The rules of the road are important, said Lt. Michael Klingenberg, a Wisconsin State Patrol officer who serves in the motor carrier department with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, at a Columbus Agribusiness Ag Day dinner.
As a state patrol officer, he said following the rules is important from a safety perspective. From a road maintenance point of view, he said it is important to establish weight limits and sizes of implements (width and length) in order to protect roads from damage.
Acknowledging that agriculture is one of the cornerstones of Wisconsin's history and is a key driver in today's economy, Klingenberg said agricultural equipment, also known as implements of husbandry, is gradually getting larger and heavier. That creates problems.
Klingenberg was on the committee that has been studying the current laws regarding IoH and has helped to make practical recommendations regarding changes that will allow farmers to remain within the law while still addressing safety issues and protecting roads and bridges.
He said a challenge in getting the new law passed has been identifying exactly what an IoH is.
"The goal is to write a bill that will be easier to interpret by farmers and officers," he said.
According to Klingenberg, weight limits is one of the concerns.
"Once officers started to weigh farm implements, the reaction was this: 'It weighs that much?' he said. "They just don't realize how heavy that equipment is. A box manure spreader in the 1950s didn't weigh that much, even when it was full. Today's manure tankers can hold as much as 9,000 gallons, and that's a lot of weight."
Klingenberg said that officers don't have the option of overlooking weight or size infractions.
"If the law says it's illegal, there must be enforcement," he said.
As he spoke, the legislature was still contemplating details of the bill. Klingenberg hopes the law will be passed soon, in time for spring field work. When it does, he said there will be changes, and that means educating farmers about those changes.
"There are a lot of positive things coming out of all this discussion," he said.
Klingenberg also said once the law is passed, owners will be given 18 months to retrofit vehicles with required lighting.
He also pointed out that towns and counties can "opt out" of the IoH permit system and choose to simply allow equipment on their roadways without any permit requirements.
"I don't want people to think we'll be hiding behind every tree and cornstalk," he said. "A big part of this will be education (for farmers). Voluntary compliance is the goal. If you know the law you will be able to follow it."
Klingenberg says one of the problems with machinery on the roads has been the influx of residential homes in rural areas in the last decades.
"When you're in a state that depends on agriculture, people need to work together," he said. "Farmers need to use common sense and non-farm residents need to be patient and understanding when farmers must use the roads for their business."