Georgia Department of Agriculture

Keeping rural roads safe for us all

Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011

By Harris Blackwood, Director, Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, and Gary W. Black, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner

Few things are as enjoyable as a ride on some of Georgia’s rural roads. The countryside is beautiful; the fresh air is invigorating; and escaping from the traffic jams of the city is a welcome change.

It is harvest season here in Georgia, and drivers on our rural roads are more likely than ever to encounter farm equipment in use during this busy time. But just as a motorist is entitled to use those roads, our farmers are also entitled to use those same roads to get their farm machinery from farm to farm or field to field. All too often, a motorist driving at or above the speed limit will encounter a tractor, combine or other piece of farm machinery that is traveling at only 15 to 25 miles per hour. A collision between a passenger vehicle and a tractor can easily result in serious injury or, in some cases, even death.

It is important for Georgia drivers to remember that farm equipment is designed to be used in fields and is not designed to travel at highway speeds. Many times, it is wider than the lane of travel. A farmer who sees a passenger vehicle behind his farm equipment understands your trip is being delayed and, if at all possible, will pull off the road at a safe location to allow you to pass. However, the shoulder lane of some our rural roads may be soft, wet or steep and that can cause the farm vehicle to tip or become stuck, or the shoulder may not be able to support the heavy machinery. Please be patient until the farmer can accommodate your needs. And please remember that a momentary slow-down is preferred to a serious injury or even death.

Here are a few things to think about:

-If you’re driving 55 miles per hour and come upon a tractor that is moving at 15 miles per hour, it only takes five seconds to close a gap the length of a football field between you and the tractor.

-Even if you have to slow to down to 20 miles per hour and follow a tractor for two miles, it only takes six minutes of your time – the equivalent of waiting through two traffic lights.

-In 2010, there were 1,249 traffic-related deaths on Georgia roads. Of those, 30 percent occurred on rural roads, compared to 19 percent in metro Atlanta. The wide open spaces of our rural countryside are inviting and enjoyable, but excessive speed combined with the prospect of meeting a farm vehicle at a slower speed is a deadly combination.

Georgia is fortunate to be able to report that, in recent years, the number of fatalities has gone down in our state due to increased use of seat belts and newer vehicles with added safety features. Our city and state law enforcement officers have also worked diligently to reduce the number of drivers who are impaired by drugs or alcohol. Last year more than 40,000 people were arrested for driving under the influence.

Just as our agriculture and highway safety agencies are working together, we need the partnership of Georgia drivers to make our rural roads safer. Let’s all work together to make this a safe harvest season for farmers and every Georgian out on the road.

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