It's that time of year--with the morning chill in the air and an endless blanket of leaves on the ground--when we turn our focus to the fall time harvest.

A tragic wreck in October near Townsend, however, prompted a well-timed reminder from two state agencies to shift motorists' focus back on the safety of the fall's actual harvesters--Delaware's farmers.

The joint advisory--issued by the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and the state Department of Agriculture--reinforces the various safety measures both motorists and farmers should exercise to prevent a recurrence of what happened the afternoon of October 12 on Taylors Bridge Road.

"That accident really brought (the importance of safety around farm equipment) to the forefront," DelDOT's Sandy Roumillat recently confirmed to Road Scholar.

Dan Shortridge, communications director for the Delaware Department of Agriculture, added that November is a month when there's plenty of farm equipment activity on the state's rural roads.

"What's going on right now is primarily the soybean harvest at this time of the year," he divulged. "It's typically most active through mid-November and generally finished by the end of the month. And we have more than 700 farms that grow soybeans in Delaware, so that's a lot of equipment that could be out on the road."

Roumillat urged motorists to bear in mind the speed differential between their wheels and the farmer's.

"I think the closing rate of a vehicle traveling at the typical road speed approaching farm equipment is the key." she suggested. "Farmers are pulling loads or heavy equipment and they're not meant to go as fast. As a driver, you approach this farm vehicle a lot quicker than you might suspect you would."

The advisory issues the following reminders to drivers:

  • Farm equipment operators that are on the road understand that their presence can delay your trip and are aware of the need to allow you to pass."We recommend that farmers turn off the road or pull off to the side--when it's safe," Shortridge explained, "when they have a stack of five or more vehicles in line behind them." Don’t assume, however, that the farmer can move aside to let you pass wherever there is open space. Shoulders may be soft, wet, or steep, and pulling off the road could cause the farm vehicle to tip, or the shoulder or soil may not be able to support the heavy weight of the equipment.
  • If you encounter a wide vehicle, please yield. On rural roads, some farm equipment may be wider than the lane of travel.
  • Never assume the driver of farm equipment knows you are there."If you can't see a farmer sitting up in a cab," Shortridge illustrated, "he or she probably can't see you." Most operators of farm equipment will regularly check to see if there is traffic behind them. However, the farmer must spend most of the time looking ahead to keep the equipment safely on the road, and to watch for oncoming traffic.
  • Remember that farm equipment is very loud, and the farmer will probably not be able to hear your vehicle. Therefore, do not assume that the farmer knows where your vehicle is located. Before attempting to pass, be sure you have a clear line of sight down the road ahead and there is no oncoming traffic. If you are in an area where passing is allowed, use your car’s horn to signal to the farmer that you are there and then pass with caution. Do not pass if you are in a designated “No Passing Zone” or within 100 feet of any intersection, railroad grade crossing, bridge, elevated structure or tunnel. Also, be watchful of vehicles behind you that may also try to pass.
  • Do not assume that a farm vehicle that pulls to the right side of the road is going to turn right or is letting you pass. Due to the size of some farm implements, the farmer must execute wide left-hand turns. If you are unsure, check the operator’s hand signals and check the left side of the road for gates, driveways or any place a farm vehicle might turn.

The safety responsibility, the advisory details, is a shared one. As such, farmers are encouraged to consider steps such as pilot cars, additional lighting or reflective devices, and roadway usage at off-peak--but still well-lit--hours of the day.

Still, Shortridge acknowledged that the learning curve is evolving.

"As the population of Delaware has grown, we've seen a lot more houses go in around--or next to--some active family farms, and that can take some getting used to on both parts."

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Contact Andrew Sgroi with Road Scholar story ideas to andrew@dbcmedia.com or follow him on Twitter at @Cuse92.