By DEBORAH BEHRENDS
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — It took just one state trooper to set a collaboration in motion, with the goal of saving lives on rural roads.
The Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB), Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and Illinois State Police (ISP) have come together to launch “Caution: Slow Down, Share the Road,” a rural roadway safety awareness program.
Since 2008, roadway collisions have been the second leading cause of Illinois farm-related deaths.
“The Illinois Farm Bureau board endorsed the effort to increase awareness about rural roadway safety,” said Terry Pope, IFB District 9 director. “We believe this program will save lives, and exemplifies our strength as a grassroots organization striving to serve the interests of our members.
“This effort originated with members of two county Farm Bureaus who recognized a problem and acted to resolve it.”
“Caution: Slow Down, Share the Road” began with ISP Trooper Mike Kindhart, who serves as an education officer, talking with Farm Bureau representatives at the state fair, according to Shawn Valter, manager of the Adams County Farm Bureau.
Members in Adams and Madison counties wanted to raise awareness about the unique dangers of rural driving, and the idea quickly caught on in five additional counties. The success of this initiative at the county level and the need for safer rural roadways triggered the statewide effort.
As part of “Caution: Slow Down, Share the Road,” banners will appear along rural roadways throughout the state to remind rural motorists and farmers to look out for each other. Increasing efforts for education and awareness should decrease the number of accidents that occur and make rural roadways safer for everyone.
“We developed banners for a couple of reasons. We wanted the message to stay fresh, so we’ll put them up for six to eight weeks in the spring and fall. And we can move them around to different parts of the county,” Valter said.
“The banners present a consistent, concise message.”
He said long-term, the collaborators hope to work with driver education programs to make new motorists aware of slow-moving vehicles.
“One driving fatality is one too many,” Kindhart said. “We need to educate the public about safely navigating rural roadways. With drivers being distracted more and more with electronic devices, the need for such a campaign is even more important.”
Twenty-nine Illinois residents have died in roadway collisions with farm machinery during the last five years. Rural motorists accounted for all deaths except three, who were farmers. Through the efforts of the “Caution: Slow Down, Share the Road” campaign, project partners aim to reduce rural roadway deaths to zero.