MUSCATINE – It could always be worse …
“Well, the good news is nobody got hurt,” Iowa State Patrol Trooper Dan Loussaert said is the running joke among farmers when something goes wrong in the field.
“If something goes bad, it could always be worse if someone got hurt,” he said.
That’s why as an officer and a part-time farmer in Scott County, he stresses the importance of all drivers -- whether in passenger vehicles or farm equipment -- paying attention and look out for one another on the roads.
“With everyone making good choices and looking out for people on the road, we can prevent accidents.”
With harvest season ongoing, folks will see more farm vehicles and equipment traveling on roads and rural highways, but that’s not new. Iowa residents see farm equipment such as tractors and combines on the roads every year around this time.
Despite seeing the vehicles every year, there are still accidents and close calls that Loussaert said don’t need to happen. He said speed, unsafe passes and distracted driving were the three main causes of accidents he’s seen involving farm vehicles on the road.
Because farm equipment is so much larger, weighs so much more than passenger vehicles and are usually trailing other equipment, when farm vehicles are involved in accidents it’s the people in passenger vehicles that end up getting hurt.
According to the Iowa Department of Transportation, there were 1,207 total crashes last year across the state as a result of drivers distracted by a cellphone or other device. Of those crashes, 645 included injuries and 10 were fatal.
“The majority of crashes are caused by driver error,” Loussaert said.
Gary Rees, a farmer in Columbus Junction and president of the Louisa County chapter of the Iowa Farm Bureau, said driving farm vehicles on the road is necessary but not always comfortable.
“Several years ago, there was a close enough call that the next day I put a camera on the grain cart to see behind me,” he said.
Safety features such as seat belts, roll over protection in cabins, lighting inside and out, power brakes and turning and stopping ability have all been added or enhanced since Loussaert remembers his parents farming when he was young. Those features, he said, “make it easier to see and safer for the operator.”
Farm vehicles have become easier to drive over the years with an auto-steer option that Loussaert said he uses in the field, but not on the road. He also said that while farmers are cautious and do all they can to avoid collisions, they make some of the same mistakes drivers of other vehicles do, such as getting distracted behind the wheel.
Other safety features such as signals, slow vehicle signs and flashing lights have increased visibility of farm equipment, but other drivers still need to obey those signals, Rees said.
Issues between vehicles on the road are very aggravating, he said, and most of them come down to drivers’ lack of patience and respect for one another. He said because farm equipment is so large, it’s difficult for farmers to see vehicles coming up behind them, especially when they are driving fast.
Farmers also have to avoid mailboxes, light poles and road signs on the side of the road while only moving at a maximum of 30 miles per hour, and Rees said drivers don’t consider that when they choose to pass farm vehicles on double yellow lines or in intersections.
“When approaching from the rear, people just need to slow down,” he said. “If that would happen, that would help a lot.”
Though honking and rude gestures aren’t the norm, Rees said they do happen.
“It’s impatient people that put themselves and other people in a dangerous spot,” he said.
He also said “farmers need to be aware, too, that when they’re on the road not to be distracted.”
The public needs to know that operators of farm equipment don’t want to slow down traffic and are just trying to get the harvest done in a safe, timely way.
“Even though they’re called accidents,” Loussaert said, “most can be prevented.”