Agricultural Equipment on Public Roads

  • Committee on Agricultural Safety and Health Research and Ext,


Preface, Acknowledgments, Executive Summary
1.0 Introduction
2.0 The Rural/Urban Traffic Interface
3.0 Federal and State Regulations
4.0 Higher Speed Tractors
5.0 Transportation of Workers on Public Roadways with Farm Equipment
6.0 Suggestions for the Future
7.0 References
8.0 List of Committee on Agricultural Safety and Health Research and Extension Members


A Committee on Agricultural Safety and Health Research and Extension was formed by the United States Department of Agriculture Cooperative States Research, Education and Extension Service (USDA-CSREES) North Central Regional (NCR) Administrators in 2000. The goal of the committee, designated as NCR 197, was to more effectively use the land grant system's research and extension capacity in cooperation with the experience of those who live and work in agriculture to reduce work-related injuries, illness, death, and property loss. The NCR 197 Committee produced a landmark publication in 2003 titled, National Land Grant Research and Extension Agenda for Agricultural Safety and Health: National Agenda for Action. Twelve priorities for action were identified:

  1. Sensors and guarding systems
  2. Agricultural equipment on public roads
  3. Agriculture confined spaces
  4. Emerging technologies
  5. Human factors engineering and design
  6. Management of agricultural emergencies
  7. Livestock handling and housing systems
  8. Public policy issues
  9. Capital and management intensive vs. family labor intensive operations
  10. Fire detection and suppression
  11. Agricultural safety education and training
  12. Special populations and enterprises

The name of the committee was changed in 2005 to the North Central Education/Extension Research Activity Committee (NCERA) 197. In 2007 the committee chose to develop a white paper on the second identified priority, Agricultural Equipment on Public Roads.

Terms such as “agricultural-related” and “agricultural vehicles”, when used in the context of traffic or roadway safety, are not usually well-defined nor understood. In this document, we address collisions involving production agriculture equipment in public roadway incidents. This includes tractors, self-propelled machines, and the equipment that may be towed by or attached to tractors and self-propelled machines1. The type of agricultural equipment that is excluded includes trucks, equipment and other vehicles not used for production agriculture.

Motor vehicle collision fatalities are a well-documented tragic fact of our nation. Over 41,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2007 (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 2008). In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported a total of 2.5 million people were injured by collisions. The sheer volume of non-agricultural-related collision fatalities and injuries is overwhelming in proportion to agricultural-related collision fatalities and injuries. The proportion from agricultural vehicles is only 0.2 percent of the total number of vehicles involved in traffic crashes. This is an established trend for agricultural equipment collisions over several years (NHTSA, 2006, 2005). In 2007, NHTSA reported that farm equipment (excluding trucks) had 87 fatal crashes in 2006, representing 0.2 percent of the major category identified as “Other Vehicle” types. The combined “Other Vehicle” type was reported as having 622 fatalities or 1.1 percent of the total number of fatal crashes.

However, these agricultural related collision fatalities and injuries have more significance when placed in the context of the agricultural population or when evaluated based on exposure rates in the agricultural industry. For example, a 2003 report on workrelated roadway crashes by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) showed that while Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing had a comparatively low frequency of fatal crashes among all industrial divisions at 7.2%, the 4th lowest of the 11 major divisions, the industries’ rate per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers of 2.58 FTEs was the third highest rate (Pratt, 2003).

The importance of these fatalities and injuries are significant to agricultural safety professionals. At the same time, because the proportion of incidents is so small in comparison to all public roadway crashes, federal, state and local government bodies rarely give this area of roadway safety any attention. Nor do non-agricultural industry groups. For example, the American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) recently published, “Toward Zero Deaths: A Vision for Safer Roads in America”. This document contains a section and recommendations for improving high-risk rural roads but does not mention agricultural equipment (ATSSA, 2008).

Issues relating to operating agricultural equipment on public roads are multi-faceted and complex (Costello et al., 2008). There are many ways to identify and discuss major areas of concern. This report looks at a number of issues but not all issues can be examined in the same detail because the literature in some areas is at best sparse. Issues addressed in this report include rural/urban traffic interface, state and federal regulations, higher speed tractors, and transport of workers on public roadways with farm equipment. Issues with much less or barely existent literature include licensing of drivers and the interface between rural and urban/suburban populations.

Whether there is literature or not, some issues do not have clear lines of separation. For example, issues involving rural/urban interface, higher speed tractors, lighting and marking of equipment, and licensing of drivers are all deeply intertwined. And all issues can be placed within the context of regulations for agricultural equipment on public roads, or within causes of crashes between faster moving motor vehicles and slower moving agriculture equipment. Finally, many issues are researched only sporadically which means that the literature that is available may be outdated or have important gaps. This report provides known facts on the four issues named above and offers suggestions for the future.

1 Refer to Society of Automotive Engineers Standard J1150 and American Society of Agricultural Engineers Standard S390.4 for official designations.

This document is from the
North Central Education/Extension Research Activity Committee 197 Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service United States Department of Agriculture

Recommended citation: Committee on Agricultural Safety and Health Research and Extension. 2009. Agricultural Equipment on Public Roads. USDA-CSREES, Washington, DC.

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More