A look at traffic law
Examining the entrails of traffic law is not for the
faint-hearted. To make life easier, the NFUs Transport Adviser Steve Smith fields a selection of farmers most common questions
Q: What is an Agricultural Motor Vehicle, or AMV?
A: Any motor vehicle constructed for agriculture (or adapted for use off roads for agriculture, horticulture or forestry) is an AMV if used primarily for one of those purposes. Tractors (including fast tractors), combines and other self-propelled harvesters are all AMVs, but dual-purpose 4x4s such as Land Rovers are not.
Fast tractors are not defined separately in law, but the term applies to vehicles designed and constructed to travel faster than an AMVs normal 20mph maximum.
Braking, suspension, and other systems have to comply with higher standards, which 25mph tractors may or may not meet.
Q: If a vehicle is not used in the dark, does it needs lights?
A: Lights and reflectors are only necessary on a vehicle used at night. BUT where lights are fitted, they must be in good order and working – both by day and night – as they are needed in low visibility.
Q: When should an amber flashing beacon be used?
A: In law, only when an AMV with a maximum speed of 25mph or less is travelling along a dual carriageway. A beacon is not needed simply when crossing a dual carriageway. BUT beacon use makes sense where other road users will benefit from prior warning – typically on escort vehicle(s), hedgecutting, etc.
Note: Where a beacon is used it must be visible from all sides, so a tall trailer may need a second unit.
Q: Although AMVs do not need an MOT, can they be stopped and checked on the road?
A: Definitely. As any vehicle, an AMV can be stopped, examined and possibly prohibited from movement if found wanting. And examination at a testing station may be required before a prohibition is lifted.
Q: In which vehicles can I use red diesel?
A: Stationary machines, drying plants, any vehicle exempt from excise duty (road tax), and any vehicle used away from roads if it is not licensed for road use. Red diesel can also be used in any vehicle licensed currently at the £35 rate. From July 1, 1995, this changes to any vehicle in the Special Concession class (£35 tax) or Special Vehicles class (£135-£150 tax). The latter will cover JCB-type digging machines.
Q: What is the Limited Use class?
A: A vehicle taxation class taking over from the old Exemption Certificate system from July 1, 1995. To qualify for Limited Use taxation, a vehicle must now:
• Be used solely in agriculture, horticulture or forestry.
• Be used only between land occupied by the same person (which excludes trips to the pub, unless you own it).
• Be used only on trips not exceeding 1.5km (0.93 miles), although any number of these can be made in a day. The old 6 miles/week limit no longer applies.
Q: When is an operators licence needed?
A: When produce of the farm occupied by the registered vehicle owner is hauled beyond a 15-mile radius of that farm. Snow clearance is exempt, as are contractors engaged to do work on the farm. An "O" licence is not needed for AMVs hauling implements, or hauling articles required by the farms occupier, who must be the vehicles registered owner.
Q: What can I haul with an AMV?
• One laden or two unladen trailers.
• One agricultural trailed appliance (wheeled baler, spreader, etc) and one trailer, loaded or not.
• Two agricultural trailed appliances.
Note: If two trailers are towed, they must both be braked to requirements – see next two questions.
Q: What is the heaviest unbraked trailer I can pull behind an AMV?
A: The maximum gross weight (that is, trailer plus load) is 750kg.
Q: What about braked trailers?
• The combined gross weights of a wheeled AMV and trailer must not exceed 24,390kg. Over this, goods vehicle law applies.
• A trailer, including its load, must be no more than four times heavier than the tractor – unless the trailers brakes operate directly off the tractors own brake system.
• Trailers carrying a makers or converters information plate must not exceed the gross weight given on that plate.
Q: Can I tow trailer(s) behind a materials handler?
A: If the materials handler is licensed as an Agricultural Engine – and most are – the answer is no. Vehicles in this class should not carry or haul load.
Note: 1. A combine is allowed to haul its own table, as the table is part of itself. 2. Materials handlers cannot be licensed as an Agricultural Tractor as they do not meet the DVLCs working definition. 3. Agricultural Tractors and Agricultural Engines are usually described on the tax disc by the blanket term Agricultural Machine. 4. If licensed as a Works Truck, a materials handler could carry and haul a load within a 1000yd radius of base.
Q: What about carrying passengers?
A: Passengers can be carried in a trailer on public roads, as long as they are carried safely, will not endanger themselves or others and are not carried for payment. This suggests that secure arrangements are needed, and that the insurance position should be checked. HSE law also applies.
Q: Can I use a forklift truck on the road?
A: If a rough-terrain or industrial forklift is fitted with specialist agricultural equipment and is used in agriculture, horticulture or forestry, it may be classed as an AMV. For road use it must comply with construction and use regs and lighting law. If not adapted for agriculture it may be classed as a Works Truck and distance-limited. In either case, it needs to be registered and taxed.
Q: Is it illegal to travel slowly on the road in an AMV?
A: Unless a minimum speed limit applies, slow travel is not illegal. But Section 53 of the Highway Code says drivers should consider other road users: "Do not hold up a long queue of traffic. If you are driving a large or slow-moving vehicle and the road is narrow or winding, or there is a lot of traffic coming towards you, pull in where you can do so safely so that other vehicles can overtake."
Q: What insurance do I need for an AMV?
A: Any vehicle used on the road – even if only crossing from one field to another – must have at least third party insurance. Insurance is also required away from the roads. So vehicles using public-access tracks leading, say, to a farm shop or car park must be insured, and the drivers hold a current licence; but road tax is not needed.
Q: Do I need to sign agricultural operations taking place from or on the road?
A: Legally, no. But the Highways Agency, police and HSE all stress that signing is good practice, and following an incident involving vehicles or people it is in your interest to show that reasonable steps had been taken to warn others of a potential hazard.
Note: Only the local Highway Authority is allowed to place or sanction signs, and non-authorised placement is an offence under the Highways Act. So check with officials first and accept guidance.
Q: Does my 4×4 – Land Rover or similar – need a tachograph?
A: Not if its used without a trailer. But under EU law a tachograph is required where the permissible weight of the vehicle, plus trailer, is more than 3.5t. This limit is easily exceeded – "permissible weight" means the combined maximum gross weights of vehicle and trailer, whether loaded or not. The following exemptions cover most farms:
A tachograph is not needed in a 4×4 if it is:
• Used for agriculture within a 50km (31-mile) radius of normal base.
• Used for carrying live animals to and from farms to local markets, or to slaughter.
• Used to carry private goods. This allows horses or items not connected with the business to be taken to shows or moved.
Red diesel or Derv? The age-old question which taxes the minds of many. Red diesel can be used in any vehicle currently licensed at the £35 rate.
Fast tractors, such as the Fastrac, are not defined separately in law but braking, suspension and other systems have to comply with higher standards.
OKto tow a trailer in the field with a materials handler but perhaps not the case on the public highway.