Rural Roads in the Autumn

Wayne Dellinger, ANR Educator Union County

Harvest season started several weeks ago and in many areas is well over halfway complete.  With the changing of the seasons, we also see changes that need to be considered when it comes to roadway safety in agricultural communities.  

Agritourism and fall colors have brought more urban traffic to rural areas this time of year, and farm equipment and trucks are still busy on roadways getting the harvest completed.  This combination of large vehicles and motor vehicles unfamiliar with their presence leads to an increased risk of incidents on local roadways.

In 2020 alone, the total number of incidents between farm units (farm equipment and farm trucks) and motor vehicles in Ohio was 380 (Ohio Department of Public Safety, Ohio Traffic Crash Facts).  Distracted driving is a continued concern on local roadways.  It is important to remember closure time when coming up behind slow moving vehicles.  In less than 7 seconds, a motor vehicle traveling 55 mph will close 400 feet behind a tractor traveling 15 mph.

Being aware and anticipating farm equipment actions on the roadway will help decrease the risk of collisions.  When approaching from the rear, watch for signals from the operator whether it be a yellow turn signal or hand signal.  With larger equipment, often it is difficult for the operator to see traffic coming from behind.  Watch for upcoming farm and field drives where the operator may be turning before attempting to pass.  If preparing to meet a piece of equipment, watch for guardrails, mailboxes, and road signs that may prevent the operator from getting over far enough to meet safely.

In this stage of harvest, lighting and marking on equipment and trucks may be obscured with dust and field material or lightbulbs may have blown since checked prior to the season beginning.  Farm equipment operators can do their part by ensuring their safety lighting and marking equipment are clean and functional.  Using escort vehicles in both the front and rear may increase visibility and keep the operator in communication of upcoming hazards or situations while moving from farm to farm.  Finally, when possible, attempt to move equipment at off-peak motor vehicle travel times.

Weather has been favorable in many areas for harvest this season, but we are starting to see a more rainy trend that shortens the windows for field work and makes conditions less than ideal.  While it may be more practical on back roads to park grain trucks on or partially on roadways to avoid getting stuck in damp fields, it is prohibited by Ohio Law. Carrying a large amount of field debris or mud out onto the roadway is also prohibited and efforts should be made to keep to a minimum or have a plan in place to clean off immediately.  Enforcement of these laws may vary around the area if flashers and triangles are utilized for trucks, but if an incident were to occur, liability would be placed on the party in violation.

On November 7th clocks will be set back an hour and it will be getting dark earlier.  While this won’t likely affect the amount of time farmers will be working, it will increase the amount of time equipment will be sharing the roads with higher volumes of traffic from commuters in lower light situations.  Caution must be taken from all involved by making equipment visible and a more conscious effort to watch for equipment.

Autumn is a great time of year to enjoy the scenery of rural landscape.  Be safe and share the roads.

Wayne Dellinger, ANR Educator Union County, can be reached at 937-644-8117 or This column is provided by the OSU Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Team,