Agricultural professionals expect that up to 75 percent of our region’s crops could be planted within seven days after the first day of suitable weather, which our region’s farmers hope will be soon.
As a result, we can expect to soon encounter an army of farm equipment on our roadways. After months of generally uninhibited travel, this annual change in traffic can be surprising and potentially unsafe.
Operating farm machinery on the road is not easy for farmers. Tractors are usually self-propelled and typically pull specialized implements behind them. Each tractor and implement is different and is maneuvered in ways that are inconsistent between different tractor and implement types.
Many of our roads (or lanes of roads) are significantly narrower than the farm machinery that uses those roads. Ohio law has width and length requirements for motor vehicles, but agricultural equipment is exempt from those requirements for good reason.
A struggle can arise when non-farming drivers come up behind or drive toward such wide farm machinery. How far off the side of the road must the farmer be to accommodate the passing car? If there is an accident in such a situation, who is at fault?
Fortunately, Ohio law provides some guidance for these situations.
First, most people are aware that a personal vehicle cannot be operated (or even stopped) left of center, which also generally includes being on the left half of a one-lane road when encountering oncoming traffic. However, farm machinery that is necessarily operated left of center does not violate that specific law.
Nevertheless, farmers must be reasonable in attempting to move over upon and beyond the right side of the road when encountering other vehicles. Being reasonable means that the farmer must move to the right but also avoid open ditches, catch basins, utility poles and guardrails. If a farmer slows the farm implement’s speed and moves to the right, all or part of the implement may legally remain left of center.
Being able to operate an implement left of center does not mean that the operator is not at fault if there is an accident. The implement’s speed, lighting, signage or other markers may be insufficient as a matter of law. However, operation of a farm implement left of center is not a legal violation by itself.
Second, like many areas of the law, in this situation, reasonableness is the standard against which conduct is evaluated for legality. Farmers must decrease their speed or stop when encountering other vehicles. Obviously, all the other legal requirements for farm machinery operation on roads must be satisfied. Similarly, operators of vehicles other than farm implements must slow their speed and act reasonably and in good faith in maneuvering around the farm implement.
In encountering farm machinery on a road, the driver of the personal vehicle may stop. However, it is frequently more difficult for a farm implement to maneuver around a stopped car than it is for a car to drive around a stopped or slowed farm implement.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.