Mowing highway shoulders makes roads safer

Throughout the summer months, highway crews are often seen mowing the tall grass and weeds that proliferate along the shoulders of our roads and highways. As motorists, do we view these workers as causing us aggravation because we just might have to slow down, or do we appreciate the job they do to make our roads and highways safer and better looking?

I recently visited with Rick Yelle, a Town of Malone highway worker and coincidentally, the driver of the town of Malone snowplow with whom I rode with back in December after the big snowstorm post-Christmas. I asked Rick what was the worst part of mowing along our roads, to which he immediately responded “drivers in too much of a hurry to slow down, even when my tractor is partially blocking the roadway”. What a surprise! The second problem from his viewpoint is that drivers pull up too close to him and he is unable to back up.

Several weeks ago this weekly article dealt with NY State’s relatively recent “slow down, move over” laws. What was initially a requirement when overtaking police vehicles stopped along the shoulder of the road was expanded to include all emergency vehicles displaying flashing or rotating red, white and/or blue lights. It was further expanded to include utility vehicles, tow trucks, and ALL vehicles displaying flashing or rotating AMBER lights as well. This includes highway tractors mowing along our roads.

As Rick drove his mowing machine along Brand Road, his amber lights were flashing and his tractor/mowing machine displayed the orange/red “Slow Moving Vehicle” emblem. Isn’t it obvious that this warrants drivers to slow down when overtaking this piece of road equipment?

Sometimes orange “Mowing Ahead” signs are used to give drivers notice that they will likely encounter mowing operations. This works well when the day’s operation is along the same highway. However, sometimes this is just about impossible, as was the case for Rick Yelle on the day I spoke with him. His assignment that day was to mow along a number of different roads, and to put out signs and move them every time he changes roads would make progress impossible.

Mowing along highways isn’t as easy as mowing your lawn. Indeed, grass, weeds, brush three feet tall or more requires the operator’s strict attention. There are obstacles such as rocks and debris along the highway that must be avoided. And, there are ditches, hills, trees and sign posts along the way, all of which contributes to the difficulty of mowing.

Now, let’s address how mowing increases safety for all drivers. By cutting down the growth along a curve, it enables drivers to see other vehicles that would be hidden otherwise. Furthermore, if a driver must pull off the road for whatever reason, tall growth hides ditches and obstructions that could mean disaster to a motorist trying to get out of the driving lane. Mowing also enhances the looks of our rural community.

So, next time you come upon our highway workers mowing along the road, give them the courtesy they deserve -?slow down, move over, and don’t complicate an already difficult job.

For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to the traffic safety board’s web site at: and click on “Traffic Safety Board” under departments then look for Did You Know articles under “services.”