By JANELLE JAMES
Capital News Service
LANSING – As farmers wrap up tasks for the harvest season, traffic accidents involving farm vehicles are up over last year, officials said.
As of Oct. 28, there were 168 accidents involving farm vehicles, according to State Police reports. By the same time in 2021, there had been about 150 of these accidents.
In all of 2021, there were 195 traffic accidents and five fatalities involving farm equipment.
Farm vehicles – technically called implements of husbandry – are defined as those used for lifting or carrying implements for agriculture production. They include tractors, trailers, combines, plows and wagons.
According to the 2021 report, 23 accidents involving farm vehicles occurred in November, more than any other month. Accidents were more likely to occur between noon and 5 p.m.
“They need to move that equipment up and down the rural countryside to get from farm to field and field to market,” said Ernie Birchmeier, a livestock and dairy specialist at the Michigan Farm Bureau.
Last year, Ottawa and Ingham counties each had nine farm equipment-related accidents, the highest for any county in the state. Calhoun and Allegan counties each had eight accidents. Bay, Clinton and Genesee counties all had seven.
“In those rural areas where there’s a lot of farms and agriculture, one should expect that there’s going to be farm equipment that’s out on the roadway,” said State Police Lt. Michelle Robinson.
Motorists just aren’t really paying a whole lot of attention when they see tractors pulling out onto the road, said Robinson, who is the public information officer for the State Police’s 6th District, which includes Ottawa, Kent and Muskegon counties.
So far, Branch County, in the south-central part of the state, has had 20 farm vehicle traffic accidents, the highest of any county this year.
Most farm vehicles have a maximum speed of 25 mph, which is why they aren’t allowed on expressways, but can still be used on other roads. Operators are required by law to have a slow-moving vehicle sign on their equipment when on the road, said Andrew Vermeesch, the legislative counsel for the Farm Bureau.
“That slow-moving vehicle sign really indicates to motorists that that vehicle is traveling slower than normal and (they) need to act with caution,” he said.
The orange triangular signs are sometimes misused to mark driveways or mailboxes, but there are alternatives residents can use as markers for their property, he said.
It’s important to know that slow-moving vehicle signs should only be used on slow-moving vehicles, Vermeesch said. “Not only are these actions illegal, but it kind of has a desensitizing effect on drivers.”
“Safety always needs to be No. 1 priority for all motorists on the road. That includes the driver as well as the farmer when they’re taking their equipment on roads,” Vermeesch said.
State Police in the 6th district have done a lot of social media campaigns to warn drivers to slow down when they see farm vehicles on the road, especially during harvest season, Robinson said.