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Sheriff touts seasonal safety

FAIRMONT — Autumn means many things, but chief among those in rural Minnesota is the harvest season. With large, slow-moving, farm equipment out on the roads, Martin County Sheriff Jeff Markquart is urging local motorists to be aware of the situation.

“We have an early harvest going on, and we’ll probably be done early, maybe done before the snow flies,” he said. “Safety-wise, I think it’s important for everybody to make sure they do slow down.

“We’ve got combines out there that are taking up a lot of the road, and we just need to be patient with them. They’ll either pull over and let you get by or take alternate routes.

“It’s also important to remember that a lot of these trucks that are going up and down the road are 80,000 pounds and they just can’t stop on a dime. So you need to make sure you give yourself plenty of space at intersections where you see trucks. Those are critical things that will help save lives, just being aware of those intersections.”

Information provided by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) supports Markquart’s admonitions, noting that farm equipment is large and heavy, making it hard for operators to accelerate, slow down and stop. The machines also make wide turns and sometimes cross over the center line. They also can create large blind spots, making it difficult for operators to see approaching vehicles. All of these factors require all drivers to exercise extra caution during harvest season.

“Harvest season is in full swing and farmers in every corner of the state are out using the highways,” said Brian Sorenson, state traffic engineer. “Motorists need to be prepared to encounter slow-moving farm vehicles, especially on rural, two-lane roads now through November. Also, remain patient, as most farmers will try to allow vehicles to pass them in an area where it is safe to do so.”

Markquart also notes that people should be careful with vehicles such as ATVs being out on the road.

“A lot of those ATVs are running up and down the road,” he said. “They’re legal, and they’re staying off to the right. But it someone tries to pass them at an intersection and the vehicle passing is out of sight in the mirror on their ATV, they may pull over in front of someone.

“You just have to be careful when you’re passing,” he continued. “Just give yourself plenty of space and watch your intersections.”

As as accidents, Markquart notes that there has been some minor fender benders and incidents with ATVs this fall.

“We just need to remember to slow down and be aware of our surroundings.”

MNDOT notes that from 2015 to 2019, 14 people died and 29 people suffered life-changing injuries on Minnesota roads as a result of a crash involving farm equipment.

“Many factors play a role in farm equipment crashes, but distractions and lack of patience are two of the biggest factors,” said Lt. Gordon Shank of the Minnesota State Patrol. “Drive smart by practicing patience when behind farm equipment, parking the phone and putting all distractions away.”

Motorists are encouraged to follow certain safety tips to avoid accidents or injury:

— Watch for falling debris.

— Don’t veer for debris.

— Wait for a safe opportunity to pass.

— Wear seat belts.

— Drive with headlights on at all times.

— Put away the phone and other distractions.

Farm equipment operators are also encouraged to employ some safety measures:

— Use lights and flashers to stay visible.

— Use slow-moving vehicle emblems on equipment traveling less than 30 mph.

— Consider using a follow vehicle when moving equipment, especially at night.

— Wear seat belts.

— Drive with headlights on at all times.

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