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Moving Farm Machinery: Safety and Liability Laws

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

By Kelly Nuckolls

Image by Edwin Remsberg. Image shows a tractor with the slow moving vehicle emblem.

The article is not a substitute for legal advice. See here for the site’s reposting policy.

If your morning commute includes driving or following farm vehicles, it is always good to read a refresher on the rules of the road.

Rules of the Road

Maryland law requires farm equipment driven at a speed of 25 mph or less to have a slow moving vehicle emblem mounted on the rear of the vehicle, which meets the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers’ (ASABE) standards. The emblem must be on the rear of the vehicle not less than 3 or more than 5 feet from the ground to the base.

There are some lighting requirements for farm equipment as well:

· Farm equipment must have two single-beam or multiple-beam headlamps and at least two red lamps visible when lighted from a distance of 1,000 feet or more to the rear, and at least two reflectors visible from all distances from 100 feet to 600 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful upper beams of headlamps.

· Towed farm equipment must have two red lamps on the rear visible from a distance of at least 1,000 feet and positioned to show from the rear the width of the vehicles (as close as possible). The combination of a tractor and towed farm equipment must have a lamp with a white or amber light, visible from at least 1,000 feet and placed as close as practical to show the extreme left projection of the tractor/ equipment combination.

· Slow moving farm vehicles may include yellow or amber lights or signal devices, which can be flashed to indicate that the vehicle is a slow moving vehicle.

There are also some size restrictions. A vehicle and its load cannot be taller than 13 feet, 6 inches with one exception. If a vehicle combination is transporting farm equipment, the overall height of the vehicle combination and its load may be up to 16 feet, if:

1. Travel is on a highway for no farther than 75 miles, and

2. The load cannot quickly be reduced in height.

An escort vehicle may be required if the vehicle is over 85 feet long, 14 feet 6 inches high, or weighs more than 60 tons.

Except on interstate highways, a single unit vehicle with 3 axles, or a combination of vehicles with a trailer less than 32 feet long or a semitrailer less than 45 feet long, either registered as a farm vehicle or carrying farm products loaded in fields or other off-highway locations, is permitted an axle load limit tolerance of five percent from the tolerance limits set below, except during harvest time. During harvest, an axle load limit tolerance of 15 percent from axle load limit tolerance is permitted for a vehicle carrying:

· Wheat, for the period from June 1 to August 15;

· Corn, for the period from July 1 to December 1;

· Soybeans, for the period from September 1 to December 31; and

· Vegetable crops, for the period from June 1 to October 31.

Maryland Transportation Code sections 24-109(c) and (d) state the axle load limit tolerances.

Recent Federal Regulation

A new federal regulation requires new farm equipment manufactured after June 22, 2017 to meet the ASABE lighting and marking requirements. For the new agricultural tractors, self-propelled machines, implements, and other equipment combinations, there will be new rules of the road. The new lighting and slow moving vehicle emblem requirements should be in place on the equipment before it is sold. On tractors and self-propelled equipment, however, the two flashing amber warning lights must be used if the equipment is 3.7 meters wide or more. If you own new equipment, take note of this change.

Moving Farm Equipment Liability

Liability from vehicle accidents, including farm vehicle accidents, is determined by four factors of a negligence claim: 1) duty of care, 2) breach of that duty, 3) cause-in-fact, and 4) actual harm. The first factor is based on the idea that you owe a duty to other drivers on the road to act as any reasonable person would act. The second factor requires you to act unreasonably. The court will look at whether or not you followed all of the laws of the road and took extra precautions when needed (i.e. weather conditions may require slower speeds). If you break a law, such as speeding or not having the proper lighting on your farm vehicle, then the court will probably find that you acted unreasonably. The third factor requires that your unreasonable action while driving the farm equipment was the primary cause of the accident. Then, the fourth factor requires that the other vehicle and/ or driver is harmed. If all four factors are proven, you will be liable for damages. Employers are liable for any accidents caused by their employees while they are acting within the scope of their employment.

Another legal claim, strict liability, could also be a concern for moving farm vehicles. Strict liability does not require you to be negligent; it does requires you to make an abnormally dangerous activity, under your control, safe. As long as the farm machinery on the road is under your control, strict liability might apply if, for example, the machinery is transporting any hazardous materials (fertilizers) that could harm the public if spilled.

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