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On The Farm

Share the Road with Farmers

A large tractor pulling out from the farm onto a local road. Play Video

Chances are, most folks who have ventured onto North Carolina’s vast network of roads, especially in farm country, have had the farm equipment experience.

You’re cruising along, enjoying the drive and the scenery, or perhaps hurrying to or from work or trying to get the kids to school, when suddenly a big farm tractor or giant combine harvester looms ahead. Before you know it, you’re behind the behemoth.

For many of us, the sudden deceleration can serve to accelerate a sense of irritation. What happens next — whether drivers become annoyed at their close encounter with a slow moving vehicle (SMV) and whether they create a dangerous situation by trying to pass unsafely — might change if we had a better understanding of why that big SMV is on the road, and of the importance of farming to our families and the state.

Since 2016, North Carolina motorists have been in at least 1,100 crashes involving farm equipment, resulting in 16 fatalities, according to the UNC Highway Safety Research Center.

As North Carolina continues to grow and our cities expand into traditionally rural areas, folks are increasingly likely to encounter farm equipment on local roads. North Carolina has the second largest state-maintained highway system and the No. 9 agriculture economy in the country, so if you haven’t encountered farm equipment yet, it’s likely only a matter of time.

In this episode of Homegrown, Extension experts with NC State like Alyssa Spence and Norman Harrell discuss how to drive safely around farm equipment, and why sharing the road with these tractors, combines and other equipment benefits you as much as the farmer.

Food for Thought

Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in North Carolina, with an economic impact of about $96 billion, and employs 17% of the workforce. Farmers produce the food we put on our tables.

The vast majority of their work takes place in fields on their farms, but sometimes they must venture onto public roads. They could be moving from one field to another, or moving equipment from farm to farm. They’re aware of the impact on motorists and try to avoid the roads during rush hours and when school buses are out, but interactions with drivers are unavoidable. Just remember, they’re traveling a short distance to ensure we have access to essential everyday products we may take for granted.

The slow moving vehicle (SMV) sign is a reflective orange triangle bordered with red that warns drivers that the vehicle displaying the sign is unable to maintain a speed of more than 25 mph.
The slow moving vehicle (SMV) sign is a reflective orange triangle bordered with red that warns drivers that the vehicle displaying the sign is unable to maintain a speed of more than 25 mph.

While it can be an annoyance to be stuck behind a tractor that is seemingly crawling along, they have a right to be there. State law allows an operator of a farm vehicle to use any road other than interstates and freeways, provided the vehicle is operated by the farmer or an employee and is used exclusively for farm business; it is used to transport either agricultural products, farm machinery or farm supplies to and from a farm; it is not being used for hire; and it is used within 150 miles of the farmer’s farm.

In addition to knowing the importance of farming in North Carolina, and of farmers’ right to the road, it’s vitally important to understand the potentially dire consequences of a close encounter with an SMV. There were 1,174 crashes involving farm vehicles in North Carolina between 2016-20. More than 25% (336) resulted in an injury, and 16 caused a fatality.

Safety in Numbers

Any encounter with a farm vehicle on a public road is potentially dangerous. Here are some statistics to keep in mind.

Farm vehicles are required to follow safety protocols to keep operators and motorists safe.

Simple Safety Tips

Here are key things to keep in mind or that you can do!

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