My dad and I were driving home through the country recently and we saw that several people had posted Slow-Moving Vehicle (SMV) signs on their mailboxes. These homeowners may not realize that this action dilutes the importance of the signs and could cost someone’s life.
The SMV sign is the orange-red triangle we have all seen in rural New York. Its job is to warn drivers that there is a slow-moving vehicle on the road, and that they should proceed with caution. An SMV sign is not just a normal reflector to put on your mailbox, and doing so is illegal and can subject you to a $150 fine.
Why is there a law against using a SMV sign as a reflector? Well, it’s because if you use that SMV sign on your mailbox post, it would look like to drivers who are passing by as if it’s just a reflector. Then, once they come up to a tractor with a SMV sign on the back, they’ll think that it’s just a reflector and keep on going instead of slowing down.
This happened to a driver in Bergen, N.Y., on Dec. 7, 2013 when he failed to reduce his speed and plowed into the back of a liquid manure tanker being pulled by a tractor. The car went under the tanker, and the father and two young children were injured in the crash. The driver was charged with reckless driving and following too closely.
There is a lot more traffic on rural roads than there was just one generation ago. With the skyrocketing increase in distracted drivers using cellphones and texting, the risk to slow-moving machine operators is ever increasing. Watching for SMV signs on vehicles and not mailboxes is particularly important this time of year, with spring field work just around the corner.
Some people might think that they have a lot of time to stop when they see a tractor in front of them, but they don’t. A car traveling at 55 mph can hit a farm tractor traveling at 15 mph in as little as 5 seconds — the average time it takes a driver to look down to read a text message. According to the National Safety Council, this type of accident happens on U.S. roads more than 15,000 times a year; two-thirds are from behind, and 90 percent are during daylight on dry roads. In 2007, the Institute of Traffic Safety Management and Research reported 59 accidents involving SMVs which resulted in 17 personal injuries in New York state.
So when you see an SMV sign while driving, immediately hit the brakes. And to those who have posted a SMV sign on something other than a slow-moving vehicle, please take it down before the police department asks you to.