Agricultural Vehicles in the Woods

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Agricultural vehicles in the woods. (2014) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from….


The risk of safety related incidents is high when a farmer or rancher uses a farm tractor to cut trees, clear fence rows, and gather firewood.  The typical farm tractor is simply not designed for use in woodlots. A farm tractor lacks the safety components of timber harvest tractors or skidders, which include the following:

  • A heavy steel skid plate to protect the underside of the machine
  • A protective radiator grill
  • Engine side guards
  • 10- to 12-ply flat sidewall tires
  • Tire chains
  • Front-end weights
  • 10-pound ABC fire extinguisher
  • A spark-arrester exhaust system
  • A category II falling object projective structure (FOPS) with a seat belt
  • A protective grill for the rear window and sides of the FOPS cab
  • High ground clearance
  • Lateral stability
  • Nearly equal front- and rear-axle weight distribution.

The photo below is an example of a tractor equipped with a Rollover Protective Structure (ROPS) and FOPS.

Tractor in the Woods

(Source: Lee Stover, L & E Stover Enterprises)

Dangerous Farm Tractor Usage

A rear overturn incident can occur with a farm tractor if a chain or cable is attached to a point higher on the tractor than the drawbar. Side overturn can occur when the farm tractor runs over a stump, rock, or tree trunk with a rear tire. Farm tractors equipped with a front-end loader should never be used to pull or push down limbs because the raised loader changes the center or gravity, placing the tractor at risk for a side overturn incident. Never use a farm tractor to complete forestry jobs such as pushing, dragging, or loading logs, without skid cones, log arches, three-point mounted grapples, or a skidding implement equipped with a three-point winch. These pieces of equipment reduce the risk of a log twisting or rolling out of the control while being dragged. Click here for more information on safe hitching.

All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and Utility Vehicles (UTVs)

The potential for a tractor, ATV, or UTV overturn exists in woodlots because of uneven terrain and hidden obstacles such as rocks, roots, and stumps. Only specialized equipment such as timber harvest tractors and skidders should be used in woodlots. Felling of large trees for harvest should be completed by commercial operators with specialized equipment. Once a tree has been felled and located in a non-wooded area such as a fence row, the tree can be properly delimbed and sectioned for use on the farm or ranch. In order to remove the wood, you need to determine the best mode of transportation for the job and the environment.

ATVs towing wagons and UTVs with cargo beds or boxes continue to be popular choices, but it is important to understand their limitations. ATVs typically have lighter-duty suspension systems with less pulling and braking power, making them unsafe to complete most logging-type tasks. Some larger UTVs with a wider wheel base are equipped with a heavier frame and protective cage but still have limited capability in wooded areas.

When using a UTV or ATV to pull a trailer, the operator should be careful to observe the hauling capacity limits to reduce the risk of an incident. Check the manufacturer’s recommendation for any trailer that is being used to haul wood. Do not overload the trailer, and make sure that the wood is properly secured. The cargo box for each UTV has a recommended payload capacity that can vary between 500 and 1,400 pounds, depending on the make and model. It is extremely important to check the operator’s manual to determine the maximum payload capacity for your UTV. Keeping loads within the recommended payload capacity is essential to reducing the risk of an accident or potential damage to the UTV or ATV and trailer.

Extra precautions should be taken when using ATVs and UTVs in the woods for any activity. By hauling smaller amounts of wood slowly through a woodlot or along a trail that has been inspected for hidden obstacles, you can decrease the potential for an incident. Log arches can be used to stabilize smaller logs that need to be dragged from the woods, while reducing the possibility of the butt end of the log catching on a rock or stump or rolling sideways down uneven, sloping terrain. Consider winching logs that have fallen into precarious positions to a safer landing before using a light-duty ATV or UTV to pull them. The photo below shows an ATV using a log arch to safely transport logs on a path.

Log arch

Photo Source: Future Forestry Products, Inc. Log arch currently manufactured by Logrite of CT.


Additional Safety Recommendations:

  • If you are in the woods, inform other people of your location.
  • Always know the location of other people in your group, especially when felling a tree.
  • Make sure you have a complete first aid kit with you and have a basic understanding of first aid for severe bleeding, second-degree burns, and shock.


Click here to learn more about using your ATV on a farm or ranch.

Click here to learn more about chain saw safety.


Use the following format to cite this article:

Agricultural vehicles in the woods. (2014) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from….



Murphy, D., Stover, L., & Harshman, W. (2011) Tractors in the woods. Penn State Extension. Retrieved from


Reviewers, Contributors, and Summarized by:
Willard Downs, University of Missouri –
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
Bobby Grisso, Jr., Virginia Tech –
Bill Harshman, Pennsylvania State University (Has since retired)
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University (Has since retired)
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center – 

NCERA 197: Agricultural Equipment on Public Roads

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NCERA 197: Agricultural Equipment on Public Roads. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from….


In areas where rural and urban settings come together, motorists are more likely to encounter agricultural equipment and vehicles on public roads. In 2007, the North Central Education/Extension Research Activity (NCERA) 197 committee identified the operation of agricultural equipment on public roads as an agricultural safety and health priority area in need of further research and awareness. 

The committee reviewed research and engineering standards and identified extension and outreach and policy priorities related to the operation of agricultural equipment on public roads. The lists below outline the committee’s major recommendations in these areas.

Research and Development

  • To improve understanding of the characteristics of crashes between motor vehicles and agricultural machines or equipment, reporting and investigative agencies should develop and use standardized reporting terminology.
  • Researchers should prioritize the determination of best practices for lighting and marking agricultural equipment and vehicles (such as the use of slow moving vehicle [SMV] emblems on animal-drawn buggies).
  • As use of high-speed tractors, self-propelled machines, and towed equipment increases, engineers must improve and adapt braking and steering systems, tires, and rollover protective structures (ROPS) for high-speed machinery and equipment.
  • Researchers, officials, and agricultural safety and health leaders and experts should examine driver education curricula, which are not standardized nationally, to evaluate the level of instruction students receive about sharing roadways with agricultural equipment.
  • Researchers should examine the effectiveness of graduated licensing for youth operating agricultural equipment on public roadways.

Engineering Standards

  • Organizations and entities that formulate engineering design standards should base standards more directly on research findings. Engineers should collaborate with researchers and end users when developing and designing agricultural equipment.
  • When designing machinery and equipment, engineers should apply standards that require automatic and passive protection for drivers and riders operating agricultural equipment on public roads.
  • Designers and manufacturers should continually consider ways in which new technologies can be incorporated in the design standards and applications of agricultural equipment.

Safety Programs

  • Safety programs must balance the educational effort by educating both agricultural workers and the general public about:
    • best practices for operating farm equipment on roadways, 
    • the purpose and usage of SMV and speed indicator symbol (SIS) emblems, and
    • the ways exclusions and exemptions of agricultural equipment from traffic regulations impact the interaction of vehicles and agricultural equipment on roadways.
  • Safety programs should work with local and state law-enforcement agencies to increase officers’ awareness of laws related to farm equipment.
  • Safety program personnel should work with manufacturers of Amish buggies to encourage the use of marking and lighting systems that meet current standards developed by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), and the Department of Transportation (DOT).


  • State policies should promote the comprehensive explanation of SMV and SIS emblems in driver’s manuals and as part of driver education programs.
  • A more comprehensive Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC) should be developed and adopted both nationally and at state levels. The new code should address modern types of agricultural equipment and the use of such equipment on roadways. Details of the code should include:
    • required registration of farm equipment for roadway use,
    • necessary qualifications and training for operators of agricultural equipment, and
    • regulations regarding the use of animal-drawn buggies, wagons, and equipment.
  • Policies should ensure consistent funding for research into the hazards of operating agricultural equipment on roadways and the best safety practices for the operation of farm equipment on public roads.
  • State and local governments should establish land-use policies to manage the interactions between farming and nonfarming vehicles on public roads.
  • Policies should encourage stricter enforcement by local and state police of proper SMV emblem usage.


Click here to review the NCERA 197 publication Agricultural Equipment on Public Roads, which explains the committee’s findings in their entirety.

For more information about the topics discussed in this article, click the links to the following articles:


Use the following format to cite this article:

NCERA 197: Agricultural Equipment on Public Roads. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from….


Reviewed and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University –
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –

What guards need to be in place to help prevent entanglement with a tractor’s PTO driveline?

Properly positioned guards and shields that undergo regular maintenance are important safety features that help prevent entanglement with PTO drivelines. However, guards and shields alone are not enough to prevent an entanglement incident. Operator awareness and constant caution are critical to avoiding power take-off (PTO) entanglement injuries.

Driveline Components

Driveline Components. Photo Source: Virginia Tech

The major components of PTO systems. Reproduced from Grisso, B. (2009, Machinery Safety on the Farm, Virginia  Cooperative Extension

The master shield of a tractor, located at the rear of the tractor over the PTO stub shaft, is the first shield along the PTO driveline. When installed and used properly, the master shield prevents the operator from coming into contact with the universal joint of an implement driveline, as well as the stub shaft. When operating a PTO-driven implement with your tractor, you should encase the shaft in a driveline shield: a plastic or metal casing supported by bearings at each end of the shaft. The bearings allow the shield to stop spinning if someone or something comes into contact with the driveline while the shaft inside continues to spin. The ends of the driveline shield are bell-shaped to cover the universal joints of the shaft. Because universal joints are irregularly shaped and prone to snag objects, operators should never modify the bell-shaped shield in an effort to make maintenance, greasing parts, or connecting the shaft easier.

It is very important to perform a walk-around inspection of your tractor before and after your work day to make sure that all necessary guards and shields are securely in place.


Howard J. Doss, with the Michigan State University Extension, provides some keys to PTO safety. You can access this information at

Other documents on PTO safety can be found at