Flashing lights in the rear-view mirror are one of the last things custom harvesters and their crews want to see when they're rushing to get clients' crops harvested. Getting pulled over by a law enforcement official costs time and money.

“Many times, if we're pulling over a custom operator, it's because we received a complaint from the general public or a local official,” says Michael Klingenberg, a sergeant with the Wisconsin State Patrol.

Operators can ensure safe, legal harvesting, he says, if they follow several steps.

First, they should make sure their loads are secure before exiting fields, he says.

“We get a lot of calls about haylage and corn silage blowing off trucks or trailers as they're going down the road,” says Klingenberg. “Harvesters can be ticketed for this. But most of the time, if it's their first contact with us, they'll be given a warning and told to get it taken care of before they can go any farther.”

Before exiting fields, custom harvesters must yield to oncoming traffic or risk getting tickets or warnings, he says. “This is a big problem. Custom operators don't have the right of way just because they're driving big equipment.”

Enforcement officers also watch for harvesters who exceed weight limits or lack proper registrations, permits and licenses needed for each state they're working in.

“Laws and exemptions can vary from one state to another, and it's the responsibility of the operators and their employees to know exactly what those are.”

No matter what reason drivers are pulled over, Klingenberg says it's important for them to realize that the officer is in charge of the situation.

“The driver should remain calm, be cooperative and answer the officer's questions,” he advises. “If tempers are raised on the roadside, it isn't going to take care of any problems. That's just going to make the situation worse.”

If you believe an officer has misinterpreted the law, ask to speak to his or her supervisor. And if you'd like to see a law changed, talk to your state government representative.

“One custom operator can get a state law changed or get a new one established. It's not a difficult thing to do,” says Klingenberg. “I've seen it happen.”

Harvesters might want to put up signs and orange cones near field exits and entrances, he recommends. “But first they'll need to discuss that with the local town chairman or highway commissioner. They often have no objection to that because it's warning people that heavy equipment is in the area; however, certain standards need to be followed.”

Finally, he advises operators to keep their equipment in good running order and to clean all lights and turn signals at the start of each day.

To learn more, visit the federal motor carrier Web site at www.fmcsa.dot.gov/ or attend custom-operator meetings or seminars organized by private companies. The U.S. Custom Harvesters' Web site, www.uschi.com, lists contact information for department of transportation offices in several states.