Rural Road Safety –- Be Alert, Aware, and Alive; UNL CropWatch

Rural Road Safety –- Be Alert, Aware, and Alive; UNL CropWatch

May 11, 2011

As farm equipment takes to the fields — and roads — drivers of motor vehicles and farm machinery can take steps to make rural roads safer.

Rural roadways are more dangerous for motorists. Although the number of urban and suburban crashes far outweighs the number of rural collisions – by as much as two to three times, rural areas have up to 55% of the fatalities.

In Nebraska the number of motor vehicle fatalities has decreased in recent years, and drivers of all vehicles can keep that trend going in the right direction. How?

Be Alert

Motorists need to be alert to slow-moving and large farm equipment sharing the roads. Depending on driving conditions, a driver may have as little as 3 to 7 seconds to react to a tractor or combine moving at 15-20 miles per hour on a highway.

Machinery operators need to be certain their warning systems are in place in working. Slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblems must be clean and at the proper heights for visibility. Warning lights need to be working and used. Mirrors and rear vision cameras make a remarkable difference in visibility.

Motorists need to drive defensively and not assume they can be seen by the machinery operator.

Be Aware

As farm sizes have increased, so has the size of equipment. Motorists need to be aware of the special handling required for large equipment. A prime example is the extreme turning ranges required. When tractors, semi-trailers, and other large equipment move right, they may be making a wide left-hand turn. Be aware.

Narrow bridges, gravel roads, blind intersections, and other rural road conditions mean both machinery operator and driver need to be aware of who is sharing the road.

One of the emerging factors seen in rural crashes is distractions — using cell phones or iPods, texting friends, checking weather, and a variety of other non-driving activities. Both motorists and machinery operators need to keep full attention on the road.

Be Alive

Rural roads hold their own hazards: they’re used by a variety of vehicle types and sizes and subject to road conditions that vary with the season. Ensuring safety can reduce fatalities.

  • Seat belt usage is lower in rural areas — buckle up!
  • Cargo space in pick-ups and on ATVs and tractors is often turned into passenger seating — no riders!
  • Many hazards, such as railroad crossings and blind intersections are not marked — stay alert!

Making rural roads safe is not the responsibility of a single person or a group. Motorists, farm machine operators, and recreational vehicle drivers need to take responsibility for safe rural roads. That means attentive driving, knowing the environment, and being prepared. Taking time to train all drivers and machine operators can make a difference.

Sharry Nielsen
Extension Educator in Kearney and Franklin Counties