Stay alert for slow-moving farm machinery

March 28, 2011
  • Jeff Semler
Jeff Semler

Even though snow has been in the forecast, spring is officially here, and with spring comes a flurry of activity on the farms, in the fields and on the roads of rural counties. Spring planting brings farm machinery sharing the road with other drivers.

This equipment comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Sometimes you will see a single vehicle, such as a tractor. Other times the equipment will consist of a tractor with an implement in tow.

Farm equipment is designed to be used primarily in a field and is not designed to travel at typical posted speeds. Most farm equipment is designed to travel around 15 to 25 mph.

Farm equipment is sometimes wider than other vehicles, and possibly even wider than the lane of travel. However, farm equipment must be operated on highways in order to travel between a farm and a field or field to field. Just as motorists are entitled to operate their vehicles on public roadways, farmers are legally allowed to operate farm equipment on these same roadways.

When you see the slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem, you should immediately slow down. SMV emblems must be visible at least 500 feet away from the vehicle, but because it might be difficult for you to judge the speed at which you are closing in on a vehicle, you should slow down immediately. Think of the slow-moving vehicle emblem as a warning to adjust your speed.

Remember, patience is a virtue and this is never more true than when following farm machinery. A farmer understands that your trip is being delayed, so he or she will pull off the road at the first available safe location to allow you to pass. Don’t assume that the farmer can move aside to let you pass. Shoulders might be soft, wet or steep, and thus might not be able to support a heavy farm vehicle.

Do not assume the operators of farm equipment know you are behind them. Most 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.

Also, most farm equipment is very loud, and the farmer will probably not be able to hear your vehicle. So again, do not assume the farmer knows where your vehicle is located. Before you attempt to pass, use your car’s horn to signal to the farmer that you are there.

If a farmer has pulled off the road to allow you to pass, or if the farmer cannot pull off the road and you feel you must pass, do so with caution. Be watchful of vehicles behind you that might also try to pass. 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.

Farmers should do their part, too. They should turn on their lights, but turn off rear spotlights when going onto the road. From a distance, they can be mistaken for headlights. Avoid the highway during rush hour and bad weather. Use pilot cars, one in front and one in back, if you are going a considerable distance. Hang an orange flag out the window of these pilot vehicles.

Remember to use caution and courtesy when approaching, following and passing farm machinery. This will help ensure the safety of motorists, passengers and operators of slow-moving farm equipment.

Information for this article was provided by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. Additional information is available upon request.

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by email at

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