Sharing the road with farm machinery is a way of life for drivers in many parts of Wisconsin. But the potential risk for both farmers and the general public is great – 17 people died between 2017 and 2018 as a result of roadway collisions, according to a 2020 study published by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the National Farm Medicine Center. Preliminary 2019-2021 data show an additional 18 total reports of fatal incidents involving farm equipment on the state’s roadways and highways.
One significant concern for farmers and other motorists is the risk of collisions when farm equipment turns onto a different road or driveway from a public roadway. Those turns are especially hazardous if the farm-equipment operator can’t see traffic following him or her. A motorist colliding with the back of a left-turning load of grain or chopped forage at typical highway speeds is similar to slamming into a brick wall. The impact is often deadly.
Within the past few years Wisconsin updated several state regulations that dictate the use of farm implements of husbandry on public roadways. The statutes require the use of a combination of lights, reflectors and markers such as the slow-moving vehicle emblem. While Wisconsin statutes require amber-colored flashers on wide implements, turn signals aren’t currently legally required.
To help alleviate confusion and inconsistencies regarding lighting and marking across states, the federal government developed a set of requirements through the Agricultural Machinery Illumination Safety Act. That law prescribed a new set of requirements for all farm equipment manufactured on or after June 22, 2017. The federal requirements are similar to Wisconsin statutes with some important exceptions. A big exception is that the federal law requires turn signals be used on farm equipment on highways.
The federal laws are based on safety standards from the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers. Standards developed by the organization are based on a consensus and research-oriented process that includes manufacturers, safety experts and engineers. The standards also require input and ideas from equipment operators such as farmers.
While state regulations are a good starting point, it’s strongly recommended that farm operators install additional safety enhancements on all machinery. That’s the recommendation even if state laws don’t require it. A user-friendly guide to required and recommended lighting and marking can be found at the website featured at the end of this article.
Even modestly better compliance with American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers standards and federal laws could reduce the number of annual highway crashes in Wisconsin by 60 percent. That’s according to a 2016 study of more than 7,000 collisions involving farm machinery in the Upper Midwest and Great Plains.
Common objections to using turn signals on farm equipment include the associated cost and potential complexity. Operators of older equipment may have legitimate concerns about the capacity of that equipment’s electrical system to power additional lighting. There are affordable options for such cases, including high-visibility light-emitting diode lights, battery-powered units, systems that can be easily moved between machines, and even remote-control-activated turn signals. Check with a local equipment dealer for available options.
The key to roadway safety is to light your farm equipment as brightly as possible. Signal your intentions any time you operate equipment on a public roadway regardless of implement age or size. The technology, standards and equipment are available to prevent the majority of highway collisions that claim so many lives each year.
Visit bit.ly/AEM-LightingMarking for more information.