Distracted driving lead cause of crashes involving farm equipment, North

DEVILS LAKE — A Sunday, May 28, crash between a passenger vehicle and tractor on U.S. Highway 2 near Devils Lake happened after a driver “misjudged the closing distance” between her car and the tractor, according to the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

The crash, which left a passenger with life-threatening injuries, was one of two Memorial Day weekend crashes involving farm equipment on U.S. Highway 2. In Minnesota, a teenage passenger was airlifted to Fargo with life-threatening injuries after the vehicle he was riding in collided with a tractor on Monday, May 29.

While the crashes are still under investigation, Sgt. Wade Kadrmas, safety and education officer for the North Dakota Highway Patrol, says distracted driving is the leading cause of collisions with farm equipment on highways.

“Just like anything these days, distractions are huge,” he said.

In 2021, there were 44 crashes involving farm equipment in North Dakota, including one fatal crash, according to North Dakota Highway Patrol data. Five crashes resulted in incapacitating injury, and 12 resulted in non-incapacitating injury. The agency does not collect data for individual highways.

In Minnesota, there were 164 crashes involving farm vehicles across the state in 2022, with two fatalities and 61 injuries. The northwest region of the state, which includes Kittson, Roseau, Lake of the Woods, Marshall, Beltrami, Polk, Pennington, Red Lake, Clearwater, Norman and Hubbard counties, had 13 crashes involving farm equipment in 2022, with three injuries.

Farm equipment tends to be large and heavy, with slow acceleration and stopping times, said Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Troy Christianson.

“Motorists have to be well aware approaching it that they are traveling at a slower speed,” he said.

On four-lane, divided highways like Highway 2, the difference in speed between motorists traveling at or above the speed limit and slow-moving farm equipment leads to more severe crashes, Kadrmas said. In North Dakota, the posted speed limit on much of U.S. Highway 2 is 70 mph, while farm equipment may be traveling around 35 or 45 mph. In Minnesota, the speed limit on northwest Minnesota portions of Highway 2 is 65 mph.

“If people aren’t paying attention, and they’re not observing that slow-moving vehicle up ahead of them, it doesn’t take much for the distance to close between the two vehicles and a crash to occur,” he said.

Kadrmas has responded to several crashes where there have been no skid marks by a vehicle that hit the farm equipment.

“To me, that’s just an indication that the driver was not paying attention, did not see this huge combine or tractor on the roadway, and ran right into the back of it or sideswiped it,” he said.

Drivers of vehicles and farm equipment both have a part to play in preventing collisions.

“The general traffic needs to be aware of it and be courteous and patient with those type of vehicles,” Kadrmas said. “Then, the individuals moving that type of equipment also need to do their part and be courteous and ensure that their loads are visible.”

Christianson says drivers should only attempt to pass farm equipment when it is safe and legal to do so.

“Use caution when approaching farm equipment and just don’t assume that the farm operator sees you,” he said. “It’s also important if a farmer is traveling on the roadway and there is getting to be a line of cars backed up behind them, they should try to pull over at a field approach or somewhere where it’s safe to just allow the traffic to go by.”

Following the speed limit will help, too, Kadrmas said. The faster vehicles are moving, the quicker they close in on slow-moving farm equipment.

Ingrid Harbo Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.

Distracted driving lead cause of crashes involving farm equipment, North

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