Study examines factors that influence passing farm equipment on roadways

Published on November 16, 2023

Tractor on a rural roadway

Crashes involving farm equipment such as combines, tractors, and wagons are a major safety concern for farmers as well as all other road users in both rural and urban areas. To help guide crash prevention strategies, a new study by University of Iowa researchers examined factors that influence drivers’ farm equipment passing behaviors and their perceptions about the passing behaviors of other drivers.

Previous research has shown that farm equipment crashes often involve passenger vehicle drivers striking the farm equipment from behind or colliding with oncoming traffic when attempting to pass. Additionally, the fatality rate of farm equipment-involved crashes is high — nearly five times more than the average for all road crashes.

To better understand rural drivers’ passing behavior when encountering farm equipment on the roadway, the researchers surveyed 201 adult drivers at local gas stations in two small rural towns in Iowa. The survey asked drivers about their demographic information, frequency of passing farm equipment, and perceptions of other drivers’ passing behaviors in their community and state when approaching farm equipment.

The results, published in Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives, showed that only 10% of respondents considered farm equipment crashes to be a top road safety concern. Respondents who perceived that others frequently pass farm equipment in their community were more likely to report that they also frequently pass farm equipment.

The study also showed that respondents’ gender and experience operating farm equipment played a role in self-reported passing behavior. Male respondents were more likely to report passing farm equipment than female respondents.

Male respondents with experience driving farm equipment were more likely to report passing farm equipment than male respondents without experience. In contrast, female respondents with previous farm equipment experience were less likely to pass farm equipment than female respondents without experience.

The findings from the study can be used to develop driver education and intervention programs. The authors suggest that community perspectives and local voices should drive safety interventions, and that messages/interventions may need to be different depending on gender and experience operating farm equipment.

The research team included University of Iowa researchers Amir Ghanbari, Cara Hamann, Stephanie Jansson, Michelle Reyes, Kayla Faust, Joseph Cavanaugh, Natoshia Askelson, and Corinne Peek-Asa (now with the University of California San Diego).

This research was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (grant number U54 OH 007548).