Creating a safety buffer
“Slow-moving harvesting vehicles combined with faster cars and motorbikes make for a dangerous mix – one that further increases the already high risk of accidents on country roads,” says Andreas Schäuble, accident researcher at DEKRA. A cautious and proactive driving style is required, particularly on stretches of road with poor visibility, as a tractor with fully loaded trailer or an extra-wide combine harvester, could appear behind the next bend or slope. Crossings and intersections are also typical danger areas. “At these intersections, which are often hard to see, you have to be prepared for the chance that an agricultural vehicle could make a sudden turn.”
“When driving, create a greater safety buffer for yourself and be ready to brake,” says the expert. “With their projecting attachments and lack of crumple zones, colliding with an agricultural vehicle often has more severe consequences than usual.” What’s more, in the harvest season, drivers should also remember that the roads may be dirtier than they usually are. This can increase braking distance – and with it, the risk of skidding. Furthermore, rain showers can quickly make these sections dangerously slippery.
Road users should take particular care when overtaking, even if tractors or vehicles with trailers are still moving slowly. To avoid endangering and hindering the oncoming traffic, drivers should only overtake harvesting vehicles if they can see the whole stretch of road, completely and without obstacles, and can maintain a sufficiently safe distance from the vehicles that they are overtaking. Otherwise, they should wait. This also applies if the harvesting vehicle’s turn signals are concealed and it is unclear whether the vehicle intends to turn or not.
Nearby trees, bends, and slopes often impair visibility on country roads, and it can be easy to misjudge the speed of oncoming traffic – plus, drivers should always expect to encounter oncoming traffic behind bends and slopes. “That’s why my advice is don’t take any risks. Refrain from overtaking if you have even the slightest doubt whether the whole stretch of road is safe. It’s often worth just waiting behind a tractor, as farmers often only travel short distances between their farms and fields,” advises the expert. To avoid misunderstandings, road users are recommended to announce their intention to overtake by briefly honking their horn.
Meanwhile, farmers should check that the lighting equipment on their tractors and trailers is ready for use, clean, and visible before beginning any journey. Adequate cargo securing measures are also required, as is keeping an eye on the total permitted weight of the harvesting vehicle. If there is no way to stop mud or other debris falling on the road, this must be cleaned up as soon as possible, especially in periods of rain, and marked with a warning triangle – in Germany, at least.