Soft shoulders, muddy pavement, figure in harvest road safety

A combine harvests corn in Dundas County during a recent autumn. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Around the Nation

A column by Tom Van Dusen

We’ve all done it, including me and I know a fair amount about farm equipment and its safe operation.

You fall in, maybe 10 cars back, behind a farmer slowly driving or pulling bulky equipment along the highway at this time of year and grumble to yourself about why he/she doesn’t pick up speed or pull partly over onto the shoulder.

You’re Canadian so you don’t rudely honk the horn; you just sit behind the wheel and fume about being held up in your important trip to Tim’s.

With harvest time upon us and more machinery on the roads, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture has launched a campaign intended to educate motorists as to safety precautions both for them and farmers.

The campaign doesn’t castigate impatient motorists. In fact, it hands responsibility to farmers in being proactive in following safety rules while getting crops off to ensure that “everyone returns home safely.”

The onus is largely on farmers because a majority of city-oriented motorists don’t have the knowledge or awareness to interact safely while sharing the road with bulky, heavy agricultural equipment, says OFA regional director Rejean Pommainville, a Russell County farmer, part of a large family of agricultural activists.

A combine harvests corn in Dundas County during a recent autumn. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

The awareness program resulted from membership asking for a greater emphasis on road safety, says OFA General Manager Cathy Lennon. It’s all about preventing highway accidents and potentially disastrous outcomes for farmers and motorists alike.

Most of those rules are basic. Harvest time is extremely busy and the “stakes and external stressors are high,” Rejean points out. When drivers are in an impatient rush, farmers operating equipment on roadways must remain alert for sudden attempts to pass. Been there done that!

The notion that farmers should veer over to the shoulder is an accident waiting to happen. Rejean indicates the best practice is to stick to the paved portion: “Shoulders aren’t built to support heavy vehicles and it could result in a dangerous outcome.” He’s talking rollover here, people!

As for speeding up, farm equipment is limited to a maximum highway speed of 40 km/h. Farmers must also follow other rules of the road related to distracted driving and signalling well in advance before turning. Equipment headlights and taillights should be kept on for safety purposes at all times rather than just 30 minutes before sunset and 30 minutes after sunrise as legally required.

Among newer measures cited by Rejean is the Russell Federation’s “Mud on the Road” pilot project in partnership with Russell Township which addresses the potential danger of slippery mud left behind by agricultural activities.

With a returnable deposit, participating farmers are given two road signs which warn of upcoming mud so that motorists proceed with caution; when fieldwork is complete, farmers are responsible for clearing away the mud as per municipal bylaw and for returning the signs.

Novel road safety approaches are occurring in other counties as well, such as Simcoe where the federation partnered with OPP to remind motorists to be patient in sharing the road with farm equipment.

Overall, Lennon emphasizes, farmers have a good track record in handling equipment on the road… but even one accident is one too many.

“It’s always worth taking an extra few minutes to double-check signs, lighting, and to refresh the farming team on rules of the road,” Rejean concludes.

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