Taking the extra minute for safety

In the heat of haying season, time is a luxury many farmers may think they don’t have to waste.

But planning ahead for safety on the roadways is never a waste of time, according to Kansas Highway Patrolman Herb Bradley. Bradley patrols the western half of Kansas and has been in motor carrier enforcement dealing with commercial vehicles for eight years. He has seen what happens when farmers and ranchers don’t take the time to be extra careful on Kansas roads in the rush of getting crops and livestock to market. 

The following are reminders Bradley shared for Kansas farmers and ranchers. However, for those outside of the state, Bradley recommended that they contact their own state highway patrol offices with specific questions. Law enforcement understands the needs of commerce on the highways, and they just want people to be safe, Bradley emphasized.

 Loading the trailer

Before the truck-tractor semi leaves the field, it’s critical the farmer take the time to properly load and secure the commodities being hauled. For hay bales, that means properly strapping the load. 

“It’s Kansas law that hay bales have to be secured, especially if you’re hauling round bales,” Bradley said. And straps should be rated for the loads they are meant to secure. The Federal Motor Carrier Administration has guidelines farmers must follow.

Large round bales: If double-stacked, every top bale has to have a strap. 

Large square bales: If there is no header board, then the front stack of bales needs to have two straps, with one strap on each of every stack on the rest of the trailer.

Small square bales: Bradley said there are stacking diagrams for making sure that they are stable on the trailer, and those also require straps to secure them. Outside bales must not be placed in the same direction in more than two successive tiers, bales in the top tier must be loaded crosswise to the vehicle and no bale should be loaded vertically.

Adding one longitudinal strap from the front to the back of the trailer is another measure of caution, provided that the working load limit for the strap is large enough, Bradley said.

“When the farmer is pulling out of their field, if their hay isn’t secured they could be stopped,” Bradley said. It’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure the load is properly secured before entering the highway, no matter how many miles the load may be going.

“Even just a single stack of bales, it has to be secured,” Bradley said. “There’s no mileage restrictions, even for farmers.” So even if you’re just crossing the road, once you’re on the highway, you’re responsible. 

“If you were to pull out of the field, and cut a corner too short and the load isn’t secure, it’s on the driver,” Bradley said. Not only could you lose valuable commodities and cause damage to equipment, you could injure other drivers or yourself if a load tips over or becomes unsecure.

Tarps and safety equipment

“It’s Kansas law that ‘every load shall be tarped or loaded low enough to not come out of a trailer,’” Bradley said. “You wouldn’t leave a load of grain or other commodity in the field without a tarp on it, so why would you haul it down the highway without one?” Blowing commodities, whether silage, ground hay or grain, can impede vision of other drivers.

“The biggest thing I see is loads not being tarped at all,” Bradley explained. “Whether it’s silage cutter or hay grinding guys, if they fill it to the rim they have to have a tarp, or have it loaded low enough to not blow out.” 

The tarp is considered part of the vehicle’s equipment. Therefore it is the responsibility of the driver to make sure the tarp is secured and not flopping into oncoming traffic, Bradley said.

Other safety equipment such as signage and lights must also be in working order and in the right place on the vehicle.

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“Kansas state law says if a vehicle is for farm use, not for hire, then [signage] must be on the door of the vehicle,” Bradley said. “State law says it has to say that if the registration is for over 54,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating. That would be the most common truck-tractor semi trailer combination. But there could also be straight trucks, with the box on the back, that could possibly be that size.”

As for lights, most of the truck-tractor trailer combinations that Bradley sees on the road are well maintained. It’s the smaller bumper hitch trailers with pickups that often don’t have working lights.

“There is no farmer exemption on any sized trailer for lights,” Bradley said. “Even if I can see the taillights on the back of the pickup ahead of the trailer, it doesn’t count. You must have lights on the trailer and they must work.”

Vehicle and driver licensing 

The Kansas Highway Patrol offers a helpful handout online for Kansas farmers regarding agricultural exemptions from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. It can be found at www.kansashighwaypatrol.org/DocumentCenter/View/163.

Kansas farmers, operating within the state, aren’t subject to Commercial Driver’s License regulations, as long as:

• The vehicle has farm registration;

• The vehicle transports only farm products, livestock or supplies to or from the farm or ranch;

• It operates wholly within the state; and

• It does not haul for hire. 

Kansas registered farm truck tractors just require a non-CDL Class A license, while Kansas registered farm trucks require non-CDL Class C license. 

Some of the instances that can trip up farmers are when what they’re transporting qualifies them as “engaged in commerce,” Bradley explained. For instance, if a farmer hauls seed to be sold and acting as a middle man for a seed company, technically that falls within the lines of interstate commerce and not under the farmer exemption. Other grey areas that sometimes trip up farmers would be custom work for neighbors under a farm tag; using a farm registered vehicle for personal use; operating loads over the registered GVWR; or operating on farm tags outside of the 150-mile radius of their farm or across state lines.

Oversized loads

On Kansas roads, anything running over 8 feet, 6 inches wide must have signage for oversized loads and must be marked on the widest portion of the load, Bradley said.

“The farmer isn’t required to have a permit, but he still has to have the oversized load sign and mark the load,” Bradley said. With some of today’s newer equipment, just hauling a tractor into the dealership to get worked on would require these signage and flags, he added.

Oversized equipment is becoming a more common sight on roadways, especially during planting and harvest seasons. In western Kansas, Bradley said he sees a lot more large equipment being driven from one field to the next. In one case he stopped a farmer with an implement over 30 feet wide on the roadway—and that was with it folded up.

“Industry has to grow and we have to grow with it,” Bradley said. “We understand that equipment is getting bigger and it has to be transported. For example, the new New Holland combine is a monster, so how do farmers transport it from point A to point B? You could take the wheels off of it and move it, but then you’d have a delay trying to put the wheels back on when you got to point B.” Farmers still do everything they can to alert traffic by using chaser vehicles with flashing road hazard lights following large equipment, but in this case it’s the other motorists’ responsibility to watch out for farm equipment.

“If you have a tractor and a truck behind it with flashers on, that’s probably the safest for the farmer,” Bradley said. “But if you have a person impatient to pass, they may not be able to see the implement that’s trailing the tractor.” That’s when accidents can happen. Bradley reminded farmers to watch for other drivers and be able to move over and allow drivers to safely pass when possible.

“If I could tell any farmer one thing, it’s that when they come to an intersection to stop, and especially if you have a yield sign,” Bradley said. “You may be able to see good in two directions, but you need to stop. Last year we saw three or four serious injury fatalities in Kansas due to trucks going through yield signs.” Teaching young drivers on the farm this one rule is critical to their safety today and in the future, he added.

Bradley reminded farmers that if they have questions to contact their state highway patrol or local law enforcement agency. Law enforcement officers are more than happy to walk through your specific questions to make sure you’re operating safely.

It’s easy to let safety measures slide in the interest of saving time.

But taking that extra minute to properly secure trailer loads and run under the legal limits is not only the right thing to do, it’s critical to ensure everyone comes home safe.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].