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Serving: United States
Fred Whitford talking in front of sprayer
PREPARE IN THE BARN LOT: Make sure equipment safety features, including lights and turn signals, are working before hitting the road, Fred Whitford says. Most importantly, have a strategy for making left turns.

Make most dangerous move in road travel safer

If you are driving a combine or sprayer or pulling an implement, a left turn can be the most dangerous maneuver.

One of the most dangerous moves you will make driving machinery on the road is a left turn. Many reasons contribute to this, but one of them is the inability to anticipate what drivers behind you might be doing or thinking as you prepare to make the turn.

“Many motorists are distracted doing various things, and when they wind up behind your slow-moving combine, sprayer or tractor with duals and a wide implement, they grow impatient,” says Fred Whitford, director of Purdue University Pesticide Programs. “If they follow you for very long, pretty soon they fall into a trance. They may become mesmerized watching the hazard lights on your machine flash on and off. Don’t expect them to be alert.”

Becoming mesmerized by flashing lights is one of the biggest pitfalls for following motorists, which becomes a hazard for you, Whitford says. He offers a unique way to “wake them up.”

“Briefly turn off those flashing lights when you’re preparing to make a left turn from the roadway into a field entrance or driveway,” Whitford advises. “The idea is to change things up just enough that the driver will notice something is different. Then turn your left signal on again.”

Remember that the driver behind you has no idea where you may be exiting the road. Motorists aren’t used to vehicles turning left in the middle of a field. Sometimes the field entrance happens to be where there are no other clear indications that there is an exit off the highway at that point.

Own the center of the road
Once you’ve used the “off then on” technique to grab attention, move into the center lane, Whitford advises. Likely you’ve been driving in the right lane, probably as far to the right as is practical.

When there is no oncoming traffic and you move across the center line, it should be an indication that you are doing something different, which will make a following motorist hesitant to pass, Whitford says.

Turn signals on some equipment, particularly high-clearance sprayers, don’t stand out that much from regular rear lights. Consider adding aftermarket LED lights or a light shaped like an arrow pointing left.

Even when you take all these steps, don’t be surprised if someone tries to pass on the left, Whitford advises. “You can’t control what drivers are going to do,” he says. “You can only control what you do. Ease to the left carefully.”

Someone may even try to pass on the right. Impatient motorists are taking their safety into their own hands when they do such things, he notes. “What you want to do is give as much indication as you can that you are turning left,” Whitford says. “Having your vehicle well lit, turning lights off and on to wake them up, and owning the center lane before you actually execute the turn can all help.”

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