The open road can be challenging when operating large farm equipment, especially for new drivers. From driving too fast when pulling a load to driving over the centre line or partially on the shoulder, accidents can happen when inexperienced drivers handle heavy farm machinery. Many people driving cars are also unfamiliar with the rules of sharing the road with tractors, balers, plows, and other agriculture equipment and machinery. Focusing on farm equipment safety and training will help keep farmers and motorists out of harm’s way and steer clear of costly accidents.

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

Tips for farm equipment drivers

  • Place a slow-moving vehicle (SMV) sign on the rear of the tractor so that other drivers can 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 equipment
  • Make sure that tractors have two forward-facing headlights and one red taillight, or two for vehicles over 2.6m wide (Ontario), and make sure they are clean, working, and turned 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 your province’s highway traffic laws
  • When towing a trailer or other vehicle, make sure you use a safety chain or cable in addition to the drawbar or hitch; it 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 of multiple farm vehicles, 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, as well as 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 complete list. Additionally, you can check with your provincial government for regulations in your area.

Tips for motorists

Road safety isn’t solely the responsibility of the farmer operating the machinery but all motorists. Drivers need to be aware of the risks of sharing the road, whether driving behind it or when passing, so they can safely arrive at their destination.

  • The standard 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 that you know the intent of a farm vehicle operator; watch for signalling lights or hand signals to understand what the operator is trying to do
  • When driving in agricultural or rural areas, agriculture equipment might unexpectedly turn onto the road from a field or driveway
  • You shouldn’t expect equipment to run entirely 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

Whether driving farm machinery or cars, the important thing for all drivers is to remember to slow down, be patient, and focus on safety first.

Cowan Insurance Group can help you get the right coverage, offering you peace of mind and protection for everything your business relies on. To learn more about how we can help protect your farm, visit our agribusiness page.