As has become usual in the last couple of years, some late-season snow fell across much of the prairies, stopping any seeding work that may have already started. In several locations the moisture it brings with it has been far more welcome than any frustration at the unseasonable conditions. Any machines that had been working will now be sidelined for a couple of days. So it isn’t likely big equipment will be moving down rural roads this week.
That lack of movement brought to mind something I saw about a week or two ago. I noticed a Twitter post with images that showed how much the operator of a tractor could see in his rear view mirrors with an air seeder tagging along behind him on the road. The person posting the images cautioned car drivers to be careful when passing him, because he can’t see anything behind him.
That is reasonable advice; but it made me wonder, why didn’t he extend his mirrors out to get a better view of the road behind? Most of us operate the same or similar machines every season, so the restricted view to the rear couldn’t have been a surprise. If the mirror brackets on the tractor aren’t able to extend, why not get a pair that will?
Is it reasonable to put the onus solely on other motorists for our safe movement on the roads? I think in our rush every season to get the job done, many sometimes completely overlook the road safety aspect. All our attention goes to working in the field. But, of course, we have to get there first. And more than a few farm machines are involved in traffic collisions every year.
I recall travelling several years ago along the Trans Canada highway in Saskatchewan on the Labour Day weekend. The road was only two lanes wide at that time and traffic was very heavy—as is usual at that time. I came upon a couple of miles of traffic backup where vehicles were slowed to below 30km/h in a 100km/h zone. The reason: three combines with dual wheels and headers attached were moving to a new field, using the busiest highway in the province. Behind them was a four-wheel drive tractor with duals pulling a grain cart. They made it necessary for other vehicles to have enough space to get past about 150 metres of moving obstruction in order to pass.
The combines and tractor took up the driving lane and shoulder, so they could not let cars squeeze by without crossing the centre line. And with heavy on-coming traffic, passing was nearly impossible. These machines stayed on that route for several miles. Eventually, impatient drivers started doing stupid things to get by them.
Certainly you can’t blame the machine operators for the stupid actions of others, but under those circumstances that outcome was certainly predictable. Why did those operators choose that route on that day? There is no way they wouldn’t have realized the kind of traffic snarl they would create. There must have been an alternate route they could have used.
I think we have a moral obligation to do everything we can not to create a situation that unnecessarily increases the risk of a collisions when moving machinery.
Certainly we can’t entirely eliminate the risk, especially given the scale of today’s equipment. And even with wider mirrors, that first operator I mentioned would still have had a massive blind spot behind his drill. If a commercial operation was moving a machine of that width, they would have been obligated by law to take several steps farmers are exempt from to prevent a collision, including the use of pilot cars.
Just because we’re legally allowed to do things without taking all reasonable precautions to ensure our safety and the safety of others, doesn’t mean we should. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of just trying to get there quickly a few times in our farming careers. But we’re professional producers. Let’s be sure we live up to that name.
And as Sergeant Esterhaus used to say on every episode of the old TV police show “Hill Street Blues”, let’s be careful out there.