CLARION TWP. – A combination of larger farm machinery and many drivers who are distracted by texting promoted a group of local farmers and law enforcement officers to gather Monday to urge motorists to slow down and be aware of slow moving farm vehicles.
The Clarion-Venango-Forest County Farm Bureau held a press conference at the Robert Burns Farm in Clarion Township on April 15 for the start of Rural Roads Safety Week.
“We’re trying to bring attention to the public of just how dangerous it is,” farm bureau member Bud Wills said of this time of year when many local farmers are using public roadways to move equipment to and from their fields. He explained that a large piece of farm machinery may only be able to travel at 15 miles per hour, which means that a car going 55 mph will catch up to it in only seconds.
“Our equipment is big, but it’s slow,” he added.
Wills highlighted two bills moving through the state Legislature that, if passed, will be beneficial to farmers, but will impact public roadways. Senate Bill 738, he said, would increase the width of farm vehicles that can use the public roads from 16 feet to 18 feet. House Bill 413 would make it easier for farmers to transport larger equipment on public roads by allowing farmers to get one permit for the entire year, rather than a new permit each time they move equipment.
Those at the press conference noted that many small farms in the Clarion County area often farm various properties, sometimes miles apart.
Farmers now farm land all over, Wills said, noting that there is an even greater need to move equipment from one piece of land to another. And many small farms cannot afford newer equipment that folds up to take up less space on public roads.
Wills noted that in 2017 in Pennsylvania, there were 106 crashes involving farm machinery, with five fatalities.
“That’s five too many,” he said.
Robbie Burns, whose farm along Waterson Road hosted the event on Monday, said he’s noticed an increase over the years in the number of drivers distracted by their cell phones, especially young women.
“They don’t slow down,” he said. “They’re right on top of you.”
State Police Trooper Jonathan Miles agreed, saying that too many drivers today are looking at their phones instead of the roads.
“Nobody’s paying attention,” he said.
Redbank Valley farmer Nelson Smith also said he’s seen the problem grow, with drivers always in a hurry to get where they are going. He said he farms various properties in a 12-mile stretch and uses state and township roads to move farm equipment. He explained that with the volatile weather in the area, farmers only have a small window to take care of crops, such as hay.
“You’ve got to be cautious on the road,” he said.
Burns noted that his farm tries to move its largest equipment at night when there is less traffic, especially on township roads which are typically more narrow than state roads.
Wills noted that with today’s large farm machinery, many pieces of equipment will stretch from one edge of the road to the other on narrow township roads.
Those at the press conference also brought up issues related to the local Amish population which utilizes horse and buggies for road transportation.
“They don’t hold up well in a crash,” Wills said of the wooden buggies, which are often carrying multiple people, including children.
The Farm Bureau asks that motorists familiarize themselves with the reflective orange triangle that is used for slow moving vehicles, and to slow down immediately when they see that symbol. The bureau also asks drivers to be patient with farmers, and to pass with caution and only in safe areas. They also reminded drivers that the operator of the farm equipment often cannot see the traffic behind them, and that due to the noise of the equipment, they also cannot hear other vehicles.
For more information about Rural Roads Safety, visit www.pfb.com/ruralroadsafety.