Night Driving – Case Study

Shortly before midnight on a two-lane unincorporated county road delineated by a solid double yellow line (a no-passing zone), a farm worker pulling a spray rig pulled onto the road to move to another field. The county road is a rural road with no “street lighting,” so it was very dark.

The spray rig did have a Slow Moving Vehicle (SMV) triangle on the back, but the spray rig was wider than the tractor blocking the tractor’s taillights. The responding police officer noted that while there was lighting on the rear of the tractor, the lights were white – not red or amber as required by state law. 

A driver traveling in the same direction as the farmer didn’t see the tractor and hit the rear of the spray rig. There were no skid marks at the scene of the accident indicating the driver didn’t brake. The driver advised the police officer there was no visible lighting on the unit. A witness to the accident also told the officer they saw no visible lights on the unit.

As the officer continued to investigate at the scene, it became apparent the driver of the tractor did not have a valid driver’s license. The employee had been hired to do “field” work, not to drive on a public road.

The driver of the car was cited by the investigating officer as going to fast for conditions. The posted speed limit for this road was 55 mph.

The driver of the car was injured and incurred over $250,000 in medical treatment as well as lost time at work. The case ended up settling for approximately $400,000 with the court applying some fault for the accident to the car’s driver.

The tractor should have been using proper lighting visible to traffic if it was going to be on the road at night. Since the spray rig blocked lighting on the tractor, the best solution would be to only pull the spray rig during daylight hours. Farmers should also be sure workers driving any farm-owned vehicles onto public roads have valid driver’s licenses.

Safety Tips

  • Establish standard operating procedures for the safe movement of equipment on public roadways.
  • Use an escort vehicle during night-time travel on public roadways.
  • Invest in battery-operated LED portable safety lights that can be attached easily to any trailer.
  • Maintain the reflectivity of the SMV sign.
  • Plan your route to help avoid traffic problems and reduce road time.
  • Train employees on proper equipment operation.

Regulations

  • Jurisdictions require lights at night on the rear of trailers.
  • Most states – white lights on rear of vehicles at night would be a traffic code violation.
  • Some states require a driver’s license depending upon the age of the driver.

NOTE: Always check with your state to determine specific requirements and restrictions.

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