JANESVILLE, Wis. - Perched high above the ground in his big red tractor, Abe Arndt looks out over the road and while there weren’t many drivers trying to pass him on Saturday afternoon, he said normally, that’s not the case.
“Every day, it is almost a guarantee, on my way home someone will try and pass me on a hill or where they can’t see or where I can’t see and that’s just a recipe for disaster,” Arndt said.
As the owner and operator of Arndt Farms Inc., he said he’s often driving heavy farm equipment up and down South Read Road.
“I had someone pass me in the grass on the right-hand side two days ago,” Arndt said. “I understand people have things to do, but so do farmers. It’s a necessity to get the crops out.”
The farm machinery usually can’t go more than 25mph, and often takes up both lanes of traffic on rural roads.
“Most of the time when I’m driving, I’m just looking for a good spot to pull over and let people go by,” Arndt said. “I’m not trying to make people wait.”
A triple fatality crash involving an SUV and combine on Friday night has prompted officials to remind drivers about sharing the road safely with farm equipment.
“Be looking for those pieces of equipment where you might not be expecting them,” said Cheryl Skjolaas, the agricultural safety and health specialist for UW-Extension.
She said many farmers are harvesting their crops, so there will likely be more farm equipment out on the roads. With daylight saving time coming to an end, that also means it will get be getting darker earlier, while farmers are still working.
“Unfortunately, Mother Nature has made this a really hard cropping season here in 2017,” Skjolaas said. “So we’re getting later in the season than we typically would like to be seeing, which means now we’re working in more of the hours of darkness.”
She said all farmers should have flashing lights and triangular orange and red reflective Slow Moving Vehicle emblems on their equipment, so drivers can easily spot them in the dark.
“To the farm side of things, we want to be sure that your SMV symbol is bright, that you replace it because it is such a key marking,” Skjolaas said.
She also said the lights on farm equipment normally are on the edges, so drivers can see how wide the machines are.
“If you start looking at where those lighted markings are, the flashing beacon, it helps you define the size and shape of the equipment,” she said.
One thing to be wary of when driving behind farm equipment is it can often be hard to tell when the operator is going to turn. The flashers that are used to alert drivers are also the machinery’s turn signals. When a farmer flips his turn signal on, those lights will continue to flash, while the other side will remain lit up. For example, if a farmer is going to turn left, the left-side lights will blink while the right side signals stop flashing but stay lit.
“You might just be watching and watching it blink, and all of a sudden they turn on their turn signal and you might not notice that change in it because you’ve been following it for a while,” Skjolaas said.
One of the biggest things to remember is it’s illegal to pass farm equipment in a no-passing zone in Wisconsin.
“Just slow down. It’s not a race, just slow down,” Arndt said. “That’s really the key.”
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