Increasing the Visibility of Agricultural Equipment on Public Roadways

Use the following format to cite this article:

Increasing the Visibility of Agricultural Equipment on Public Roadways. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from….


You must be extremely cautious when moving agricultural equipment on public roadways. Tractors and agricultural implements typically travel on roadways at speeds of less than 25 mph. Other motor vehicles travel at faster speeds, and many motorists do not realize the amount of braking time necessary to avoid rear-end collisions. 

To reduce the risk of such collisions, state motor vehicle regulations require that agricultural equipment on public roadways be highly visible to motor vehicles approaching from behind. Your farm equipment should be visible to other motorists from the greatest possible distance so that they will have ample time to slow down.

To increase the visibility of your agricultural equipment, you can use slow moving vehicle (SMV) emblems, as well as marking accessories and fully functioning lighting. Although lighting and marking accessories are necessary anytime you have equipment on a public road, they are especially important 30 minutes before sundown or 30 minutes after sunrise. For added safety on narrow roads, you may consider having an escort vehicle drive in front of you. On winding roads, you may wish to have an escort drive behind you. 

SMV Emblem



(Source: Pennsylvania State University. Agricultural Safety and Health)

An SMV emblem is a highly reflective sign that should be placed on the back of all tractors, towed implements, and self-propelled implements. It is an equilateral triangle at least 14 in. in height, made from a fluorescent orange material (which provides visibility during the day) and bordered by red retroreflective material (which provides visibility at night). 

Laws concerning SMV emblems vary by state—most states require SMV emblems on all implements of husbandry (agricultural machinery) traveling at speeds of less than 25 mph. Farmers and ranchers are responsible for the proper use and maintenance of SMV emblems. Check the laws in your state for specific regulations.

The placement of an SMV emblem is critical to its effectiveness. Adhere to the following guidelines when affixing an SMV emblem:

  • Place the emblem at the rear of the vehicle or implement, with the triangle pointing upwards.
  • As much as possible, center the emblem horizontally on the vehicle.
  • Make sure the bottom edge of the triangle is from 2 to 10 ft. above the ground. 

An SMV emblem can become covered with dirt; over time, it can fade due to sun exposure. To maintain the best reflective properties, regularly clean and replace SMV emblems. 

The only appropriate use of an SMV emblem is to increase the visibility of agricultural equipment traveling on public roadways. Do not use an SMV emblem for any other purpose (such as marking a driveway).

Speed Indicator Symbol

SIS Emblem

SIS Emblem

(Source: Pennsylvania State University. Agricultural Safety and Health)

Some tractors can travel faster than 25 mph. Mount a speed indicator symbol (SIS) on the rear of such tractors to indicate their maximum speed. Some states are now debating amending the SMV regulations to encompass faster tractors. Your state’s farm bureau can provide updates about such efforts.

Reflective Tape and Lighting

Puma 150 Tractor with RB565 Round Baler from Case IH Media Library

Puma 150 Tractor with RB565 Round Baler. Photo Source: Case IH.

The American Society of Agricultural Engineers (ASAE) has developed guidelines and recommendations for lighting and marking farm equipment for roadway travel. The lists below summarize the most important recommendations for increasing the visibility of self-propelled and towed equipment.

Self-Propelled Equipment

  • Headlamps and taillights: Equipment should have two headlamps and two taillights. At each end of the equipment, the lights should be mounted at the same height and spaced as far apart as possible on either side of the center line of the equipment.
  • Work lamps: Equipment should have work lamps, but rear-facing work lamps should not be used while on roadways.
  • Warning lights: Any vehicle or towed equipment with a width of 12 ft. or more should have flashing amber lights located on its sides. The lights should flash in unison at a rate of 60 to 85 flashes per minute.
  • Turn indicators: Equipment should have turn indicators in addition to red taillights.
  • 7-terminal receptacle: Any tractor or truck used for towing should be equipped with a 7-terminal receptacle to power lights on a trailing piece of equipment.

Towed Equipment

  • Rear reflectors: The widest part of the rear extremities of the equipment should be outfitted with red reflectors to ensure visibility from up to 600 ft. behind the equipment.
  • Front reflectors: The front left and right sides of the equipment should have yellow reflectors.
  • Reflective and fluorescent (conspicuous) material: Equipment should be marked with a combination of reflective and fluorescent material. Yellow conspicuous material should be used in the front, and red-orange reflective material should be used to outline the back.
  • SMV emblem: An ASAE-approved SMV emblem should be attached at the center, or slightly to the left of the center, of the back of the equipment.


Use the following format to cite this article:

Increasing the Visibility of Agricultural Equipment on Public Roadways. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from….



Agricultural equipment on public roads. (2009) Committee on Agricultural Safety and Health Research and Extension. Retrieved from

Hallman, E. and Abend, E. (2005) Roadway safety: Lighting & marking of agricultural equipment. Cornell Cooperative Extension. Retrieved from….

Hanna, M., Schwab, C., and Miller, L. (2000) A new look for farm safety: Reflective and fluorescent tape. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Retrieved from

Legault, M. (2002) National farm safety and health week… Not just for farmers anymore part II. The National Education Center for Agricultural Safety. Retrieved from  

Petrea, R. (n.d.) Forage harvesting safety. University of Illinois Extension. Retrieved from


Contributor, Reviewers and Summarized by:                       
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University
William C. Harshman, Pennsylvania State University (Has since retired)
Charles V. Schwab, Iowa State University –
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –

NCERA 197: Agricultural Equipment on Public Roads

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….


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 –