Jim Robbins was an unwitting participant in a daredevil stunt earlier this summer.
The Will County farmer was piloting a self-propelled sprayer with an elevated chassis when he noticed a blur in his rear-view mirror.
“I was driving down a two-lane highway with this sprayer and I heard this roar,” he said. “All of a sudden a motorcycle shoots out from underneath me.”
The cyclist decided he didn’t want to go around, so he went through. He went underneath the sprayer, shooting out the front without so much as a wave.
“It was one of those they lay it down a little sideways,” Robbins said of the motorcycle. “If I would have swerved just left or right to avoid something he would have been dead.”
Fortunately, incidents like that are uncommon. Unfortunately, accidents involving farm vehicles are not.
“As long as I can remember, transportation incidents are the leading cause of accidents and deaths in the farming industry, which already has the highest incident of deaths,” said Zack Hinthorn, a loss control representative with Country Financial. “That includes vehicle accidents but also tractor rollovers.”
The threat has increased in recent years due to a number of factors.
“Equipment is getting bigger and bigger,” Hinthorn said. “Even people who live in the country don’t expect to see such large equipment on the road all the time. A combine takes up the entire road nowadays.”
While Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert hasn’t had an experience as strange as that encountered by Robbins, he has had close calls. He was once preparing to make a turn while pulling a grain cart when a driver came up behind him and ran through a ditch on the left side of the road to get around the equipment.
He also recalls when a neighbor was on the road with a 40-foot platform on his combine. A motorist seemingly came out of nowhere and was on a collision course with the combine, which covered the entire road.
“He tilted the head and the car went under the head,” Guebert said. “I’ve heard of tragic accidents when an individual not paying attention hits a corn head on the road. That is so sad.”
Robbins was also involved in an accident in which he was pulling a plow down a highway and a motorist ran into the back.
“He was a little inebriated,” he said.
The problem is worse due to urban sprawl, Robbins added.
“We’re in the area where there’s a lot of traffic, and we have to be cognizant of it,” he said. “There are some roads I hate to go down but I have to get to the field. I’ve been farming for 40 years. It’s definitely worse because we have more traffic.”
Hinthorn said the combination of equipment size and the slow speed increase chances of accidents on the road.
“One of the problems we see is that people are moving pretty quick, and farm equipment is going only 15 or 20 miles an hour,” he said. “You can come up on that equipment very quickly. That’s one of the biggest causes of accidents.”
Farmers should take extra care in ensuring that safety features are operating and visible.
“Make sure you check those vehicles that you only use once or twice a year,” Hinthorn said. “…Harvest can be a really busy time of year. Make sure to take plenty of breaks. It’s always good to be your best.”
Guebert said equipment manufacturers have improved safety dramatically by including plenty of flashing lights and other warning signs on vehicles. Still, motorists must do their part to avoid accidents.
“A lot of folks just don’t understand the lighting. They get so close behind the piece of equipment, the operator can’t see them in their mirrors, and that makes it challenging as well,” he said.
Keeping safe is a must.
“It’s important to their livelihood,” Guebert said. “If they get hurt, who’s going to get the work done?”