Wisconsin's new Act 377, which will be taking full effect within the next 5-15 months, addresses very evident items such as agricultural equipment weights, widths, and lengths but also the lighting and marking requirements on those vehicles along with rules for roadway travel at certain times and under specific conditions.
Informing farmers, custom cropping operators, farm equipment dealers and service providers, and law enforcement officials on those points is a task undertaken in recent months by Cheryl Skjolaas, an agricultural safety and health specialist with the University of Wisconsin Extension Service. One of those occasions was an information meeting here sponsored by the Brown County Farm Bureau.
Skjolaas explained that new legislation was needed because the larger sizes of farm equipment in recent decades and resulting effects of having that equipment travel on roadways were no longer adequately addressed in Wisconsin's statutes. She noted that the resulting legislation addressed eight different chapters in those statutes.
In addition to safety of travel for both the operators of the farm vehicles and members of the public who encounter those vehicles on the roadway, a major concern was the damage to roadways caused by the weight of that equipment or the frequency of travel, Skjolaas pointed out.
The repair of a roadway culvert can be completed in a couple of weeks but the construction of a bridge taken out because a heavy vehicle was driven over it will likely take two years, Skjolaas remarked. Beyond that, funding for all units of government for road maintenance or new construction continues to be very tight in Wisconsin, she observed.
To raise the awareness of those directly affected by those concerns, Skjolaas and other cooperators have created what she called "a cheat sheet" on how to comply with Act 377. She noted that the current version, released on July 24, is an update of the original.
The document contains a working definition of implements of husbandry (equipment used directly in agricultural production) and agricultural commercial motor vehicles (units designed for highway travel and used exclusively in agricultural activities). (See a separate story for a more complete consideration of those definitions.)
During her presentation here, Skjolaas focused on the lighting and marking requirements that are specified in Act 377. They will apply to farm tractors and any other self-propelled implements of husbandry (IoH) that are over 12 feet wide, to those wider that 15 feet that would extend over the centerline of the roadway, to those wider than 22 feet that are traveling more than one half of a mile on a roadway, and to a train of three agricultural vehicles.
Although the provisions for the agricultural vehicle train and IoH units that are wider than 15 feet do not go into effect until November of 2015, Skjolaas suggested it would be a good idea to start observing them now.
An agricultural train (three vehicles) will need to have a red or amber light, one red or amber reflector, and a slow-moving vehicle emblem on each side of each vehicle when operating during hours of darkness or other times of low lighting (fog, rainstorm, snow).
The current regulation for such trains allows the use of either amber lights or reflectors. The use of a red or orange flag will be rescinded in the regulation taking effect on November 1, 2015.
For the farm tractors and IoHs wider than 12 feet, Act 377 offers a choice of two types of lighting. They are a 360-degree yellow or amber rotating strobe or beacon light that is mounted at the highest practical point or two flashing amber lights that are visible to the front and rear and that are activated whenever the vehicle is on the road or is parked in the right of way.
Five types of marking are specified during roadway travel for IoHs that are more than 15 feet wide and that extend across the centerline while being driven on the roadway. What is not a change is that a slow-moving vehicle emblem, preferably 2-6 feet above the surface, is required.
A basic lighting requirement is having at least two amber flashing lamps, visible from both the front and rear, that are mounted to indicate the extent of the width but not more than 16 inches from the end of the lateral extremities.
Another requirement is to have at least two red tail lamps mounted on or close to the rear of the IoH. The rule indicates that they are to be lighted in the situations when headlamps or other lamps are not activated.
The new marking requirement calls for red retro-reflective material, visible to a distance of 500 feet to the rear, that is mounted within 25 inches of the extreme right and left of the IoH. For the front, to alert drivers coming from the opposite direction, the requirement is at least two strips of yellow retro-reflective material mounted on the right and left sides of the IoH within 16 inches of the extremities of the unit.
Another set of rules applies to IoHs that are wider than 22 feet when they travel more than one half of a mile on a highway. One stipulation is that the IoH be accompanied by an escort vehicle with its hazard lights activated.
If the roadway has one lane of travel in each direction, the escort vehicle must be in front of the wide IoH. On a three-way highway or if there is more than one lane of travel in each direction, the escort vehicle must follow the IoH.
At times other than during the defined hours or darkness or during other periods of low light, a wide IoH may be driven on a highway if it is accompanied by an escort vehicle with its hazard lights activated and if two orange or red flags (not less than 12 inches square) are attached at or close to the rear of the IoH.
In Wisconsin, "hours of darkness" is defined as the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise and all other times when the natural light is not adequate to make a vehicle or person on a highway visible at a distance of 500 feet.
Skjolaas also outlined the updated rules of the road that apply to IoHs that are wider than 15 feet. Those situations pertain to IoHs that extend beyond the center of the road into the lane intended for travel in the opposition direction, extend into the passing lane on a three-lane highway, or extend into another lane intended for travel in the same direction if vehicles coming from the rear are not impeded.
In those cases, Skjolaas explained that the IoH operator must yield the right of way to oncoming vehicles and yield half of the roadway, not drive on the left side of a roadway, curve, or grade that is designated as a no passing zone if doing so would create a hazard for oncoming traffic, and should not drive so slowly that it would impede the normal movement of traffic.
More information is available on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation website at http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/business/ag/index.htm. Questions should be sent by e-mail to AgVehicles@dot.wi.gov.
Owners and operators of farm equipment that is governed by Act 377 are being advised to contact their equipment dealer for specifics on the weights and dimensions of particular vehicles.