The fall harvest has begun, and that means more slow-moving tractors are rolling around on Niagara’s roadways.
Both drivers and farm machinery operators have a role in making this year’s harvest a safe one.
Lee Alderson of the Ministry of Transportation pointed out that most tractors and combines – marked with an orange and red triangle emblem on the rear – have a maximum speed of 40 km/h, but travel slower when towing.
Drivers can pass farm machinery where legally allowed and safe to do so, but should exercise patience. When passing, drivers should leave plenty of space and make eye contact with the machinery operator.
“Farm machinery moves quite slowly compared to other road users and they often turn directly into fields rather than roads or lanes, or move from lane to lane.
"Much like large trucks or buses, farm vehicles often require a large amount of room to make right or left turns. If one of these vehicles moves to the right or left, they may be preparing to make a turn rather than allowing space for you to pass,” Alderson noted.
According to a Canadian Agricultural Safety Association (CASA) Toolbox Talk publication, “The left-turn collision is the most common type of farm machinery collisions on public roads. It happens when the farm vehicle is about to make a left turn; meanwhile, the motorist behind the farm vehicle decides to pass.”
Recommendations for machine operators are: stay visible with working lights, frequently shoulder-check and make eye contact with drivers, signal intentions to move positions, occupy the full lane (don’t straddle the shoulder), use pilot vehicles when transporting large equipment and change travel times or routes to avoid peak traffic.
As farm machine operators often harvest late into the night in the race against weather, rushing and fatigue can also be a contributing factors to injuries, said Robert Gobeil, a CASA agricultural health and safety specialist, in an email.
He advised planning ahead to manage fatigue and to have an emergency plan in place in the event of an incident.
Of the 843 agriculture-related deaths in Canada between 2003 and 2012, incidents between farm machinery and vehicle traffic accounted for 59 deaths, making the incidents one of the top five causes of agriculture-related death in Canada, according to a 2016 report from the Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting project of CASA. Using data from coroner reports, only fatalities are tracked, not injuries.
The same report revealed that over that 23-year period, collisions between vehicles and farm machinery actually increased by an average of 2.8 per cent.
The Ontario Road Safety Annual Report from the province’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) provides information for farm-vehicle road incidents from 2013 to 2017.
During those years, “farm vehicles were involved in an average of four fatal, 54 injury, and 180 property damage-only collisions per year,” Alderson said.
Jordan Snobelen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara this Week