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How to Share the Road with Farm Vehicles During Alberta’s Harvest Season

By Bonnie Staring

There’s something special about a drive in the country on a gorgeous
late-summer day. Golden sunshine, crisp air, rolling prairies and a favourite playlist on the stereo—they all make cruising Alberta’s open roads a quintessential experience. 

But even as you’re enjoying the drive, it’s important to remain vigilant. Farm vehicles also use rural highways and range roads, and because of their size, slower speed and habit of kicking up clouds of dust, their presence can affect driving conditions for all road users.

During Alberta’s harvest season from July to October, you’re most likely to find yourself sharing roads and highways with tractors, swathers, balers, bale trailers, combines and grain carts.

“This is make-it-or-break-it time for farmers,” says Brad Wilson, senior health and safety advisor at United Farmers of Alberta Co-operative Ltd. “They’ve invested their money in the spring and the harvest is their payday.” But farm equipment requires extra care from fellow drivers. 

According to Safe Transportation of Farm Equipment in Alberta, a government-issued manual for farmers, about half of all farm equipment collisions occur in harvest season. Multi-vehicle collisions involving farm equipment usually happen when operators turn onto public roadways—or when drivers miscalculate the speed and/or size of the equipment they’re trying to pass. 

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Farm equipment travels much slower than you think: Some machinery can reach 60 km/h, but others can only travel at 25 km/h. “If you’re travelling at 80 km/h and you come upon a vehicle going 25, you’ll close a gap of 100 metres in 6.5 seconds,” explains Ryan Lemont, manager of driver education at AMA. “And you’ll need at least one second of time to react.”

While farm operators and other drivers must follow the same rules of the road, operating farm equipment isn’t the same as driving a truck or passenger vehicle. Equipment may not have turn signals; an operator might not be able to see what’s beside them; and hefty machinery could be hauling a heavy load. 

“A large bale of hay or greenfeed can weigh up to 800 kilograms apiece, and you have up to 18 or 20 of those on a trailer,” Wilson says. That kind of weight makes farm equipment hard to manoeuvre, speed up and slow down. 

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What about the combine that won’t pull over to let you pass? It’s not about you—it’s about safety. “A lot of times, the shoulder is too soft for the weight of the equipment,” Wilson notes. Additionally, farm equipment that hangs over the side of the road can wipe out mailboxes and street signs, and risk rolling into the ditch.

“Farm equipment has as much right to be on the roadway as vehicles do,” Lemont says. By staying alert behind the wheel—and understanding how farm machinery uses the road—we can make rural driving safer for everyone.  

Simple ways to share the road with farm vehicles

Eyes on the road: Safely stow all of your devices and stay alert for farm equipment when travelling in rural areas.

Keep your distance: Always maintain at least three seconds of space between your vehicle and any farm equipment you’re following.

Have patience: Make sure you give farm equipment operators enough time and space to turn, enter or exit the road.

Be extra cautious: Assume the operator can’t see you. If you must pass, ensure you have ample time, lane space and distance to do so safely.