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Keven Moore: They seem like a fun Halloween tradition, but hayrides can be extremely dangerous

This past weekend, on a cool October night, an average everyday fall hayride turned into a Halloween nightmare. A tractor in Illinois near the town of Nauvoo was pulling a wagon full of hay bales, and people overturned, leaving one 32-year-old adult dead and 20 others injured.

The accident happened when the 41-year-old driver of a John Deere Tractor that was pulling the double-axle trailer for the hayride lost control. The tractor ran off the side of the road into a wooded ravine. The tractor overturned, ejecting the driver and many passengers.

According to an article in IBTimes.com, the Illinois State Police say the initial investigation shows the tractor was too small for the trailer and the driver was cited for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident. Three other adults as well as 17 kids ages 12 and under were on the hayride. Most were hurt in the accident, and 15 of them were transported to the hospital for injuries.

The fact is, every year when the leaves begin to change colors and the pumpkins come out, many families will attend fall outings and festivals where hayrides have been known fall tradition for decades.

Some say that due to COVID-19, many more families will be out looking for a fun safe outdoor activity, especially this Halloween weekend.

Hayrides are designed for a relaxing and scenic activity consisting of a recreational ride in a wagon or cart pulled by a tractor, horses, or a truck, which has been loaded with hay or straw for comfortable seating. Historically, hayrides have been held as celebratory activities, usually in connection with the autumn harvest.

Many churches today provide this fall tradition on their properties or sometimes out at a church member’s farmland by riding in a wagon sitting on bales of hay intended to cushion the ride. Many haunted attractions have begun to offer up haunted hayrides and even zombie paintball hayrides to offer a safer post-COVID experience.

Contemporary hayrides are often organized commercially, providing an additional source of income for farms or existing on their own. Hayrides may feature a stop at a pumpkin patch where passengers can pick a pumpkin or be dropped off to pick apples. Hayrides may also deliver customers to the entrance of a corn maze.

With any event that involves the public, small children riding on moving equipment sometimes in the evening hours of darkness, accidents will happen and, in some cases, tragically. The potential for injuries that occur with hayride accidents is usually quite significant because of the number of people involved and the size and weight of the equipment.

The problem is that there is not any formal training on how to pull a trailer or wagon meant for cargo and not 1-2 dozen people. Many trailers and wagons out there are in bad condition, and because they are intended for agriculture use, the owner does not need a license to operate on his/her property. In many cases, most of the trailers are made to be just under the gross weight of 3,000 pounds. so they are not to be subject to any registrations or regulations.

In some cases, many trailers and wagons used by farms are homemade and there isn’t anybody verifying that they are built and maintained safely. All that most states ask for is that the lights are working at the time of registration if the gross weight goes above 3,000 pounds.

A common carrier whose purpose is to transport individuals from place to place owes a duty to the highest standard of care but because seasonal hayride operators usually never leave their property, they are not considered to be a common carrier and do not fall under those strict regulations by the federal government. Then because they are not truly classified amusement attractions, they are also not subject to inspections and safety regulations by the state or local municipality.

Therefore, as a consumer, it is important to know that since the hayrides and the quasi-amusement industry are highly unregulated; there is no uniform system for reporting injuries. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has estimated that the number of serious injuries and deaths from hayrides has risen dramatically.

Many farms that offer hayrides for profit or their local church events are grossly under-insured when it comes to liability coverage and operators should be sure to check with their insurance agent to make sure the level of liability insurance is adequate.

Here are some helpful safety tip while enjoying a fall hayride:

• Only Chose Hayrides That Use Planned & Routes: Routes should be free of steep hills, bumps, overhead branches, wires, irrigation heads, sharp turns, uneven ground, and poorly drained soil and always avoiding on-road travel.

• Tractors & Trailers Should Have Running Lights: Make sure appropriate running lights are operational and use a slow-moving vehicle sign as required by local laws if operated on public roadways. The driver should never take a spontaneous detour as the chosen route has been vetted for any obstacles and altering it could bring unforeseen dangers.

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com

• Ride with Only Safe Drivers: Make sure that driver is over the age of 21, licensed & not intoxicated, experienced, and have a clean driving record.

• Established Safety Rules Being Communicated: Look for posted safety rules and chose a hayride that informs and recited the safety rules with all the riders.

• Inspect the Tractor & Trailer: Make sure that your tractor or vehicle has the adequate towing capacity to handle the weight of the trailer/wagon riders. Do not be afraid to inquire about the preventative maintenance of the tractor or the trailer before hopping on with your family. You may want to even kick the tires, and visually inspect it yourself.

• Make sure the wagon is properly secured with a well-designed hitch pin and safety chains. Look for defective side rails on the wagon and loading/unloading platforms. Be on the lookout for splinters, loose floorboards, and exposed nails.

• Only Ride Wagons That Are Properly Equipped: Only use wagons with side rails that are high enough to prevent people from falling off the wagon when seated—usually three to four feet. Sturdy side rails also offer back support for seated passengers. Drivers and/or attendants should carry cell phones in the event of an emergency. Also, the towing vehicle should be equipped with a fire extinguisher, flashlight, and first-aid kit.

• Have Proper Crowd Control: A safe hayride will address the flow of your visitors and you should post adequate safety signage. Barricades or fencing should be erected at the loading and unloading station to control people from walking into a moving tractor and trailer. Make sure visitors are entering and exiting one at a time and your employees can control the flow of visitors on and off the wagon.

• Loading and Unloading: To avoid injuries getting on or off the hayride. There should be an organized procedure and designated loading and unloading areas. Provide a sturdy stepping platform with a handrail for passengers to use when mounting or dismounting the wagon. Passengers should not climb over the sides to enter or exit the wagon. Remember, that damp or wet straw can be slippery and prone to mold.

• During the Ride: Safe hayrides will only pull one wagon behind a tractor at a times, should have a maximum number of seating, and should enforce a “no standing policy” as a safety procedure during the ride. Riders should remain seated while underway and keep their arms and legs within the perimeter of the side rails.

There should always be at least one adult attendant, in addition to the driver, on each trip to help supervise the group. The attendant should assist passengers with boarding and exiting the wagon, properly seat participants for their comfort and safety, and explain hayride rules. Refuse to allow any intoxicated riders on to the trailer.

Be safe, my friends.

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