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Road smarts: Sharing the road and keeping safe at harvest

Combine on the road

On my drive to take my son to daycare, I am fortunate to drive through some beautiful Iowa countryside. It’s a great time of year in Iowa. The leaves are changing color, and soon, when the rain finally stops, farmers will be making their way into their fields to bring in their crops.

Harvest time also means more farm traffic on Iowa’s rural roadways. It means I’ll have to budget more time to account for farmers who are also going to and from their field “offices” to get their job done.

On a recent webinar for farmers through the Iowa Farm Bureau, Officer Robert Wittkowski of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Enforcement division said it takes both farmers and drivers to stay safe at harvest.

There’s a long list of safety rules for farmers. But what about me, a driver who shares the road with farmers?

According to Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH), there are hundreds of crashes on rural roads that involve farm machinery. But they are preventable and there are several things that drivers can do to avoid those situations.

The most important thing drivers can do is to be patient. Everybody has somewhere to be, but following too closely behind a combine or a tractor towing a grain cart or passing quickly could be hazardous. It’s often tough for farm equipment operators to see your car, and tractors and combines often make wide turns.

Separately, I asked Officer Wittkowski why there are so many rules regarding load limits or securing loads for farmers?

“It all comes down to safety,” he said. “It shouldn’t be looked at as a hassle. I do not want my family traveling out there on the roadways with someone who thinks it’s a hassle, with someone who isn’t going to secure their load, who’s not going to keep up on that equipment."

So, I’ll heed his advice. I’ll think of my dad and my brothers—all farmers—who will soon be making their way to the fields for harvest—and I’ll slow down, allowing more time to get to and from work and daycare. Slowing down also means an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful fall countryside in Iowa.

As Office Wittkowski said farmers and drivers all have a role to play in safety. “Everybody wants to make it home safe at night, and that’s what it’s all about.”

Bethany Baratta is commodities writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau.



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