NFU Mutual is warning drivers and other road users to take extra care over the coming months as the “harvest rush” is expected to bring a spike in crashes involving agricultural vehicles.

May to September is the busiest time for farmers harvesting silage, hay and arable crops, the rural insurer said.

With the “unseasonably wet weather” experienced in March and April, NFU Mutual said it is concerned that a rush to complete tasks could lead to an increase in incidents involving agricultural vehicles.

Rural road safety specialist at NFU Mutual, Sara Western, said: “With silaging underway in many parts of the UK, we’re beginning to see more tractors, trailers and large agricultural machinery such as combine harvesters on our rural roads.

“Unfortunately, our claims data shows that, year after year, accidents involving these agricultural vehicles and third parties are significantly more likely in the harvesting season. In 2023, these accidents were 61% more likely in the harvest months.

“We’re sharing some advice on how everyone can stay safe on rural roads this spring and summer, whether they work in, live in or are simply visiting the countryside.”

Western said agricultural machinery is larger, wider and slower than other vehicles, which can tempt road users to overtake, but it is “vital” to overtake only when it is safe to do so – when there is a clear road ahead, no field openings and sufficient space to pass.

“Many rural roads won’t have long open stretches, so farmers and contractors should remember to pull over, if possible, to allow built-up traffic to pass,” she said.

“Where it isn’t possible to allow traffic to pass, motorists and cyclists should remember they are likely driving only a few miles or to the next field opening, so be patient, give agricultural vehicles room to turn and don’t drive too closely to them.

“Rural roads are not only the gateway to our countryside, they are also the arteries of our agricultural industry and support the harvesting that feeds the nation.

“Tragically, there were over 1,000 rural road deaths last year, so we’re urging everyone to consider how their behaviour can make countryside roads safer for everyone.”

Rural roads

According to an NFU Mutual survey, one in four people in the UK are concerned about navigating agricultural vehicles when using rural roads.

NFU Mutual’s Rural Road Safety Report, published last year, analysed the latest Department for Transport full year figures and found there were over 1,000 deaths on rural roads in 2022.

NFU Mutual’s advice to all road users using rural roads this harvest season includes:

  • Give plenty of space when overtaking. Vulnerable road users, such as walkers, runners, horse riders and cyclists, should be given as much room as motorists where possible. Do not overtake if there is a solid white line on your side of the road;
  • Always check for other road users, particularly at the entrance of fields and junctions;
  • Be patient with fellow road users and only overtake when it is safe for all road users;
  • Consider where you park to avoid blocking field entrances or obstructing the road for wide agricultural machinery;
  • Be aware of mud on the road. Rural roads are essential to our farming industry and therefore some mud will be dragged from fields to the road;
  • Familiarise yourself with the Highway Code;
  • Avoid unnecessary distractions like looking at your phone or listening to music through headphones, allowing you to be aware of your surroundings.  

Farmers are urged to ensure all equipment is road worthy and to pay particular care to things like trailers which may not have been used for months.

They should also be aware of vulnerable road users or hidden junctions, making contractors aware of these junctions and commonly-used walking, cycling and riding routes.

As well as this, NFU Mutual asks that farmers familiarise themselves and their contractors with the speed limits for their vehicles.

“If your agricultural vehicles leave mud in the road, remember to clean it up,” the rural insurer said.

“When turning, indicate in plenty of time and check more than once for road users on your inside. Be respectful to fellow road users, but only allow them to pass when it is safe to pull over. ”