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Publication #ABE303

Road Safety for Tractors and Farm Machinery1

Carol J. Lehtola and Charles M. Brown2

I. Road Safety

Each year, incidents involving tractors and other farm machinery occur on public roads, causing costly equipment damage, injuries and deaths.

Collisions with other vehicles make up nearly half of these incidents. Running off the road, overturning, striking a fixed object or falling from equipment make up the remainder.

About one-third of fatal tractor accidents occur on public roads, according to the National Safety Council.

Here are some practical tips that can help. Although most of these points may seem obvious, they are nonetheless important to review.

A. Licensing and Traffic Laws

  • Be thoroughly familiar with how to operate the tractor and any equipment it is hauling.

  • Obey all traffic laws, including speed limits, traffic signals, and signs.


Figure 1. 

B. Slow-Moving Vehicle Emblem

Have slow-moving vehicle emblems (required for vehicles traveling less than 25 mph!) and reflectors in place on all tractors and implements, and make sure that they are clean and in good condition.

New technology has improved the visibility of the slow-moving vehicle emblem. The emblem is made of two materials: a fluorescent material for daytime visibility and a reflective outline for nighttime. In the past, slow-moving vehicle emblems tended to fade excessively. Emblems made with the new material are more expensive than emblems without it, but their longevity offsets the extra cost. Reflective tape can be used to increase the visibility of tractors and equipment. Experts recommend applying it to the front, back, and sides of your equipment. (ASAE Marking Standard S279.10 is covered in ABE302.)

C. Safety Signals

Warning lights on tractors can help protect you from being hit by motorists. You might consider installing lights on the back of wagons and farm implements at the eye level of motorists.

This approach could have a similar benefit to that of placing brake lights in the middle of the rear window of New York City cabs. After the lights were installed, New York cab drivers had half as many rear-end collisions, and the repair costs in collisions dropped by more than one-third.

This was accomplished merely by giving drivers who were following cabs better information, not by requiring them to reform in some way.

D. Children

Never allow children to operate or ride on equipment.

E. When to Travel

  • Keep travel on public roads to a minimum.

  • Try to keep traveling on public roads to when traffic is at a minimum and visibility is good.

  • Avoid moving tractors and other farm equipment on public roads between sunset and sunrise, when visibility is 500 feet or less or when rain makes roads hazardous.

  • Consider using trailers to transport tractors and equipment to distant fields and other locations.

F. Braking

  • Make sure that brake pedals are locked together and that brakes are adjusted for equal pedal movement. This helps ensure that the tractor will stop in a straight line.

  • Since tractor brakes have limited holding power, use low gears whenever taking heavy loads up or down hills.

G. Escort Vehicles

At times, tractors or the equipment they are pulling extend beyond the center of the road into the oncoming traffic lane, especially on narrow rural roads.

In these situations, consider using an escort vehicle equipped with flashing yellow lights.

Remember that equipment can obscure the rear lights of the tractor.

H. Lighting

  • Properly light tractors and equipment. Lighting should include turn signals, headlights and taillights.

  • Check to see if all lights are working, and use them if there is any question about visibility.

  • Keep flashing amber lights on when operating farm equipment on public roads.

  • Turn off any work lights that face the rear. Make sure the load does not obscure lights and warning devices. If driving at night, clean headlights and taillights.

I. Lighting and Marking -- Summary of ASAE Standard 279.10

What are ASAE Standards? The American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE) is the professional society for those interested in engineering knowledge and technology for food, agriculture, related industries, and resources. Standards are based on experience and research, and they are developed by committees that include qualified people from producer, consumer, and general interest groups.

ASAE Standard 279.10 DEC02 "Lighting and Marking of Agricultural Equipment on Highways," applies to all tractors, other self-propelled farm machinery, and towed machinery used for agricultural operations which might be driven or towed on any road that is also accessible to the public. Self-propelled machines and towed machines are considered separately in the standard. Consult the standard for exact details about the specific types of lights and their placement. This marking and lighting standard is summarized in UF/IFAS Extension Fact Sheet ABE302.

II. Common Causes of Collisions

Nearly half of all incidents between motorists and farm implements involve one of two scenarios -- the left-turn collision or the rear-end collision. The number of incidents involving each scenario is about equal.

A. Left-Turn Collision

The scenario: The left-turn collision occurs when the tractor is about to make a left turn at about the same time that a motorist tries to pass.

Why it happens: Like semi-tractor trailer drivers, a tractor driver sometimes needs to make wide left turns. It may be necessary to swing the tractor to the right before making a left turn because the extra room is needed to line up with a farm gate or driveway. This maneuver can confuse motorists, especially if they think that the tractor operator is moving over to let them pass.

B. Rear-End Collision

The scenario: The rear-end collision happens because a motorist doesn't see the farm machinery in time.

Why it happens: It's easy to misjudge speed when approaching a slow-moving vehicle. In most cases, there are only a few seconds to react and slow down. For example, if the motorist is driving 55 miles per hour and comes up on a tractor that's moving 15 miles per hour, it only takes five seconds to close a gap the length of a football field.

Another way of looking at it: If the driver of a car that is traveling at 50 miles per hour spots a tractor 400 feet ahead on the road and the tractor is moving at 20 miles per hour, the motorist has less than 10 seconds to avoid a rear-end collision.

In those ten seconds, the motorist must recognize that a dangerous situation exists, determine the speed at which the tractor is moving, decide what action to take and apply the brakes hard enough and long enough to avoid a collision.

C. Passing Collision 1 -- Sideswipe Collision

The scenario: When attempting to pass a farm vehicle, the motor vehicle is sideswiped by the tractor.

Why it happens: Some farm operators haul equipment that is extra wide or especially long, but motorists may not take into account the width or length of the equipment or the sway of the tractor and its towed load.

In order for oncoming traffic to better assess the width of your equipment, reflective tape and materials should be used to mark the extreme front points of the machine.

D. Passing Collision 2 -- Head-On Collision

The scenario: While you are passing a farm vehicle, you are confronted by another car approaching head on. You do not have time to get off the road and are struck head on.

Why it happens: As in Passing Collision 1, a driver may fail to appreciate the length of the farm equipment to be passed and be forced to spend a longer time in the passing lane. Add to this that the driver's view when preparing to pass may be blocked by the farm equipment.

Many people assume that collisions happen during bad weather or hazardous conditions. Studies have repeatedly shown that nearly 80 percent occur on dry straight roads in daytime.

For More Information

For more information about tractor safety, visit the Florida AgSafe Website:



This document is AE303, one of a series of the Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. First published November 2001. Revised January 2009. Reviewed January 2012. Please visit the EDIS website at


Carol J. Lehtola, associate professor, Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, and Extension Agricultural Safety Specialist, and Charles M. Brown, coordinator for information and publication services, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.