Do you know a rat runner? Many of us have taken shortcuts to get to our destination. But the choice to take a quieter road to avoid tolls or congested main roads has sparked debate in the transportation industry and has garnered the term ‘rat running’.

With the growing use of navigation systems directing traffic – an estimated one billion drivers worldwide – even more drivers are taking to side streets and less common roads to avoid heavy traffic on major roadways, particularly during commute hours. Looking for the fastest way to their destination, drivers follow navigation apps on roads frequently not designed to handle the traffic, particularly at greater speeds. Often these are rural roads where they will encounter slow moving vehicles, exacerbating an already tenuous situation for farmers to safely move equipment from field to field.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 85,002 people lost their lives in crashes on rural roads in the U.S. between 2016 and 2020. While there was a slight decrease for several years, fatalities once again started to climb in 2020.

“Many of North Dakota’s rural roads are highly traveled, especially by farmers taking equipment from field to field throughout the year,” said Shireen Alemadi, North Dakota Soybean Council outreach and education coordinator. “During harvest, the increase in traffic on the rural roads can become problematic. It is important for farmers to be proactive when they take their equipment on the road.”  

Researchers from Texas A&M found that taking a route with an 8% reduction in travel time could increase the risk of being in a crash by 23%. GPS systems may offer a quicker route, but they don’t factor in risks such as blind corners, steep curves, bus stops, left turns, or the potential for wildlife and farm traffic. These road conditions can be more dangerous for drivers unfamiliar with the route.

Transportation agencies are investigating ways to address these new traffic patterns, such as timing patterns of lights, adding speed bumps, and narrowing the appearance of a road with wider paint striping.

If you’re concerned about the traffic coming through your area – whether it be volume or speed –contact your county or state transportation agency and call their attention to the potential dangers.

Selecting to move farm equipment during the slowest time of day, using an escort vehicle, and looking up where navigation apps are sending traffic before driving on the road are also proactive steps farmers can use to improve safely getting to your destination.

“Safety is a priority amidst all the other things we need to think about to get field work done and finish harvest,” commented Chris Brossart, chairman of the North Dakota Soybean Council. “A slow-moving vehicle sign, and lighting on equipment can help make sure us farmers are seen when on rural roads.”

“Thanks to the soybean checkoff, we offer farmers free posters and window clings with safety checklists to make it easier to remember safety steps before hitting the road,” said Alemadi.  

The resources are part of the road safety program supported by the soy checkoff and multiple Qualified State Soybean Boards in an effort to make rural roads safer for all drivers.