By STEVE BINDER
URBANA, Ill. — Just as the wheat harvest has concluded in the southern part of the state and corn and soybeans progress, law enforcement officials have intensified their efforts to keep drivers aware as more farm equipment takes to Illinois roads.
It has been a growing problem in recent years, with accidents involving farm vehicles up annually for the past five years, particularly in the northern suburban counties where rural roads blend quickly into cities.
Last year, there were 263 accidents involving farm vehicles throughout the state, up from the 259 in 2011, according to statistics provided by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT). While not a large number, the total of fatalities has stood at six each of the past three years.
“Even one death is too many, and most of the time it’s because drivers aren’t as cautious as they should be. Everyone needs to recognize that moving farm machines do not move at high rates of speed,” said State Police Lt. Tom Martin, who is based in southern Illinois.
This year, the Illinois Farm Bureau, State Police, county sheriffs’ departments, local Farm Bureaus and IDOT have teamed up to try and spread the word more to drivers to be a bit more cautious on the roads during growing and harvesting seasons.
Their campaign, “Caution: Slow Down, Share the Road,” includes the placement of large banners in strategic locations, along rural roads and near summertime festivals and a media blitz to outlets throughout the state. Dan Volkers, manager of the McHenry County Farm Bureau, noted the significance of farm vehicle travel.
“There are collisions on a fairly regular basis, and a lot of that has to do with the amount of traffic and the speed people are going in comparison to the speed tractors and combines are going,” he said.
One of the recent wrecks that involved a slow-moving farm vehicle took the life of Mancel “Butch” Beard, a Harvard farmer married for 47 years. The 66-year-old died in May 2011 when the tractor he was riding along Route 23 in northern Illinois was struck by a car. His tractor flipped and sent Beard flying 10 feet.
“The idea is just to remember to be aware at the wheel. Slow-moving vehicles are out there now,” Martin said.