University of Maryland Extension

Safety Tips for Tractor Drivers and Motorists

Image Credit: 
Pennsylvania State University, Agricultural Safety and Health

April is almost here, meaning planting season is just around the corner. After a winter hiatus, tractors and other farm equipment will be making their debuts back onto roadways soon. Whether you’re driving a car or driving that slow-moving tractor, remember that safety should be everyone’s priority while behind the wheel. Here are some tips to keep in mind.

Slow down!

When you see a tractor driving on the road, your first instinct should be to slow down. Motorists should take extra care on curvy or hilly roads where sight distance is limited. You never know whether there will be a slow-moving tractor around the bend or over the hill.

Tractor operators should assist this effort by ensuring utilizing an SMV (slow-moving vehicle) emblem. Be sure that it’s in good condition: replace old SMV emblems that are faded, bent up, or no longer reflective.

Increase visibility.

Tractor drivers should do what they can to alert motorists they’re there. Aside from SMV signs, be sure the edges of your equipment are marked with reflective tape, especially on wide machinery that doesn’t fit within the lane. Avoid driving on the road at night, but if you must, always use your headlights but turn off any rear spotlights. (In the dark, a motorist may confuse these for headlights of an oncoming vehicle.)       

Using pilot vehicles is a good idea if you’re driving a long distance or especially if your equipment doesn’t fit in your lane. Have a vehicle drive behind you and, if possible, another vehicle drive in front of you. These pilot vehicles should be marked in some way, such as with orange flags and/or a yellow or amber light.

Use turn signals, or if your tractor doesn’t have them, use hand signals when making turns. One common collision occurs when a car tries to pass a tractor that has slowed down to make a left turn, thinking the tractor slowed to allow them to pass. Communicating with vehicles behind you can prevent this type of accident.

Pass with care.

Tractor drivers should be courteous and allow vehicles behind them to pass, but only if and when it’s safe to do so. If you can, pull your tractor off the road so cars can pass in their lane. If there is no place to pull off the road, stop and allow passing in an area where cars will be able to pass you safely. Passing is not advised within 100 feet of an intersection or bridge, where visibility is reduced due to hills or curves in the road, or in designated “no passing” zones. Use a hand signal so that cars behind you know you have stopped to allow passing.

Motorists should also use caution when passing. If the tractor is pulled off the road, ensure that you can clearly see the edges of all the equipment. Even if the tractor is out of the roadway, wide equipment that the tractor is towing may still stick out into the lane. If you think a tractor has stopped to allow you to pass, wait for a hand signal. Just because a tractor has slowed down or has pulled off to the right doesn’t mean it is allowing you to pass. The tractor driver may be preparing to make a left turn.

Be patient and respect each other.

Regardless of whether you’re driving a tractor or a car, you’re probably trying to get somewhere to get something done. Even if you have to slow down when following a tractor or pull off the road to allow cars to pass, keep in mind that on average you wait at a red light for three minutes.

It can be frustrating when your trip is delayed, but the safety and well-being of our neighbors is more important than saving time. A little extra caution and courtesy on the roadway can go a long way toward making our communities safer!                      


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