Bee Investigator

Farm vehicles have different rules of the road

Last month, a man suffered major injuries when the sport-utility vehicle he was driving rear-ended a trailer being hauled by a tractor in west Modesto.

It was nearly dark, 23 minutes after sunset, when the crash occurred. All vehicles have until 30 minutes after sunset to turn on lights, but farm equipment used exclusively for agricultural operations, known as “implements of husbandry,” require fewer reflectors.

In fact, there is a long list of exemptions that apply to these machines, matched only by the list that defines what constitutes an implement of husbandry, which includes everything from tractors and fertilizer applicators to wagons and trailers.

All-terrain vehicles were the most recent to be added to the that list, in 2010.

When I asked Robert Daniels, commercial enforcement officer for the California Highway Patrol, to tell me about what liberties are afforded to agriculture equipment, he responded: “How many pages is your story going to be?”

OK, so there is more to this than the average person needs to know, but here are the highlights from Daniels:

▪ A driver’s license is not required to operate an implement of husbandry.

Anyone whose feet can reach the pedals and who is proficient in using the vehicle can drive it on public roadways.

Daniels, who grew up on a farm in Modesto, said he started driving a tractor when he was 14, but generally avoided roads at that age.

The only time an unlicensed driver can’t operate an implement of husbandry is when he previously had a license that had been suspended.

▪ Most agriculture equipment needn’t be registered.

Only a big rig hauling a farm trailer needs registration, but not the trailer. If it was a commercial big rig and trailer, both would require registration.

▪ Implements of husbandry have width and height regulations like other vehicles, but those restrictions are looser.

The agriculture vehicle can exceed the average vehicle’s maximum width of 102 inches but when exceeding 120 inches must travel no more than 25 miles in one trip. The average width of a traffic lane is 144 inches.

They can also exceed the maximum height of 14 feet, but in those cases, the 25-mile rule again applies.

▪ Implements of husbandry require fewer lights and reflectors. Beginning 30 minutes after sunset, they must have one red light on the back and one white light in the front, both visible from 500 feet.

An amber reflector must be on the left front of the implement and a red reflector on the left rear at all times.

The trailer the SUV rear-ended last month on Blue Gum Avenue didn’t have the red rear reflector, so investigators listed that as a contributing factor to the collision. However, the SUV driver was determined to be primarily at fault because he was traveling at unsafe speeds.

There are exceptions to exemptions, and the standard rules of the road apply to farm vehicles: Drivers have to make safe lane changes and stay off their cell phones.

It’s important to keep an eye out on the road for these slow-moving vehicles because they have a right to be there, even if they are going 25 mph in the slow lane of Highway 99.

If the machines are traveling less than 25 mph, however, they are required to display the sign indicating a slowly moving vehicle – an orange triangle with a red border.

Daniels said other drivers should be patient and use caution when passing them. Even at painfully slow speeds, you’re not supposed to cross double yellow lanes to pass one of these machines.

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