Averting tragedy takes precaution

A glance at the calendar shows we are officially into summer, and that means shared responsibilities on highways and rural roads.

At High Plains Journal we hear of too many stories about accidents involving wrecks or tragedy, whether it is in the harvest fields or taking grain to the elevator. A missed stop sign from a distracted driver in a hurry or inattentiveness due to trying to return a text message can be a culprit.

The Kansas Highway Patrol recently issued a news release about the need for motorists to use more caution and patience when traveling around farm trucks, tractors, combines and other implements.

A farm equipment operator can only travel at speeds of 15 to 25 miles per hour, and the width can be wider than a line of traffic, so it is imperative to make extra room and leave more time to reach your destination. Patience—as our mother would say—is a virtue, and that applies to motorists whose impatience can cause a deadly accident.

Because of its width, when a farm vehicle pulls to the right side of the road, it does not necessarily mean it is turning right or is allowing the motorist to pass. It could be that the equipment operator is trying to provide enough room to maneuver for a wide left turn.

Farm vehicles with a slow-moving sign—a triangular shape with orange— mean motorists should slow down. The KHP correctly states that when a motorist sees the emblem to immediately slow down because even though emblems are visible from a distance, it can be difficult to judge at what speed the motorist is closing in—particularly at night.

We would also add that urban cousins who want to snap photos of a combine cutting a field of wheat at sunset may cause unintended consequences. Those picturesque moments are wonderful, but we’d urge those photographers to remember that farmers are trying to harvest a crop and get it to a grain bin. A vehicle idling in a field can also start straw on fire.

Many of these warnings apply at multiple times of the year. On the High Plains, we historically think of wheat harvest, but it also applies at other times in the summer. Large spray rigs are trying to treat corn, soybean and sorghum fields. A motorist may encounter those vehicles after the wheat harvest as an operator may be spraying at any time of the day when the wind speed is down.

The busiest season for moving equipment is just beginning, and it is a shared responsibility that rural and urban drivers must observe in the High Plains, where two-lane highways are the most common roads.

An editor’s dream, along with a highway patrolman and a county sheriff, is that he will go through a busy summer season with no fatalities. That dream only becomes a reality with the understanding that safety is a responsibility shared by many, but it all starts with the driver’s mindset.

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].