With the spring weather not co-operating with planting, farmers are in the fields later, and more often, to try and catch up this year. Some are harvesting strawberries now and getting their first cut of hay off as we head into the height of the farming season.

The open road can be a challenging place for large farm equipment – especially for new drivers. Accidents can happen when inexperienced drivers handle heavy machinery, whether it’s driving too fast when pulling a load, driving over the centre line, or driving partially on the shoulder. Many people driving cars are also unfamiliar with the rules of sharing the road with this machinery, and things can quickly go wrong. Focusing on safety and training will help keep them out of harm’s way and help them steer clear of costly accidents.

To help you and your team avoid potential hazards, we’ve prepared some safety tips for operating farm equipment on a main roadway, and how motorists should react around it.

Tips for Drivers of Farm Equipment
– Place a slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem on the rear of the tractor so that other drivers can clearly see it as they approach. If you are towing a trailer or other equipment that blocks the SMV sign, place an additional emblem on the towed equipment.
– Don’t use your phone or other handheld devices while driving farm vehicles.
– Make sure that tractors have two forward-facing headlights and one red taillight that is continuously illuminated, or two for vehicles over 2.6m wide (Ontario), and make sure they are clean, working, and on before entering a roadway – even in daylight.
– Trailers may need special permits if they exceed height and width restrictions These rules vary – so make sure to review the highway traffic act in your province.
– When towing a trailer or other vehicle, make sure you use a safety chain or cable in addition to the drawbar or hitch. This chain or cable should be strong enough to hold the weight of the trailer and load on its own if the hitch fails.
– If you are operating a tractor on a public road, equip it with hazard lights. While regulations vary from province to province, a good rule to follow is to keep these lights on anytime the vehicle is on the road.
– Use a turn or hand signal when changing lanes, turning, pulling onto the road or stopping. You should signal at least 30 metres before turning or stopping to alert motorists.
– When travelling in a convoy, don’t bunch up. Leaving gaps between yourself and the vehicle in front of you gives other drivers enough room to pass safely.
– Yield to drivers on paved roads when coming off unpaved roads.
– Look behind you and to the left and right before turning.
– Always park equipment entirely off the roadway.

You can Download the Ontario Ministry of Transportation guide for Farm Equipment on the Highway [.pdf] for a full list of the rules of the road for drivers of farm equipment in Ontario – check with your provincial government for rules in your area.

Tips for Motorists
– The normal speed of most farm machinery is 30-40 km/hour, so be patient and slow down when approaching.
– Watch for vehicles marked with the SMV signs and flashing lights when you are driving so that you have enough time to react.
– Be mindful that some large machines may take up more than one lane.
– Don’t assume intent. Watch for signalling lights or hand signals to understand what the operator is trying to do.
– When driving in agricultural or rural areas, it’s possible that farm equipment might unexpectedly turn onto the road from a field or driveway.
– You shouldn’t expect equipment to run completely or partly on the shoulders. Farm machinery operators will stay on roadways whenever possible.
– Be patient and courteous, remember that a driver’s licence is not required to operate farm equipment on a roadway and the operator may have limited experience with the rules and customs of the road.

The important thing for all drivers, whether it’s farm equipment or cars, is to remember to slow down, be patient, and focus on safety first.