It's one of those years when you have to look at the calendar to know it's springtime, unless you've noticed the other sign of spring that's even surer than warm temperatures.
There's been a noticeable increase in the amount of farm equipment lumbering down provincial highways in recent weeks as farmers prepare for seeding. Many are already feeling the pressure that comes with the calendar rolling over May 1 before they've even started in the field.
With farm equipment on the move comes an increased risk of run-ins with other motorists.
There have already been at least two serious traffic accidents in the past month involving collisions with farm equipment in Manitoba. In one, an SUV ran into an auger towed by a pickup truck as it was turning off the highway. It was then rear-ended by a semi, sending two people to hospital. In another, an elderly man died after his van collided with a piece of farm equipment and rolled.
Unfortunately, these incidents fit into an emerging statistical profile as traffic-safety experts start to pay closer attention to the hazardous combination of big, slow-moving equipment, busy highways and inattentive drivers.
National statistics recently complied by the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association show collisions between motor vehicles and farm equipment killed more than 150 people since the early 1990s. This study only tracked fatalities. The number of accidents is much higher.
For example, the Saskatchewan government launched a public-awareness campaign in the early 2000s based on data that showed there were more than 100 collisions a year on rural highways involving farm equipment in that province alone.
Nearly half of the fatalities in these collisions occurred in the late afternoon or early evening, and for some reason, most often on a Wednesday.
Not surprisingly, when these collisions result in a fatality, 60 per cent of the time it was the occupants of a car, minivan, half-ton or a motorcyclist. But 19 per cent of the fatalities were tractor operators.
There are several contributing factors. As farm sizes have grown, farmers' land holdings are more widely dispersed, resulting in the need to travel from field to field using major thoroughfares. Secondly, farm equipment just keeps getting bigger and takes up more road space.
These collisions occur most often when the farm equipment is turning, either because the motorist attempts to pass at the same time or fails to notice the equipment has slowed to a crawl.
When on roadways, farm-equipment operators are required to have flashing lights and signs indicating the equipment is slow-moving. Some safety experts speculate the size of the equipment and the flashing lights confuse motorists and they fail to see the turn signals.
But sometimes, the equipment operator is guilty of making an improper turn or failing to stop before pulling across or onto a road.
The Saskatchewan highway-safety campaign focused on the fact that when people hit the open roads on the Prairies, they routinely travel at the speed limit or higher. If a motor vehicle travelling 80 km/h catches up to one travelling 70 km/h, it takes 37 seconds to close the last 100 metres. If the vehicle travelling 80 km/h comes upon a tractor pulling farm equipment at a speed of 25 km/h, it will cover the 100 metres in 6.5 seconds. That's not much time to react, especially if there is oncoming traffic or the equipment is turning.
Traffic analysts are pretty good at determining who's at fault after the fact. But knowing it was the other guy's fault is cold comfort if you're severely injured -- or dead.
Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 204-792-4382 or by email: email@example.com