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Prepare to brake for farm traffic on state roads

FLORENCE — The sound of tires sliding on the pavement as a speeding motorist slams on the brakes to avoid a collision can be particularly alarming when heard from the cab of farm equipment.

D.C. Thornton knows that as well as anyone because he has been in the cab during one of those near collisions.

“We’ve had instances where people had to slam on the brakes to keep from hitting us while we were going down the road,” said Thornton, a farmer who lives in Rogersville. “Fortunately, we’ve never been in an accident on the road with one of the tractors or pieces of equipment. We’ve been lucky. Others haven’t.”

Darryal Ray, a spokesman for the Alabama Farmers Federation in Montgomery, said most farmers have a story to tell about being involved in a crash or near collision while moving their equipment along a public road.

He said six fatalities and 120 wrecks involving farm machinery on Alabama roads were reported in 2007.

In the previous year, two fatalities from 104 wrecks were reported. Three deaths and 106 wrecks were reported in 2005.

In an effort to reduce the number of accidents involving farm machinery on state roads, the Farmers Federation is teaming with the Alabama Department of Public Safety and Alabama Department of Transportation to increase awareness of slow-moving vehicles on public roads. The program is being called Farmer at Work.

Jesse LaPrade, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System Specialist who tracks farm equipment accidents around the state, said most wrecks occur because the motorist is not paying attention.

“A lot of people simply don’t watch what’s happening down the road in front of them,” LaPrade said. “That’s not good. I don’t know what we need to do to train them better.”

He said many motorists don’t know that an orange triangle affixed to the rear of a vehicle means that it has a maximum speed of no more than 25 mph.

“Some people don’t have a clue what a slow-moving vehicle sign means. We’ve got to get the message out what those signs mean.”

The signs have been used since 1971.

As part of the Farmer at Work program, advertisements will be run in newspapers and magazines and public service announcements will be broadcast on television and radio stations around the state in an effort to increase awareness.

LaPrade said many motorists don’t realize that it takes less than five seconds to close a 100-yard gap between a vehicle traveling 55 mph and a farm machine traveling 25 mph.

He said motorists need to slow down as soon as they see a slow-moving vehicle and then pass when it is safe.

Greenhill farmer R.L. Behel said most Shoals motorists are polite when he has to travel on a state or county road with a farm machine.

“Most people are patient, but every once in a while you get a smart aleck who will start blowing their horn and almost run over you trying to get around you,” he said.

Behel said he pulls over when possible to allow traffic to pass, but sometimes there isn’t enough room to pull off the road.

The speed limit on rural roads in Alabama is 45 mph unless otherwise posted.

Ray said farmers try to drive their machines on public roads as little as possible, but urban sprawl had made that increasingly difficult. Most farmers have to use public roads to move their equipment between fields that might be several miles apart.

“Everyone just needs to be on the lookout for slow-moving vehicles when they are traveling in farming areas and be prepared to slow down,” LaPrade said.