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Researchers probe: How young is too young to drive a tractor?

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government River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Researchers in Wisconsin and Iowa are trying to come up with more accurate guidelines to help farmers decide when it's time for their kids to drive tractors safely.

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Teenagers are four times more likely to die in farm accidents than in other workplaces. The Obama White House tried to address the problem with new limits on child farm labor. But the proposals were dropped after farm groups and families complained that an overreaching government was trying to attack their way of life.

Now, the Marshfield Clinic's National Farm Medicine Center is working with the University of Iowa on a new state-of-the-art driving simulator, in which youngsters can test their ability to perform farm tasks with tractors.

Next month, 88 farm youngsters who drive tractors will jump into a John Deere tractor, and be exposed to simulated situations to test their ability to navigate around people and objects. Software will record all of their moves then provide a report card.

Ten adult farmers will also take part in the study. The National Institute for Occupational Safety-and-Health is funding the research.

Barbara Marlenga of the Farm Medicine Center says farmers want to keep their traditions - like letting kids hop on tractors at a young age. But she says the injury-and-death data show that situations involving young tractor drivers are not safe.

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