Living in the agricultural center of Washington State, we have a lot of tractors in Yakima County. Farming is central to our economy, and we are proud to be one of the world’s leading producers of hops, apples, and some of the best wine in the country.
With all of this agriculture, however, we often see tractors on the road. Because they are on the road, tractor wrecks are an inevitable fact of life in our beautiful home. Compared to other car accidents, tractor accidents can be particularly dangerous and present unique challenges in damage recovery.
Can Tractors Be On the Road in Washington?
The short answer is yes, a tractor on the road in Washington is, generally, perfectly legal. Some requirements that apply to cars do not apply to tractors, such as driver licensing, registration with the state DMV, and automobile insurance.
On the other hand, however, tractors have to meet specific requirements to drive on public roads that other automobiles do not. These requirements are there to promote public safety. If you are in an accident with a tractor that does not meet these requirements, the chances that they will be found liable increase, just like the chance of liability in any car accident increases if you do not follow safety rules.
Among other requirements, farm vehicles need to display certain reflectors and hazard warning lights. They must display a slow-moving vehicle emblem, and red flags must be present on parts of the tractor that are over ten feet in width. In addition, escort vehicles may be necessary if a farm implement is over certain dimensions.
In some instances, farm vehicles may travel in convoys, which have their own specific requirements. All of these requirements exist to enhance traffic safety and reduce the number of accidents with tractors on Washington roads.
What Makes Tractor Accidents So Dangerous?
Tractor accidents can be much more dangerous than typical car accidents are, especially at low speeds. Low-speed car accidents are generally considered less dangerous than high-speed accidents, but a potentially low-speed accident with a tractor can be fatal.
Part of the increased danger of tractor accidents is due to the size of tractors and other farm implements that can be on the road. A tractor’s large size increases the mass and kinetic energy that goes into an accident beyond an accident between two mid-size cars.
Additionally, a small car can easily end up pinned under a large tractor’s wheels because of a tractor’s size. A small car can also end up stuck under a tractor if the tractor tips over onto the car, and tractors tipping over is a fairly common cause of tractor accidents on and off farms. If a car gets stuck under a tractor, the driver and passengers could easily end up trapped in the car, which exponentially increases the danger of an accident. Tractors pose an even greater danger for motorcycle drivers.
What Causes Tractor Accidents?
There are factors involved in causing tractor accidents that are not present in most car accidents. Reduced vision is one of these factors. The size of tractors can impede their drivers’ vision, which can be a major factor in causing accidents. This limited vision can make it harder for drivers to see small cars and motorcycles.
Small cars and motorcycles can already be difficult for drivers of SUVs and trucks to see at times, so imagine how much harder it is for a driver who is at twice the height of a large truck to see a small car. On top of this, tractors do not have the same vision-enhancing safety requirements that other automobiles do, such as rear-view and side mirrors. The lack of these safety features further exacerbates the limited vision that a tractor operator has, which can contribute to tractor accidents.
Due to farm work’s physically taxing nature, driver fatigue can be a contributing factor in tractor accidents. Drowsy driving is widely known as a dangerous contributor to many car accidents. Farmworkers work long hours, often beginning very early in the day. On top of the long hours it entails, agricultural work is physically demanding, so a farm worker may be very tired by the end of the day as they take a tractor to the garage. The combination of fatigue and impeded vision for a tractor operator can make for a dangerous combination.
Farm Tractor Accidents
Fatal tractor accidents on farms are an unfortunate fact of life in the agricultural sector. Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in America, and the heavy equipment used in farming is a contributing factor. Tractor deaths happen just about every year on farms in Yakima County. 2020 is no exception—on July 29, 2020, a 29-year-old farmworker who was a resident of Sunnyside, was killed after being crushed by a tractor.
While such incidents are not traffic accidents per se, they highlight the unique dangers that tractors pose. Regardless of whether it occurs on a farm or the highway, if you or a family member is injured or killed in a tractor accident, you deserve compensation for damages to help you move forward with your life after such a traumatic event.
How Can I Avoid Getting in an Accident with a Tractor?
The best thing you can do for your safety while driving near a tractor is to make sure the tractor driver sees you. Do not drive too close behind a tractor. Aside from the danger of rear-ending the tractor, your vehicle’s visibility is much lower if you drive too close behind a tractor. To help your visibility, use your lights, even if it is daytime.
A friendly honk can help you ensure that the driver of a tractor sees you, but make sure your honk is a short, friendly one. These are our neighbors, after all. If the tractor driver acknowledges you, you will know they have seen and are aware of you, which can help to avoid an accident with them.
If you’re going to pass a tractor, be very careful. Ideally, wait for an area where the tractor can safely pull over before trying to pass. A tractor driver on a highway will be aware that they are going slower than the speed limit and will likely pull over so you can pass when it is safe to do so. On a two-lane road, pass a tractor only where passing is legal.
Never pass a tractor or any other driver if there is a double-yellow line in the middle of the road. Put your turn signal on to help show the tractor operator you will get into the other lane. If the tractor driver does not know you will pass, there is a risk that they will turn into your car as you do so. After all, many tractors do not have turn signals, so it is difficult to know exactly when they will turn.
Finally, on a two-lane road, be sure to make an extra effort to see if cars are coming in the opposite direction before you pass. Since tractors are often bigger than most cars, it is hard to see past them, so pull as close to the middle of the road as safely possible and check for cars coming in the opposite direction before passing a tractor. This could save your life.
What Should I Do After a Tractor Accident?
Treat an accident with a tractor like any other car accident. First, pull over immediately and report the accident to the local authorities. During this time, also seek any necessary emergency medical care for yourself and the other driver. At the scene of the accident, obtain the other driver’s information, collect personal information from any witnesses, and get a copy of the accident report from the police officer at the scene.
Once you are home safely, report the accident to your insurance company, and seek medical treatment for any injuries you sustained in the accident. This is also when you should assess damage to your vehicle and obtain repairs for it. Be sure to keep records of any medical treatment, symptoms of injury, and vehicle repairs. You will need this information when seeking compensation. This is also the time when you should consult with an attorney.
How a Lawyer Can Help
Even if you think you’ll obtain adequate compensation without any issue, it is helpful to consult an attorney after a tractor accident. An attorney will help you identify damages, keep track of those damages, and prove those damages to the other party. This will be crucial in obtaining compensation.
Your attorney will also advise you on the best course of action to get adequate compensation—this may involve a simple insurance claim or filing a lawsuit. Most importantly, an experienced accident attorney will know what to do and will be your advocate throughout the claims process. Your attorney may tell you that their services are not necessary during your free consultation. If you end up not needing an attorney’s services, it is better to hear it from them than to find out after losing out on compensation that an attorney could have been helpful.
Contact Us Today
If you have been in a tractor wreck, don’t wait for a lowball offer from an insurance company—call us at Kapuza Lighty today for a free consultation. John Kapuza and Greg Lighty have extensive experience with all types of accidents and will fight on your behalf to ensure you can put the accident behind you and move forward with your life. We know how hard being in an accident can be, and we are here to make things easier for you as we work through the claims process. Don’t just take our word for it, check out our case results to see what we have been able to do for our clients in the past.