PUNXSUTAWNEY — That shortcut on a rural road to save time could cost you more than minutes if you don’t keep an eye out for horses, buggies and slow-moving farm equipment.
In an effort to reduce farm-related vehicle crashes and to bring awareness to farm safety, PennDOT, the state Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau joined together to promote Rural Road Safety Week at Fezell’s County Market Tuesday.
Shawn Houck, PennDOT press safety officer, said slow-moving vehicles fall under one category, which means they are generally traveling under the speed limit.
The idea is to recognize that those vehicles are out there, whether it’s a PennDOT truck sweeping the road, a U.S. Mail truck, a horse and buggy, or a farmer out trying to sow his field. That’s why it’s important that motorists identify slow-moving vehicles, which may be represented by an orange and red triangle or flashing lights, Houck said.
“Put down that cell phone and avoid the distractions until you get around that vehicle and drive safely down the highway,” he said. “Distractions are the No. 1 thing that cause drivers to crash into slow-moving vehicles.”
Houck said all horse and buggies are required to have only an orange triangle. Battery-operated flashing lights are an additional accessory for use at night.
Last year in Pennsylvania, there were 78 crashes involving slow-moving vehicles and five fatalities, Houck said. One fatality involved a horse and buggy. Also, 78 people lost a loved one or a piece of farm equipment in a crash.
Agriculture is still the No. 1 industry in Pennsylvania, Houck said, and farmers have a lot on their shoulders now, because there are fewer people to do the work that requires large equipment.
Rick Wise, Jefferson County Farm Bureau event coordinator, said when a motorist sees the orange triangle ahead, he or she should brake immediately.
Wise said rural roads are the emphasis, but slow-moving vehicles — which could also be wide, leaving little or no room to pass — could be on state highways as well.
Wise said drivers need to be patient and wait for an opportunity to pass, although most operators who have a triangle on their vehicles will pull over to allow other vehicles to pass.
“Rural roads are not wide enough for two vehicles; there’s always so many hills and curves,” Richard Reed, vice-president of the Farm Bureau, said. “It is hard to see any distance, and much of this equipment takes extra time to pull it onto the road or highway.”
Cpl. Shawn P. Fischer, of Punxsutawney-based Pennsylvania State Police, said dealing with slow-moving vehicles is one of the most dangerous things motorists encounter.
In today’s society, everyone is always in a hurry, he said, and they may also be distracted by using cell phones or text messaging while driving.
Fischer said the community should be aware that at this time of year, farmers will be on rural roads especially, and drivers need to pay attention while traveling these roads.
“Drivers need to have patience,” he said. “It’s bad enough when we have an injury or death in a rural accident. A farmer’s livelihood may be damaged due to the loss of their equipment from a crash.”
Houck said if you’re driving 55 mph and come upon a tractor moving 15 mph, it takes only five seconds to close a gap the length of a football field between you and the tractor.
For more information about rural road safety, contact the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau at 717-761-2740 or visit www.pfb.com .