Sheriff: Farmers should be aware of road laws during the harvest
Although we had a relatively dry summer, we have certainly been the recipients of some precipitation as of late.
If this trend continues, it will make for some challenging harvest conditions which will no doubt have an impact on the lives of our farming neighbors as well as on our roads.
Many times the need to transition from field to field brings with it the potential for negative interactions with other motorists, and the need to pay close attention to the rules which apply both to implements of husbandry as well as for the average motorist.
For those who will be operating the equipment in pursuit of this year’s harvest, please familiarize yourselves, and any operators you may have working for you, with the most current laws pertaining to implements of husbandry — "A self-propelled or towed vehicle … exclusively used in the conduct of agricultural operations" is part of the definition given by the Department of Transportation — and the lighting equipment required. Make sure you have communicated with your local road authority regarding weight limits or the need for road closures.
We have had an increase in presence by the State Patrol Motor Carrier Division this past summer, and we hope many opportunities for awareness of our laws took place which will make this fall a safer environment. We also have our assigned State Patrol trooper, Logan Christel, who continues to be a great resource in keeping our roads safe.
For those engaged in harvesting, please be attentive to the material which you are displacing and make every effort to minimize the amounts left on the road.
This may mean a piece of equipment left on site to clean in between each and every load. The law that pertains to the placement of foreign material on the roadway is: 346.94(5), Placing Injurious Substances on Highway; which states,“No Person shall place or cause to be placed upon a highway any foreign substance which is or may be injurious to any vehicle or part thereof.”
Although we have seen a vast improvement in the vigilance of keeping our roads clean, we do still respond to complaints of material on the road and in some cases have had to issue citations.
As long as we are on the subject of state statutes, here’s another one which is quite relevant, 346.51(1), Improper parking on/off roadway.” Whether you are using the road to offload a piece of construction equipment, or using the road to transfer loads from a field, it is your obligation to observe proper safety practices.
This may mean putting out warning signs, cones or even deploying flag persons. Almost daily we receive complaints of roadways being obstructed by individuals or companies who have equipment on the road, creating a situation where vehicles are crossing into the opposite lane of traffic. Responding officers arrive and work with the business or individual to rectify the situation. Unfortunately if the area cannot be made safe the only other option is to shut down the operation until it can be made safe.
If you know you are going to be offloading or staging equipment on a roadway, please plan ahead by checking the area to see the level of warning devices you may need. Check with the town official for that area if you are going to be on a town road and the county highway superintendent if on a county road or state highway.
Again, we have approached this issue from an educational perspective for many years, and the time has passed where ignorance of the law will be accepted.
In the end, the responsibility for a potential accident because of poor planning or a failure to provide proper warning will fall to the individual or business creating the hazard. If you are traveling the countryside and observe what you feel is a traffic hazard, please call law enforcement, and we will respond. Together we can keep our roads safe.
For those in the general public who may find themselves in proximity to the harvesting process, please use caution when operating around these pieces of equipment. They have many blind spots and may be stopping or turning for movement in and out of field driveways and side roads.
Having been fortunate enough to grow up in the farming community, I know the sense of urgency that comes with both planting and harvesting. However, no shortcut or increased speed will make a difference when someone becomes injured, and any potential savings will pale in comparison to the cost of tragedy.
Matt Joski is Kewaunee County Sheriff.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Sheriff: Farmers should be aware of road laws during the harvest