Be Safe When Operating Farm Equipment on Public Roads

Recent crash involving Iowa bicyclist and farmer pulling nitrogen tank highlights need for safety.

The recent crash southwest of Des Moines of a bicyclist and a farmer pulling nitrogen tanks with his pickup truck on a rural road highlights the need for everyone to use public roads safely. The farmer was ticketed for illegal passing as the tank struck a 45-year-old man riding a bicycle, and the bicyclist ended up in the hospital with a broken pelvis and other injuries.

Improving safety on roads that farm equipment share with other vehicles needs greater attention from governmental entities, according to a newly-released report produced by a committee that includes Iowa State University ag safety specialist Charles Schwab.

"Federal, state and local government bodies rarely give this area of roadway safety major attention because agriculture-related collisions comprise a low percentage of all vehicle collisions," says Schwab. "However, when viewed by the ag community, these collisions become a dramatic and alarming percentage that tragically alters our agricultural workforce."

Crash fatality rates nearly double in rural areas

Schwab, a professor of ag engineering, served on the North Central Regional Committee on Ag Safety and Health Research and Extension convened by USDA. The committee issued a report in early 2009 addressing the rural/urban traffic interface, state and federal regulations, higher-speed tractors and the transport of workers on public roadways with farm equipment.

The report cites a study of Iowa crashes in rural areas, published in 2007, that found:

  • Crash fatality rates in the most rural counties are almost double the rate in urban counties
  • Rural crashes are more frequent, more severe and more likely to result in death than urban crashes
  • The environment of the rural road contributes to increased crashes and more severe injury outcomes
  • In crashes involving farm vehicles, the farm vehicle occupant is killed nearly twice as often as occupants of the other vehicle.

Engineering design standards, safety education

"The committee believes engineering design standards should be used to incorporate automatic and passive protection for drivers and riders of ag equipment during public-road use," says Schwab.

The report emphasizes that safety-education programs are needed to educate both the public and farmers on best practices for operating agricultural equipment on public roads, approaching slow-moving vehicles on public roads and the effects of excluding agricultural equipment from road weight and use restrictions.

The report also recommends policy changes for a consistent source of funding for research into hazards, risks and best safety practices, and for the development of a Uniform Vehicle Code that reflects uses of modern ag equipment, which should be adopted by all states.

The full text of the report is online at

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