National Farm Medicine Center Educates on Rural Road Safety
Headquartered right here in Marshfield, the National Farm Medicine Center is dedicated to exploring ways to make the agriculture industry safer.
“We are primarily a research group, exploring and testing ways to better track, document, prevent and reduce the number of agriculturally related accidents in the US,” said Cultural Anthropologist Associate Research Scientist Casper “Cap” Bendixsen, PhD. “This includes farmers, ranchers, workers, and visitors to farms. It also includes the children that live, work, and visit farms.”
The Center’s motivation for conducting such work is the rate of illness, injury, and death in agriculture, as it is much higher than other industrial/occupation sectors. In fact, adults who work in agriculture are 7-8 times more likely to die on the job than most other US workers.
Since 1997, the Center is also home of the CDC-NIOSH funded National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. These efforts are meant to address the fact that about two children every week are killed in a farm incident, mostly as very young bystanders. The center also conducts outreach, education, and offers some services.
“For example, we will take our evidence-based materials to FFA and 4H conventions or to insurance companies and disseminate strategies that may be relevant to those groups,” said Bendixsen. “We also offer rebates for those in Wisconsin that wish retrofit older tractors with rollover protect systems (ROPS) and for those that choose to rent gas monitors during manure hauling seasons. We often also share the interventions that our colleagues from around the world offer.”
Prevalent in local news of late, roadway safety is a common issue across the rural US, including right here in Central Wisconsin.
“Roadway safety in rural areas is a serious problem: fast speeds, less than manicured roadways, heavy equipment, buggies, commuters, and being a challenge for EMS to respond to in a quick time . . . These are all things that all drivers should have in mind as they travel,” said Bendixsen.
Recent legislation proposed to the Wood County Board of Supervisors was not received favorably by those in attendance due to its discriminatory implications, however many agree that more safety requirements are needed to protect everyone on the road.
“As far as the law in question is concerned, the spirit of the law was to protect everyone, especially the young riders that have been killed in these buggy accidents,” said Bendixsen. “However, it is always better to attempt to work from within a community before trying to govern it from the outside.”
Rural road safety is a huge concern locally, and the Center is currently working on initiatives to educate the public and keep everyone safe.
“Roadway safety is literally a two-way street. Non-agricultural drivers are responsible for going the speed limit and being aware of their surroundings. This means as few distractions as possible, including cell phones,” he said. “Moreover, drivers would greatly benefit by talking to a farmer or a plain community member (Amish, Mennonite, etc.) about why they are on the road. Farmers are often more afraid of roadway incidents than many of the dangerous features of their other work.”
Bendixsen added that narrow, winding roads create issues for both horse-drawn vehicles and agricultural equipment. Limited weight capacities can reduce the number of safe routes for large machinery.
“These challenges are increased by the fact that more and more people are not really knowledgeable about agriculture and have little appreciation for what those working in agriculture are doing on the roadway,” he said. “Also a contributing factor is that farms are consolidating and buying fields that require farmers to travel on the roadways more often.”
There are simple ways to improve visibility, but unfortunately not everyone is implementing them. With education, Bendixsen hopes this will change.
“As far as machinery and buggies and what their drivers can do: keep reflective signs and tape clean and in good condition. As these age, they fail to be as reflective,” he said. “Lights are the best warning for oncoming traffic, especially when properly wired and powered, e.g. poorly charged batteries in buggies can reduce the effectiveness of incandescent bulbs. LED’s are great improvement.”
He added that Dr. Greg Geissinger at Marshfield Clinic has witnessed many of the results from buggy tragedies in Wood and Clark Counties, and leads a group that aims at making LED buggy light systems more acceptable to the plain communities.
“Lights and reflective materials are especially important for dark colored vehicles, including blacks, blues, and greens. Proper training for drivers is also key, learning to drive these buggies and large equipment require skills,” said Bendixsen. “These skills should be thoroughly taught, tested, and improved before allowing someone to share the road.”
Bendixsen added that animals should also be well-vetted before utilizing them on a roadway. Drivers should avoid dusk and dawn if possible, as these are more difficult times for everyone to see other vehicles. Inclement weather and traffic heavy times of the day are also wise to avoid if possible.
“Everyone should be very wary of buggies and farm machinery making a left-hand turn across the opposite lane,” he said. “Many drivers of buggies and machinery do not allow enough time to make the turn (as they are often anxious to get out of the way). And non-agricultural drivers often do not estimate their speeds very well and fail to slow to an adequate speed.”
He added that the same could be said for passing buggies and farm equipment.
“It may be illegal to pass farm machinery in your area, regardless of center line markings. Do not honk or ride alongside buggies (or farm machinery for that matter),” he said.