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Sharing rural roads: Distance and speed are important factors
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Sharing rural roads: Distance and speed are important factors

CHARLOTTESVILLE—One of the most important symbols on U.S. rural roads turns 53 years old this year. The red-and-orange triangular slow-moving vehicle emblem adorns the rear of thousands of pieces of farm equipment in Virginia; yet every year there are collisions between automobiles and tractors.

“I have seen three very close calls” that were almost head-on collisions, said Joseph Sweeney, an Albemarle County hay producer. “While (moving farm equipment) on the road during hay season I have been passed on blind curves, over hills and with cars crowding and driving very close. This is even when we have our four-way flashers and headlights on.”

The difference in speed between an auto and a tractor fools many drivers, according to highway safety engineers. Farm equipment like tractors, combines and wagons usually average only about 20 mph. 

SMV emblems on the backs of slow-moving equipment warn drivers to start slowing down right away, because the distance between the vehicles is likely to close quickly. If a car is traveling at 60 mph, it takes just 7 seconds and a distance of only a football field to come to a complete stop. 

But collisions are often also the result of driver impatience, not physics, according to Sgt. Stephan Vick of the Virginia State Police.

“I grew up in a rural county; my extended family comes from a farming family,” Vick said. “They know you are behind them. As soon as they can, they will get off of the road and allow you to pass. Some situations do not allow that, but we ask you to be patient. Obey the laws, and when it is a safe time pass them by.”

Spring and fall are the busiest times for farmers moving equipment from field to field, so drivers are urged to take extra care in those seasons, said Sam Rooks, Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. vice president of underwriting and policy services.

“The red-and-orange reflective SMV emblem signifies that a motorist should slow down; determine whether the slow-moving vehicle is preparing to turn; and pass with caution, but never in a no-passing zone,” Rooks said. 

“With mutual cooperation, farmers can get their work done, and motorists can get to their destinations safely.”

A video on slow-moving vehicle safety produced by Virginia Farm Bureau is available at youtu.be/ZBixIiBNU80.

Media: Contact Rooks at 804-290-1372 or Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1146.

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