When Peter Lambrick drives to work, he runs the gauntlet of rude gestures, angry honking and risky manoeuvres by other motorists.
Rural road rage is at full throttle as the Milton-area farmer hauls huge machinery to the fields.
“You certainly do see some idiots,” says the veteran crop grower, noting his orange “slow moving vehicle” sign means nothing to some. “The scary things are the people who are nervous around large machinery.”“The situation is dangerous for everybody involved. The number one killer in farming is equipment rolling over.” – Dean Anderson
Monster machines are out in force as Ontario farmers scramble to catch up after a long wet spring. And their slow treks along busy roads leave drivers chomping at the bit.
“The frustration is going to the cottage on Friday afternoon and now you’re stuck 20 cars behind a farmer,” says workplace safety watchdog Dean Anderson. “That’s when young machismo kicks in and you think ‘I can pass 10 cars at a time’.”
The situation is “dangerous for everybody involved,” says Anderson, regional director for Workplace Safety and Prevention Services, which covers the agricultural industry. “The number one killer in farming is equipment rolling over.”
That can easily happen, he adds, when a farm vehicle gets too close to a ditch while driving on a soft shoulder.
It’s something Lambrick tries to avoid because of mail boxes and other obstacles. Towing implements that measure 4.5 metres wide and nine metres long means paved road is the safest option, he says. With a combined weight of 15 tonnes, “you don’t just stop on a dime.”
Farm vehicles don’t go faster than 40 km/h and many lack brake lights and turn signals. But they have a right to be there and are not obliged to pull over, says Durham Region’s Staff Sgt. Jim Griepsma, who’s fielded farmers’ complaints about honking, yelling and unsafe passing.
Griepsma, of the police service’s north division, blames a combination of busier roads, bigger equipment and farmers working multiple properties.
“Most of it is common sense, like being behind a school bus,” he advises motorists, adding they’re not usually stuck behind a tractor for long.
Many farmers work huge acreages that require road travel, points out Marilyn Morawetz, a farmer and co-owner of an equipment dealership in Orono.
“It’s not like the old days where you had 100 acres and just went from field to field,” she says. “None of them enjoy being on the road because people treat them so badly.”
Impatient motorists “fly past” on both sides, says Zac Cohoon, a Port Perry-area producer of cash crops and beef who drives along the yellow line for safety reasons.
“I’ve had guys pushed into the ditch. And I’ve had a car ram on the brakes and stop in front of me. With 30 tonnes coming at him, who do you think is going to win?”
For Oshawa sheep farmers Leslie and Wesley Glaspell, driving their tractor and hay wagon even a short distance has earned them “the finger.”
“It is dangerous,” complains Leslie. “Everyone’s in a big rush. Some people don’t even stop at the stop sign near our driveway.”
The farm where her husband grew up is now surrounded by subdivisions adding traffic onto main arterial roads, she says.
“The frustrating part is a lot of these people don’t realize everything they eat and wear has been produced by a farmer.”