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Minnesota officials urge motorists to be cautious on roads

A tractor and planter are driven Thursday on state Highway 23 near Maynard as traffic follows. Officials are reminding motorists in farm country to watch for farmers moving equipment as harvest season gears up. Susan Lunneborg/West Central Tribune

WILLMAR, Minn. -- Highway crashes involving farm vehicles and equipment are rare, according to statistics from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety. But, crashes do happen and can result in serious injury or death.

According to department statistics, from 2006 to 2008, there were nine fatalities and 26 serious injuries from crashes involving farm vehicles. In 2008 alone, farm-related vehicles were involved in 127 crashes. Of those crashes, two resulted in fatalities, 43 in injuries and 82 in property damage. During the 2009 Farm Safety and Health Week, state and local officials urge drivers to be aware and careful around farm equipment.

"Truck traffic increases significantly during the harvest season, both in terms of volume and the number of hours each day trucks and other farm-related vehicles are on the road," said Sue Groth, with the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

"There have been numerous farm vehicle crashes over the past few years due to the increased traffic."

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture offers these tips for citizens living and driving in rural areas: to be on the look-out for farm equipment, slow down when encountering slow moving vehicles, wait for a safe place to pass, and avoid using a cell phone while driving.

The Ag Department urges farmers to make their equipment easy to see with lights and flashers. State law dictates that equipment traveling at speeds less than 30 mph must use a slow-moving vehicle emblem. Farmers may also consider having a follow vehicle when moving large equipment on roadways, especially at night.

Minnesota Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson says it is important to review safety practices and then remember to implement them.

"Harvest is a very busy time for Minnesota's farmers, but taking a moment to ensure safe practices are followed on the farm and on the road could prevent serious injury or death," says Hugoson. "But ensuring an injury-free fall is everyone's responsibility. While traveling through rural areas, all drivers need to pay attention to and respect farm equipment that may be on the roads."

Motorists are urged to watch for tractors pulling wagons at slow speeds, as well as combines and other wide equipment that may go over the center line. The leading contributing crash factors in farm vehicle crashes are inattention, speeding and unsafe passing.

"Motorists need to be prepared for slow-moving farm vehicles, especially on rural, two-lane roads," said Cheri Marti, Office of Traffic Safety director. "Farm vehicles are generally very large, so motorists need to give them extra space and use caution when attempting to pass."