Following an extensive consultation into whether or not to tractors should undertake roadworthiness testing in the UK, the Government decided in September 2017 that tractors would remain exempt from MOT-style testing. This news has been welcomed by those in the farming community, and by Mr Smith who was concerned that their two agricultural tractors would now be subject to testing at additional cost to the farm.
The introduction of roadworthiness testing went to consultation in respect of tractors being used for commercial haulage. Many respondents recommended that testing for tractors used for agriculture should also be contained within those changes. However, the outcome of the consultation has been that testing would only commence for fast tractors being used for the purposes of commercial haulage.
Testing will only apply to vehicles capable of more than 40kmph (approximately 25mph), this being in line with limits contained in EU directives on roadworthiness. The Government found during the consultation that there was no evidence presented that tractors incapable of travelling above 40kmph are routinely involved in commercial haulage.
Further, the 2017 consultation proposed that testing apply to vehicles being driven further than fifteen miles from the base of operation, as that implies a greater risk to road safety. It was felt that the fifteen mile threshold was a reasonable proxy for the point beyond which fast tractors are likely to undertake significant haulage and could reasonably therefore compete with HGVs, but yet allows for agricultural businesses which need to make journeys between two sites accessed by public road(s).
The DfT considered that the distance limits allowed for easier enforcement by the police or the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVLA) and was more suitable than alternatives such as cumulative use, e.g. distance travelled over a set period of time. It should be noted that if there were to be any enforcement then the burden of proof would be on the vehicle operator to demonstrate that they qualify for the distance based exception.
A farming business such as the Smiths’ should check the vehicles in use and whether these can fall within the definition and exemption of agricultural vehicles, as some of those vehicles may require a different driving license and may be exempt from certain Vehicle Excise Tax. Vehicle driving licences are also categorised by type of vehicle and can vary according to the weight of the vehicle. Whilst most agricultural tractors can be driven on the public highway by anyone has passed a car driving test, it is still worth checking who is driving your vehicles and for what reason. Under special licensing arrangements you are allowed to drive larger vehicles on your farm without holding a large goods vehicle (LGV), for example. If you drive a larger vehicle, the maximum authorised mass, which is made up of the total weight of the vehicle plus the maximum load it can carry, would determine which driving licence entitlement you require.
There are further exemptions in place in relation to agricultural material handlers, agricultural engines and agricultural processing vehicles. Again, these can be distance limited and must be only used on public roads when passing between different areas of land occupied by the same farmer.
It can be seen there is a whole mix of regulation to be considered in relation to agricultural vehicles. Farming Associations and specialist agricultural lawyers, such as at Woodfines, will be able to assist in relation to identifying these aspects and may be able to help in liaising with the DVLA in making applications for exemptions. Enforcement and prosecution of farmers is rare, and it is certainly not in the interests of Rural Police Officers to seek to enforce against farmers going about their agricultural activities. However, where there are concerns about road safety or the driving ability of those in operation of large machinery, or where there is any concern of anti-competitive behaviour (i.e. a farmer using its vehicles for the purposes of competing with a local haulier), then this is likely to face some form of enforcement or regulatory action.
This article is taken from our Agriculture Newsletter (Spring/Summer 2018 Edition).