If you had asked Fred Whitford last spring about whether he would recommend using an escort vehicle to trail you when moving a combine, high-clearance sprayer or other piece of equipment on the road, he would have said yes. A long-standing tradition suggests having an employee or family member follow you in a pickup if you’re moving a large piece of machinery is safer.
Whitford, director of Purdue University Pesticide Programs, has since changed his mind. He is the key author of a new publication, “Keep the Spray Rig on the Road and Out of Trouble,” PPP-117. This is the latest in a series of publications Whitford has published on a variety of subjects related to farm safety.
“Farmers and operators of high-clearance spray rigs and other large equipment have made compelling arguments recently, which has caused me to rethink whether it’s safer to have someone trail you, or just drive the machine down the road with proper lighting without someone following behind you,” Whitford says.
Those who brought the issue to Whitford’s attention noted that in too many situations, motorists who don’t understand the risks get impatient and want to pass. Many are brave enough to pass the trailing vehicle and move into the gap between the machine and the pickup. Then they’re likely in a blind spot for the operator of the big rig. And the only way they can pass is to edge out to the left to see if another car is coming.
Others have told Whitford they feel safer only having to worry about their own actions in the combine, sprayer or tractor, and not worrying about someone else who is following behind them. If it’s just the driver in the machine and the machine is properly lighted, they feel they have more control.
“The other issue is that if you have a pickup behind you, the overall length of your ‘caravan’ is now longer than it would be if it was just the machine itself,” Whitford says. “An impatient motorist who wants to pass your ‘caravan’ without diving into the gap between the pickup and the machine now must go a longer distance to clear both vehicles.”
Whitford included his updated thoughts on this practice in the new publication. He understands why some may opt to not use a trailing vehicle and feel safer doing so. If you elect to still use a trailing pickup when you move a big machine down the road, be keenly aware of the gap between the vehicle and your machine, he says.
Discuss it with the person who will drive the pickup, as well. Don’t let the gap get big enough that a motorist could try to dive in between, Whitford advises.
At the same time, if you use a trailing pickup and you drive the machine, always remember that the pickup is right behind you when you make various movements.