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An Echo Press Editorial: Don't harvest trouble this fall

It's harvest season — a time for farmers to transport their crops to market. It's also time for drivers to use extra caution.

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Transportation issued a warning for drivers to be alert for farm equipment on the road.

"Harvest season is getting in full swing across the state and farmers and their equipment are out on the highways," said Ray Starr, acting state traffic engineer. "Motorists need to be prepared to encounter slow-moving farm vehicles, especially on rural, two-lane roads."

Farm equipment is large and heavy, making it hard for operators to accelerate, slow down and stop. The equipment also makes wide turns and sometimes crosses over the centerline. In addition, farm vehicles can create large blind spots, making it difficult for operators to see approaching vehicles. All of these factors can cause serious crashes, noted Starr.

The hazards are real. From 2015 to 2017, there were six fatalities and 386 crashes involving at least one farm vehicle, according to the Department of Public Safety's crash data. Of the six fatalities, three were farm vehicle riders. Of the 166 injuries, 56 were farm vehicle riders.

"Most of all farm equipment crashes and fatalities are distraction-related," Starr said. "Other factors are speed-related and alcohol-related."

MnDOT offers this advice for motorists:

• Pay attention at all times when driving.

• Watch for debris dropped by trucks hauling sugar beets and other crops. It is safer to brake or slowly drive through debris than to veer into oncoming cars or off the road.

• When approaching farm equipment, slow down and use caution. Put additional space between your vehicle and the farm equipment ahead. Don't assume the equipment operator can see you.

• Be patient and wait for a safe place to pass.

• Wear seatbelts.

• Drive with headlights on at all times.

Farm equipment operators have to be cautious and alert as well. Just last Thursday, a resident near Osakis reported to law enforcement that a farmer hauling silage pulled out in front of her. To avoid a crash, she spun out and slid through a yard, taking out a sign. Thankfully, there were no injuries.

According to MnDOT, farm equipment operators should:

• Use lights and flashers to make equipment more visible.

• Use slow-moving vehicle emblems on equipment traveling less than 30 mph.

• Drive slow-moving vehicles in the right-hand lane as close to the edge of the roadway as possible.

• Consider using an escort vehicle when moving equipment, especially at night and if the equipment is large enough that it may extend across the center line.

• Avoid encouraging or signaling motorists to pass. Pull over when safe, and let traffic pass.

• Pick up any debris left on the highway by the equipment or contact MnDOT to remove it.

• Plan their routes so wide equipment will not hit or damage signs, guardrails, light poles and other roadway structures.