By Brandy Harrison
ESSEX — At least twice a year, Brendan Byrne can almost count on a car playing chicken with oncoming traffic while swerving out to pass his tractor.
“I’ve had to grab the throttle and slow down and even then, they’ve barely had enough room to squeeze back into the right lane. That gets a little nerve-racking,” says the Essex crop farmer, who says he has watched as many as five cars pass him on the same stretch of highway one-after-the-other. “Sometimes you’re lit up like a Christmas tree at night and people don’t seem to know what to do.”
Having had more run-ins with impatient drivers in the last few years, Byrne opted for a combine with single rather than dual wheels to take up less of the roadway. He checks his lights and signage often and avoids the road altogether at the busiest times of day. “Sometimes it’s better to get a coffee and give it half an hour.”
Driving farm equipment on public roadways can be dangerous. There were at least six fatal accidents in Ontario last year where vehicles collided with farm equipment. There are an average of between four and five farmer fatalities in Ontario each year but non-farmers face nearly twice the risk in a collision, according to the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association.
Farmers chancing the road at night also have to watch for impaired drivers.
On June 12, a pickup truck collided with a tractor and trailer cultivator before hitting the ditch south of Essex. Jeramie Sauve of Kingsville was charged with impaired driving and driving while under suspension.
On the edge of urban Ottawa, dairy farmer John Luchtenberg is at odds with city drivers nearly every day when hauling hay or gravity boxes. He used to pull onto the shoulder to leave more room, only to have cars pass on a hill, at a corner, or into oncoming traffic.
“Now I hog the centre line. If you want to see past me, you have to slow down to a crawl. It’s safer that way,” says Luchtenberg, who’s had to slam on his brakes too many times ahead of a stop sign and drove the point home to one driver a few summers ago. “I just lifted the loader above the car and put the nose of the tractor right into his bumper. I figured that’d teach him. As soon as the road was clear, he took off like a bat out of hell.”
As urban sprawl extends into farm country, clashes may be more common, says Dean Anderson, agricultural program manager at Workplace Safety and Prevention Services.
The weekend cottage rush and distracted drivers increase the risks, he says.
Farmers have every right to be on the roadway and shouldn’t be on the gravel shoulder, as long as equipment isn’t over the centre line, he says.
Farmers should wipe off their reflectors and slow-moving vehicle emblems when leaving a dusty field and ensure lights are working properly, says Anderson. If at all possible, get a trailing vehicle using its four-way blinkers and avoid the road at night.
“If you don’t have to move at night, move it in the morning. Go home an hour early, especially when it’s a Friday afternoon and 30 people will be backed up behind you before the next side road,” he says.