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Make room for safety around agricultural trucks

“Farm trucks are big and heavy,” notes Angie Johnson, farm and ranch safety coordinator with NDSU Extension. “They need more room to turn and stop than we often expect.” (Photo: USDA, public domain)

FARGO, ND — With the agricultural season underway, farm trucks are traveling throughout the region. North Dakota State University safety experts are reminding other drivers to give trucks more room to operate.

“Farm trucks are big and heavy,” notes Angie Johnson, farm and ranch safety coordinator with NDSU Extension. “They need more room to turn and stop than we often expect.”

Surveys of farm operators conducted by NDSU’s Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute indicate that tractor-trailers are the most commonly used agricultural truck in the region.

“The average 5-axle corn semi weighs over 75,000 pounds,” says Johnson. “Stopping a vehicle of this size and weight takes approximately 40% longer than a typical passenger vehicle – up to the length of a football field and a half. »

Additionally, due to their size, semi-trailers have large blind spots, called “no-go zones” by the trucking industry, where other vehicles are invisible to the driver.

“If you can’t see the driver in the truck’s side mirror, chances are they can’t see you,” Johnson adds. “When you overtake or are overtaken, don’t linger in these blind spots. Cutting in front of a tractor-trailer or following it too closely can also put you in a blind spot and significantly increase your chances of being involved in an accident.

The North Dakota Motor Carriers Association provides information about no-zones on its website at www.ndmca.org/no-zone/.

The National Safety Council reports that more than 70 percent of injuries and deaths resulting from crashes involving large trucks occurred to occupants of other vehicles. “Because of the difference in size and mass between large trucks and passenger vehicles, drivers and passengers are almost always the losers in accidents,” says Johnson.

The Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute reports that 72 percent of injury crashes involving trucks in North Dakota occur on rural highways or other rural roads. On gravel roads, the number of injury accidents involving trucks is significantly higher than injury accidents not involving trucks.

Agricultural truck drivers often face unique challenges posed by rural roads.

“Gravel roads or even some paved roads were not designed for the size of trucks that currently use them,” says Kelly Bengtson, a highway and bridge engineer at the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute and former county engineer . “Drivers should be aware of soft or non-existent shoulders, rutted or damaged road surfaces and narrow travel lanes. »

A common problem is intersections that were not designed to give large vehicles enough room to turn. Drivers may need to swerve widely and use multiple lanes to negotiate turns at these intersections. Bengtson advises giving these drivers some leeway.

Farm trucks may enter roads from field approaches or stop in unexpected places to deliver farm inputs or service farm equipment. Dust clouds from gravel roads or farms can reduce visibility.

“It’s important to pay attention to your surroundings and be extremely cautious whenever trucks or farm equipment are traveling through the area,” says Bengtson.

Johnson said farm trucks can also be driven by inexperienced or young drivers (semi-trailer drivers must be at least 18 years old), so it’s best to give them more room to operate.

Truck drivers must ensure they are traveling at safe speeds on rural roads. According to research from the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, the most common contributing factors to injury crashes are weather conditions, failure to yield right of way and moving too fast for conditions.

“Driving a large vehicle is a serious task that requires your full attention,” says Bengtson. “You must be aware of road and weather conditions as well as surrounding traffic and adjust your speed accordingly. »

Bengtson and Johnson note that patience goes a long way in preventing most truck-related incidents in rural areas. “Being in a hurry to overtake, following too closely or cutting in front of trucks can have deadly consequences,” Johnson points out. “Be a defensive driver by anticipating truck and farm equipment drivers to make wide turns and unexpected turns when approaching fields. Understand that they may operate at lower speeds, which can cause rear-end collisions if you drive distracted. Take your time when encountering or following trucks and farm equipment, because a few extra seconds or minutes to be careful is a small price to pay for safety.

For more farm and ranch safety tips from NDSU Extension, visit ndsu.ag/roadsafety.

—NDSU Extension