15 August 1997

Is it a motor car or an agricultural vehicle?

By John Burns

PARKED in front of the door to Exeter and East Devon Magis-trates Court the other week was a self-propelled sprayer based on a Toyota Hilux, and close by, on double yellow lines next door to the police station was a Clayton self-propelled sprayer.

Both vehicles were there as part of the evidence submitted by spraying contractor Paul Down, when he faced charges of driving on a public road a motor car with insufficient tread on two tyres and the rear number plate obscured.

The "motor car" referred to was the Hilux-based sprayer and the case hinged on whether, despite specialised adaptation for sprayer work, it was still a motor car or had become a dual-purpose vehicle. Mr Down maintained it was an agricultural vehicle and, as such, subject to different requirements under the law.

Outlining the case to the court, the prosecutor said the Crown maintained the Hilux-based sprayer was a dual-purpose vehicle because it could carry passengers as well as goods or burden, weighed not more than 2040kg unladen, and the engine drive power could be transmitted to all fourwheels.

He said the purpose of the Road Vehicles Construction and Use regulations was to regulate the safety of vehicles used on public roads. The tyre tread requirements were to ensure vehicles met certain minimum safety standards.

The fact that they may be taxed at a different rate was immaterial to that focus of the regulations, he maintained. The police officers statement said the Hilux was travelling at between 50 and 60mph before he stopped it.

If the vehicle did qualify

And so, even if the vehicle did qualify as an agricultural vehicle, its tyres would still have to meet certain minimum standards – which in this instance it had not, the Crown maintained.

But that was as far as the case went. During the lunch adjournment the prosecutor, an agency lawyer, realised that while the charges referred to a motor car, the laws and regulations quoted in the summons referred to agricultural vehicles.

So, on instructions from the Crown Prosecution Service he asked the court that the charge be changed to offences committed while driving an agricultural vehicle. While making that request he suddenly realised the charge would still include minimum tyre depths relating to a motor car.

After further consultations with the CPS he offered Mr Down a deal: CPS would drop all charges if he agreed not to claim any costs.

Mr Down, who was representing himself in court, repeatedly refused to accept the deal, even though the prosecutor made several attempts to persuade him to do so by pointing out that he still faced the charge of an obscured rear number plate. If the Crown won, Mr Down would be unable to claim any costs at all, he emphasised.

The Crown then decided to offer no evidence and the magistrates dismissed the case against Mr Down. A separate hearing is to be held to determine the amount of Mr Downs costs and whether they should be paid from central funds or by the CPS.

Afterwards Mr Down said: "We havent learnt anything from this exercise.

"I took the Hilux and the Clayton to court as evidence so the magistrates could see for themselves that the Hilux sprayer was in principle just like the Clayton. And I dont think even the CPS could argue the Clayton was a motor car."

Motor car or agricultural vehicle? The Toyota Hilux complete with sprayer. Paul Down maintains his vehicle is an agricultural vehicle and, as such, subject to different requirements under the law.