With effect from March 2015 the maximum combined agricultural tractor and trailer weight (the ‘train weight’) will increase to 31 tonnes, an increase of over 6 tonnes from the current 24.39t limit. At the same time conventional tractor speed limits will increase from 20 to 25mph.
One reason for the weight change was to have regard to larger tractors (e.g. over 6 tonnes) that cannot draw as large a maximum load as smaller tractors, because their larger weight uses up more of the currently permitted combination weight of 24.39t. Increasing the maximum permitted weight to 31 tonnes will mean that both small or larger tractors can pull the maximum laden trailer weight of 18.29 tonnes, removing the current anomaly. The Department for Transport (DfT) wishes to incentivise the use of more efficient tractors that offer better road handling and fewer road journeys.
The above will be in place in or by March 2015 and the current law remains until then. However, there may be a further weight increase. The industry’s preferred option was 33t ( for two-axle trailers) and 37t ( for tri-axle) with no maximum trailer weight limit. The DfT has indicated it is to review this proposal and fix a ‘final’ maximum gross train weight in time for harvest 2016. However, there is a clear indication that such a further increase would require the introduction of roadworthiness testing i.e. annual test.
The practical effect of this will be greater capacity. Businesses will be able to plan around the future changes to consider the benefits knowing that there will be definite change in March with potential further help the following year. However, the greater the weight increase the more likely is the backlash from agricultural hauliers, whose lorries and trailers are subject to far greater regulation such as operator licensing (3.5t upwards) and drivers’ hours rules (ditto) and who already believe that there should be a level playing field if agricultural vehicles and trailers are to be permitted to carry as much as HGVs and compete in the same market place.
Tim Ridyard is a road transport regulatory lawyer and partner in Cambridge. Tim can be contacted on 01223 411421.