Patience needed on rural roads (Editorial)

by | Jul 19, 2019

Though planting and crop management needs are in the farmers rearview, harvest will be arriving soon enough and with it, another round of large slow-moving equipment on the roads moving from field to field.
While it may be less this time of year, equipment is still on the move and according to a report this year from national transportation research group TRIP, traffic fatalities on the nation’s rural and non-interstate roads — those most often traveled by farmers in equipment — occur at a rate of about 2.5 times higher than on all other roads.
Virginia ranks 15th on the list. The report found that for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel, the average number of traffic fatalities on rural, non-interstate roads in Virginia is 2.34. That is more than four times the average number of fatalities on all other roads in Virginia.
Delaware was one spot behind Virginia in the rankings with a rate of 2.33 — about three times the average number of fatalities on all other roads in Delaware.
Maryland, with it’s heavily urbanized central corridor, was outside the top 25 states with a rate of 1.36 fatalities on rural and non-interstate roads, less than twice the average number of fatalities on all other roads.
“Often, roads in rural areas are much narrower and curvier; when the right-of-way has not been maintained, this makes the usable path even more narrow,” explained Andrew Smith, associate director of governmental relations for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Having good roads in rural areas is just as important as those in more populated areas of the state.”
Dana Fisher, chairman of the VFBF Safety Committee, shared an example of how accidents can occur on rural roads when drivers encounter farm equipment.
“Today, there are many distractions vying for drivers’ attention. If you’re going 45 to 50 miles per hour, approaching a tractor that’s going 20 miles per hour, you’re going to close the distance fast,” Fisher noted. “At that point, there’s not much time to react.”
The condition of rural roads also plays a factor nationally.
In 2017, 15 percent of the nation’s major rural roads were rated in poor condition, 21 percent were rated mediocre and about 17 percent rated fair. Of the Mid-Atlantic states, Pennsylvania ranked 12th in the United States, at 21 percent poor, but Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and New Jersey were all in the single digits and out of the top 25 states.
Call it a very very thin silver lining to farming in some of the most urbanized states in America.
Fisher advises drivers on rural roads to “practice patience, and be aware of your surroundings. It could be the difference between a safe ride home and an accident.”
He’s right, though patience seems to be in short supply in numerous ways these days.
Though in one sense farm vehicles on the road are surrounded by other motorists, in another sense, the farmers driving are on their own to protect themselves as best they can to reach their destination.

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