By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- David Gay is keeping a close eye on his equipment and other motorists as he heads his tractor out on the highway.
"You can see the cars coming, but you don't always know how they will react," Gay said. "Some people are very good about slowing down and making room. Others fly right on by, so you better watch out."
The Pike County Farm Bureau president would rather see other drivers slow down and share the road, especially when farmers head to the fields for spring planting season.
Representatives from the Pike County Farm Bureau, Country Insurance, Two Rivers FS, Pittsfield High School FFA, Illinois Department of Transportation, Pike County Sheriff's Department and Illinois State Police have kicked off a rural roadway safety awareness program.
"It's very timely to be launching this now during the spring planting season when the farmers will be out in force and moving their equipment from field to field and occupying the roadways while they do that," Gay said. "We want to remind motorists that this farm equipment is not only slow-moving but big and takes up a lot of space. You really have to be on the lookout for it so you can slow down and approach it safely."
At the same time, Gay said farmers have to operate equipment as safely as possible, pulling over where it's safe to allow traffic to go by and trying to avoid the busiest times of day.
As part of the "Caution: Slow Down, Share the Road" program, banners will appear along rural roadways throughout the state to remind rural motorists and farmers to look out for each other. Gay said the banners will go up just during the spring and fall to boost their impact during peak farming seasons.
"We believe this program will save lives," Gay said.
Roadway collisions have been the second leading cause of Illinois farm-related deaths since 2008.
Twenty-nine Illinois residents died in roadway collisions with farm machinery during the last five years. Rural motorists accounted for all deaths except three, who were farmers. Project partners aim to reduce rural roadway deaths to zero.
"One driving fatality is one too many. We need to educate the public about safely navigating rural roadways," Illinois State Police Education Officer Mike Kindhart said. "With drivers being distracted more and more with electronic devices, the need for such a campaign is even more important."