Tradition aside, safety experts say tractors hazardous for kids
FARGO -- In North Dakota and other rural states, the tradition of young children riding in tractors with their parents and grandparents is deeply ingrained in farm life.
But farm safety experts warn it can turn tragic in an instant, as happened Wednesday near Cayuga, where a 1-year-old boy riding with his father and his 4-year-old brother died after falling from the cab of a moving tractor.
More than 100 children are killed and 26,000 seriously injured each year on U.S. farms, according to the National Agricultural Tractor Safety Initiative, which advises that children no younger than 12 ride on a tractor.
Tractors are involved in 41 percent of accidental farm deaths of children under 15, yet four out of five farm children regularly ride on tractors with family members, the institute says on its website.
David Schweitz, executive director of the Iowa-based nonprofit educational group Farm Safety For Just Kids, said children move so quickly, they can end up in harm's way before the tractor's driver has a chance to react.
"Those things happen more often than they should, and it's just a split second and all of a sudden it's too late," said Schweitz, a Nebraska native and former president of Farm Credit Services of North Dakota.
In Wednesday's accident, Wesley Levi Manikowski-Mogren, who would have turned 2 years old Aug. 29, was riding alongside his father, Michael Mogren of Lidgerwood, as Mogren seeded oats and sorghum on a small plot near Cayuga, about 80 miles southwest of Fargo, Sargent County Sheriff Travis Paeper said.
Mogren turned around "just for a second" to look at the drill seeder, and the boy slid out the door opening, landing in the path of the rear tire, Paeper said.
The boy was taken to Oakes Hospital, where he was pronounced dead after unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate him, Paeper said. Funeral services are set for Monday in Lidgerwood.
The cab of the International tractor had windows that fold outward, and the doors had been removed to improve air flow because it didn't have air conditioning, Paeper said. Temperatures were in the mid-80s in Cayuga at time of the accident at 7:41 p.m.
The tractor had been traveling on smooth ground, and it didn't hit any bumps or brake suddenly right before the accident, Paeper said.
"It was just a normal day," he said. "It was business as usual for these guys. It was going to be a quick job and they weren't going fast. It was just going to be a nice evening in the tractor."
Paeper said authorities are treating it as a farm accident, and he doesn't anticipate any charges to come from the investigation.
Paeper said Wednesday's incident was the second serious farm accident in Sargent County involving a child that he could recall during his 17 years there. The other involved a child getting caught in a power takeoff shaft, he said. In May 2002, a 6-year-old boy died when he fell from a tractor at a farm in Sheldon in neighboring Ransom County.
While safety advocates may advise against letting young children on or near tractors, Paeper said it's "not a reality in rural North Dakota, at least what I'm familiar with.
"A lot of these kids, they're born and raised on the farm and they're helping as soon as they can, and they want to help," he said. "They see mom and dad and grandpa and their brothers all being part of the farming operation, and they're helping right along with them."
But Schweitz said that while it's hard to resist, adults aren't doing children a favor by taking them on tractor rides. He recalled that his own father took him for rides on tractors with no cab, and that by 8 or 9 years old he was driving tractors, which he ended up rolling - twice.
"It's something everybody did at those times," Schweitz said. "But everything changes, and those kind of things need to change, too."
"No extra riders" is the first basic safety practice listed on a tractor safety brochure produced by Purdue University's Cooperative Extension Service.
"Make this a firm rule, and avoid a major cause of tractor accidents," it says. "Tractors are designed only for the drivers. Even in cabs, riders have only limited protection, and they may interfere with the tractor's operation. The warning 'hold tight' is practically useless after the first minute or two."
Paeper said Wesley's parents were "taking it pretty hard," and he said the experience "is going to stick with the family and the area."
"The boys were out doing what they enjoyed to do with their dad. You know, it was something that, from what I learned in talking with the family, they enjoyed that time with dad," he said. "Whatever bonding dads and sons have, that's what these guys were doing."