April 17, 2012
Farm vehicle safety urged
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
A farm tractor shares Route 13 with other vehicles north of Cortland on Monday. The Cortland County Farm Bureau, Sheriff’s Department and other organization are asking motorist to be cautious when driving near tractors and other farm equipment.
EAST HOMER — Note to drivers: Slow down, it is planting season.
That was the message during a press conference Monday to promote the Cortland County Rural Road Safety Initiative.
Representatives from the Cortland County Farm Bureau, the New York State Police, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District and Nationwide Insurance were on hand to announce the initiative.
The news conference and the initiative are meant to increase awareness about farm vehicles on the road this time of year, said Paul Fouts, president of the Cortland County Farm Bureau.
“If you’re going 55 miles per hour and 100 yards ahead a tractor is going 15 miles per hour, it will only take you five seconds to close the gap,” he said. “Especially with planting season starting, there will be more farm vehicles on the road.”
From April through October, farmers are more active, often from before sunup to after sundown, Fouts said.
The news conference was held at Ken and Sue Poole’s dairy farm on Route 13 in East Homer. The Pooles’ farm sits on a bend in the road, which means they have to be extra careful about drivers speeding around the corner.
The outdoor news conference was occasionally drowned out by roar of an 18-wheeler whipping by.
Ken Poole said when he drives his equipment on the road, he makes a point to be extra careful and honor his lane.
“I try and keep my wheel on the white line,” he said. “And you move over enough to make sure the driver behind you can pass.”
Rob Forbes, who owns a farm about three miles south of the Pooles’ farm, said he has seen numerous close calls over the years.
“All it takes is one bad decision and you can change someone’s life forever,” he said.
Forbes shared a story of just how dangerous that stretch of road can be.
Almost seven years ago to the day, Forbes was helping Poole and his employees spread manure on the field. One of the employees pulled out on to the road in a 15,000-pound tractor, pulling 30,000 pounds of fertilizer and turned north on Route 13. Moments later he felt a faint bump.
A motorcyclist had rear-ended the vehicle, tossing him on to the road and causing serious injury. Police believed that the glare from the sun blinded the biker as he came over a crest in the road.
“We put in a lot of long days, missing dinners with our families so you can have dinner with yours,” Forbes said. “All we ask is that you slow down a little bit.”
That awareness applies to farmers as well. The state police held a safety program last month for around 75 farmers, going over the rules of the road and required safety regulations for farm vehicles.
Farm vehicles, including tractors, self-propelled equipment and horse-drawn vehicles are not allowed to travel faster than 25 mph by state law.
Each vehicle is also supposed to have a slow-moving vehicle emblem on the back, which resembles a bright orange triangle with the points chopped off.
Cortland County Legislature Chairman Mike Park (R-Homer) read a proclamation, declaring this week Rural Road Safety Week in Cortland. That coincides with National Rural Road Safety Week.
The state Department of Transportation is helping out by placing four mobile electronic message boards throughout the county, reminding drivers to be careful.
There are no statistics for the number of farm vehicles accidents in Cortland County, but each year in the United States, there are more than 15,000 accidents involving farm vehicles on public roads. Two out of every three involve a rear-end collision.
Last July, a drunk driver in Penn Yan illegally passed a farm tractor and collided with a minivan carrying 11 Amish farmers, killing five.
Darrel Aubertine, the state commissioner for the Agriculture and Markets Department, spoke briefly, applauding Cortland officials for their efforts.
“It’s a busy time of year and it is going to stay busy for some time,” he said. “I realize drivers are sometimes frustrated when they get behind a tractor but we to need to help people recognize these farmers are doing their job.”
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