UI study: Farm-equipment crashes involving alcohol, more devastating

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A University of Iowa study found that while farm equipment and passenger vehicle accidents involving alcohol are uncommon, those accidents that do, are likely to be more dangerous and potentially fatal.

"What we did, we took Department of Transportation data and we looked to see just crashes that involved some form of farm equipment which could be a tractor or a combine," said Karisa Harland, study leader and associate research scientist with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Department of Emergency Medicine. "Those crashes could have been just the farm equipment crashing or they could have involved a passenger vehicle crashing such as a van, car or truck. We were just trying to get an understanding among those crashes how often was alcohol involved.

She continued, "What we found was that among the crashes we studied only about 3 percent involved one of the drivers having alcohol impairment defined as a blood alcohol level exceeding the legal limit. Then we looked at the crashes that had alcohol impairment, was there worse outcomes such as injuries or fatalities? What we found is when alcohol is involved, there is more likely to be an injury or a death. What makes it important to all of us on the road is that the person in the passenger vehicle is more likely to be injured or killed."

The study focused on Department of Transportation data from 2005-10 from North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri and Iowa. It was published in the bimonthly peer-review journal "Traffic Injury Prevention," in December 2017. The Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health at the University of Iowa received the funding for the study from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.

"Farm equipment accidents aren't very common," Harland said. "Over those five years there were 1,900 farm equipment crashes in all four states. To put it into scope, the Iowa Department of Transportation reports, in the same time period, there were around 55,000 crashes. It is a small subset of crashes, but we know that there is farm equipment on the road. We know that the passenger vehicle is more likely to experience injury or fatality. It may be a small number, but it can have a big impact."

Clay County Sheriff's Office Chief Deputy Zach Larsen said it is important for Iowans to take farm equipment into consideration when driving.

"These guys have a job to do and this is a farming community," Larsen said. "People need to realize this time of year, farmers are catching up and putting seed into the ground. They do go slow. People get frustrated, but the farmers can only go so fast. My advice is to be patient or take an alternate route and not to try to pass. For the most part, we do pretty well around here. It is the culture and the community."

Harland was prompted to investigate this topic because she had not found previous research focusing on the relationship between farm equipment accidents and alcohol impairment. Her research lead her to offer some advice to drivers of passenger vehicles and farm equipment operators.

"I think the bigger thing in preventing these crashes, in general, is understanding that farm equipment is traveling slower and is larger than what can fit on the highway," Harland said. "As far as the farmer equipment users, trying to travel in the daytime and keeping their vehicles clean and visible are important precautions to take."

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