic laws and regulations.

For farmers:

  • SMV Emblems – Make sure all farm equipment is clearly marked with slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblems and they are clearly visible. Replace faded or missing SMV emblems with new ones.
  • Proper lighting – Ensure all farm equipment lighting, reflectors and flashers are in working order and employ them while traveling on the roadway. Consider installing retrofit lighting on older model tractors and other farm equipment to increase visibility.
  • Turn signals – Use turn signals or hand signals if your tractor is not equipped to communicate your intentions when making turns.
  • Escort vehicles – Consider using escort or pilot vehicles (front and back) when traveling long distances or moving oversized equipment. These vehicles should have some sort of marking (orange flags or yellow/ amber lighting) to identify their intended purpose. 
  • Keep shoulders clear – Do not park trucks along the sides of the roadways while servicing field equipment or unloading grain.
  • Travel routes – Plan your route and travel time.  Although there are fewer farm vehicles on the road today as compared to a decade or so ago, farmers are tending more acreage further away from the farmstead and traveling greater distances to work their fields. Select a route and travel time that avoids high-traffic areas during peak traffic times, if possible. Avoid moving farm equipment at dawn or dusk or during times of poor visibility. 
  • Pre-travel checklist – Conduct a pre-travel equipment check to avoid breakdowns on the road. Make sure tires are properly inflated, and safety chains are attached if towing farm implements, trailers, or other attachments.
  • Transportation laws – Be aware of and follow all transportation laws and regulations.

The safety tips mentioned above are just a few of the many actions farmers and motorists can take to make our roadways safer for everyone to travel. Whether you are driving a car or a slow-moving tractor, remember that safety should be everyone’s priority while behind the wheel. For more information on farm safety, contact your local Clemson Extension Office.       

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.