July 22, 2022
There’s a farm family in Kansas who has to now navigate life without their mother, because of a distracted driver crossing the center line and hitting her pickup and livestock trailer head-on.
As sobering and heartbreaking as that sentence is to write, it’s a thousand times more so for the family and friends left behind living after the tragedy.
If we take anything away from this, let it be that we reevaluate our own practices when we haul 4-H and FFA livestock to and from fairs and rodeos. And let’s vow to teach our young people to take time for safety as well.
A simple trip
It’s so easy to get lulled into complacency when we’re hauling youth and livestock to and from shows and youth rodeos. But every time we load that trailer and pull out of the driveway for a simple trip down the road to the county fairgrounds, we need to be vigilant.
Every family has that one close call story of a time when they were hauling livestock or horses to a fair or a rodeo — and they narrowly missed a catastrophe on the road. My family is no exception. I’m sure yours has a story or two as well. Trailer hitch welds fail, tie straps break, tires blow and tailgates jiggle open. Simply put, there is no simple trip to the fairgrounds.
I know you’re likely hustling around gathering up show equipment and wrangling kids and spouses, and all while you’re running late anyway. I get it. But take 5 minutes to walk around your rig before you get behind the wheel, and check tires, check your engine fluids, check straps and latches, and make sure everything is secure and roadworthy.
You can’t do anything about other vehicles and rigs on the highway, but you can make sure your vehicle and equipment are safe.
Behind the wheel
When we hitch a livestock trailer to a pickup truck, we’ve got a rig that doesn’t stop on a dime. It takes more skill and attention than a passenger car to drive. And it demands we respect the rig.
Always buckle up. Every single time you get into the cab, click those seatbelts. This needs to be a family rule.
Don’t drive fatigued. We’re often driving early in the morning or late after a long hot day in the showring. But tired drivers are unsafe drivers. Take breaks if you need them. Take that time to walk around the pickup and trailer, or check on your stock.
Stay off your phone. There is nothing on that phone that is more important than your life, the lives of your passengers, and the lives of your livestock you’re hauling. It can wait.
Focus on driving. I was young once, and I remember what my friends and I would do when we had the freedom to drive ourselves to fairs and competitions. I know that hijinks can ensue. But distractions in the cab can kill.
It’s one thing for us to practice these safety tips. But we need to teach our children, as they start to drive themselves and their livestock, to respect the rig as well.
And if they can’t abide by your rules of the rig? Then pull the keys.
One missed rodeo or show may be what it takes to get their attention and drive the message home. Because no banner or buckle is worth their safety, or a family shattered by loss.
Watch for others
Friends, we need to pledge to be safe drivers ourselves and watch out for our neighbors driving livestock trailers when we take to the roads, too. We may not be in that cab of the rig we’re passing, but we’ve been there a time or two, haven’t we? So be a good neighbor.
Give them space. There’s no reason to tailgate a pickup and trailer. And, if they’re signaling to turn, back off and give them space to swing wide if they need to make that turn. It takes moments, but it can prevent tragedy.
Pass with care. Give yourself and them plenty of room to maneuver when you’re passing. Don’t cut a rig off because you didn’t allow yourself enough room to pass with oncoming traffic. Wait for a better opportunity.
Stay out of blind spots. If you can’t see the pickup’s mirrors, they can’t see you. That goes for big semis on the road, for small passenger cars and for large farm equipment.
Use your signal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to slam on the brakes because the car ahead of me didn’t signal its intentions on the highway. The blinker is as much a piece of safety equipment as a seat belt. Use it.
Showing livestock and competing in rodeos are two traditions we hold dear in our rural communities. They’re ways to have real quality time as families, and to teach our youth responsibility. They’re how we train the next generation to take over our farms and ranches.
Let’s make a commitment to add safety to that list of traditions we pass along to them.
The Kansas Corporation Commission and Kansas Highway Patrol contributed to this article.
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