Sunday, July 11, 2021
Farmers use the public roadways to move farm machinery and equipment. Sometimes, mailboxes present issues. What are the rules for placement of mailboxes along rural roads? What if a mailbox is hit? The resolution of the matter will be fact based. Was the mailbox intentionally damaged or destroyed? Was the mailbox located in the proper place? Was the mailbox at the proper height and of the correct size? Was the farm machinery and equipment operating on the public roadway within applicable size and weight limitations? These are all relevant questions.
Moving farm machinery and equipment along a public roadway and the potential hazard presented by mailboxes- it’s the topic of today’s post.
Postal Service Rules
If a mailbox is struck with farm equipment, one issue to check is whether the mailbox was in the proper location and was of the proper height and size. The United States Postal Service (USPS) has rules for the placement of mailboxes. But, the matter is also a mixture of state law. Generally, a mailbox must be 41-45 inches above the road surface and 6-8 inches from the edge of the road. See, e.g., Mailbox Installation, USPS.COM; Section 632, USPS Postal Operations Manual. The meaning of “edge of the road” depends on state law – “shoulder” is defined differently from state-to-state. For rural postal routes, all mailboxes are to be on the right side of the road in the carrier’s direction of travel and be placed in conformity with state laws and highway regulations. If state law is more restrictive than the USPS Operations Manual, state law controls.
The posts for a mailbox are to be made from wood no larger than 4” x 4,” but can also be made out of steel or aluminum no larger than 2” in diameter. However, the posts should be designed to easily bend or fall away in the event of a collision. USPS Operations Manual. The mailbox cannot be constructed in a manner that it is a fixed object that won’t break away when it is struck.
The USPS also has specific mailbox size limitations. All dimensions and designs must be in accordance with USPS rules before a mailbox can be sold to the public at retail. For those that wish to build their own, the mailbox must be approved by the local postmaster. This can be a key point when it comes to large farm equipment utilizing rural roads.
A mailbox that is not in compliance with USPS rules could be creating a “traffic” hazard. The hazard issue not only involves size and height restrictions but can also instruct the issue of where a mailbox is placed. Each state has its own set of regulations on this issue. In some states, a mailbox cannot be placed within a certain distance of an intersection. The distance requirement might expand if the daily traffic is of a particular volume.
If farm equipment accidentally strikes a mailbox that is out of compliance with either federal or state requirements, that fact could absolve the farmer from responsibility for replacing the mailbox.
Roadway Size and Weight Limitations
On the other side of the coin, each state also has regulations governing the weight and size of farm equipment that can travel public roads. A farmer utilizing the public roadways with equipment and machinery exceeding applicable size and/or weight limitations that strikes a mailbox has little defense. The size and weight limitations have come into greater relevance in recent years as farm machinery and equipment have enlarged (in size and weight) along with the size of farming operations. Public roads have not correspondingly widened. Weight limitations are often tied to the number of axles and the distance between the axles. See, e.g., Kan. Stat. Ann. §8-1908. Vehicles exceeding the limitations are not to be driven on public roads. But, in states where the agricultural industry predominates, agricultural equipment and machinery is often exempted. See., e.g., Kan. Stat. Ann. §8-1908. Civil damages to the road are possible for violations. See, e.g., Kan. Stat. Ann. §8-1913.
As for size limitations, the maximum width permitted is generally eight and one-half feet under federal law. But, that limit is inapplicable to “special mobile equipment” including farm equipment or instruments of husbandry. See Federal Size Regulations for Commercial Motor Vehicles, U.S. Department of Transportation: Federal Highway Administration (Oct. 9, 2019); Kan. Stat. Ann. §8-1902(b). However, a state may require a permit for “over-width” farm equipment to be operated on a public roadway in the state, and may adopt additional requirements for width and height than the federal rules. Common rules apply to the transporting of hay loads and combine headers. See, e.g., Kan. Stat. Ann. §§8-1902(d)(2)-(3); 8-1902(e).
Sometimes, existing size and weight limitations are lifted for farm equipment (including farm trucks) during planting and harvesting seasons, and other unique exemptions might apply in certain situations. It’s important to pay attention to a particular state’s rules as well as administrative notices concerning any modification (whether permanent or temporary) to existing rules.
If the operator of farm equipment on a public road is not in compliance with those regulations and strikes a non-compliant mailbox, sorting out the legal liability gets murkier.
Colliding With A Mailbox
A mailbox is federal property. Under federal law, it is unlawful to intentionally destroy a mailbox. Doing so could result in a substantial fine and/or imprisonment of up to three years. 18 U.S.C. §1705. Unintentional damage or destruction to a mailbox will typically require the notification of the property owner and the local police. In addition, local regulations may impose other requirements.
But, for those operating farm equipment and machinery on public roads within the applicable rules that happen to strike a mailbox, being required to pay for the damage caused is probably the worst that will happen.
Farmers often must use the public roads to move farm equipment from field-to-field, to get harvested crops to a local elevator, or for other reasons. The increased size of farm equipment and natural limitations to the width of roads (particularly in the eastern third of the U.S.) present challenges to avoiding mailboxes. It’s good to know the rules that can apply in such situations.