Life in the Slow Lane

By Vicki Schmidt

Drivers of motorized vehicles may not realize that horse-drawn vehicles also share the roadways.
Photos by Vicki Schmidt.

While every state has different legal standards for slow-moving vehicle (SMV) signage, there is little argument between states as to what is the proper responsibility for motorists approaching SMVs. In addition, there is a responsibility for drivers of SMVs, especially with horse-drawn vehicles, to increase their visibility when using roadways.

In all states, SMVs are vehicles that are motorized, horse-drawn or otherwise self-propelled and designed to travel at less that 25 mph. In rural and agricultural areas, these are often termed implements of husbandry and include tractors; farm machinery; vehicles designed or adapted for agricultural, horticultural, logging or livestock operations; and horse-drawn equipment, carriages and wagons.

Decades of studies and research from across the U.S. have shown trends that lead to SMV accidents. Most traffic studies indicate that two out of three roadway accidents involving slow-moving vehicles are rear-end collisions. Ninety percent of these accidents happen during the daylight, between the months of June and September, and between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m.

Recommendations for both agriculturally based citizens and vehicle operators exist, but poor road conditions, improper towing and many other conditions lead to SMV accidents. Sadly, one of the most startling problems is that the majority of motorists are not educated to recognize SMV signs, and even fewer know what to do when an SMV comes into view. Many accidents occur when motorists hurry around farm vehicles or attempt to pass on curves, hills, double lines, and near driveway or field road intersections.

Horse-drawn vehicles should be properly outfitted with slow-moving vehicle signage before entering any roadway.

If you drive your horses on roadways, realize that most states mandate that slow-moving vehicles be identified with an orange triangular sign with reflective red trim. This sign must be attached pointing up and centered 2 to 6 feet above the ground. It must also be located at the center or left center of the vehicle and be visible day and night from at least 500 feet away. Most new SMV retroreflective signs available today are visible from 1,000 feet and are highly recommended for agricultural and horse-drawn vehicle applications.

The average driver on your local rural roads may not realize that slow-moving equipment or horse-drawn vehicles may appear at any moment. Tractors and horse-drawn vehicles average less than 15 mph on most roadways, and a car traveling 55 mph needs only 7 seconds to travel 400 feet toward you and your horses. There is not much time or space for the driver to recognize and react to avoid a collision. Modern SMV signs are designed to enable significant warning and to give motorists time to react. Work to ensure they are part of your overall farm safety plan.

To learn more about SMVs, contact your local extension service or visit the website of the Sherburne Grange in New York ( The site has a lot of great information and links to other resources regarding SMVs and SMV safety.

Vicki Schmidt owns and operates Troika Drafts, a 100-acre working draft horse farm in western Maine. The farm features drafts and crosses for work, sport and show.