Hayride Death Stirs Debate Over Kentucky’s Farm Safety Laws

July 13, 2010

The death of a woman thrown from a hay wagon during a ride at a county fair has opened a debate over whether there should be improvements to Kentucky laws on farm equipment safety.

Dale Dobson, head of the Farm Safety Program through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, told the Lexington Herald-Leader there are no regulations governing who can operate farm vehicles and he thinks that’s fine.

“There are no laws, and we don’t need any laws,” he said.

Others disagree.

“A lot of trailers out there are in bad condition,” said Ron Melancon, a former medical technician in Richmond, Va., who runs the web site www.dangeroustrailers.org. “There is no training in how to drive one with people in it; they are meant for cargo.”

Investigators say Terri Hurley, 44, was killed July 3 when a wagon carrying 30 people jackknifed on a hill at a Mercer County farm. Hurley was thrown off and struck by a trailer wheel. She was pronounced dead of head and chest injuries.

Dobson said deaths from farm equipment accidents have dropped significantly, from around 50 a year in the mid-1990s to just 13 or 14 annually in the late 2000s.

Still, Melancon insists more crashes could be prevented. Many wagons used by families are homemade and don’t require a license, he said.

“Nobody is verifying what you are building is safe,” he said. “We are using 1930 laws in 2010.”

Melancon started researching farm equipment safety issues in 2003 when he rear-ended a trailer while driving an ambulance. He said the trailer lights were so low he couldn’t see them, and he was found not guilty in the crash.

He said more than 400 people are killed in trailer accidents nationwide and he is calling for more awareness of farm vehicle safety.

“Newspapers report a freak accident here and a freak accident there, and no one notices it is a national problem,” he said.

Any attempts to change laws could run into resistance from families accustomed to sharing work, even among children.

“There are so many variables and so many different situations that occur with farm work, so the tradition has been to leave it as an issue of personal responsibility,” said Mark Purschwitz, an extension professor in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

When a tractor jackknifes, Purschwitz said, typically it’s because the load of the wagon was too heavy. He says he would like to see a “middle ground” to allow more regulation without infringing on traditions of family farms.

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