8 August 1997

Is your trailer road legal?

Harvest time brings thousands of farm trailers on to the road – and some of them are breaking the law as Mike Williams discovered when he sat in on a special briefing session for traffic police in Ipswich, Suffolk

REGULATIONS covering the use of tractors and farm equipment on the road are regularly featured at briefings given to Suffolk traffic police.

Not, it should be said, because the county plans a big clampdown on tractor drivers but due to the complexity of such regulations.

PC Mark Bryant, who chaired a recent briefing session, has a special interest in agricultural matters. Based at the Traffic Unit at Halesworth, he was brought up on the family farm which he still runs, and took an agricultural college course before joining the police force.

"Trailers on the road can be a problem at any time of the year," he says. "But during spring and summer they come out in their droves.

Unstable loads

"We usually come across a few unstable loads, particularly when bale trailers are overloaded, and this can sometimes cause an accident if the load slips. We also get loaded bale trailers overturning."

Another problem traffic police have to be aware of is trailers which do not conform to construction requirements, the lack of brakes being the usual problem.

Modern trailers from leading specialist manufacturers are rarely at fault, but older trailers pressed into service for harvesting, or trailers which are either home-made or built by a local engineer, are more likely to attract the attention of the police.

"The law states that all farm trailers weighing more than 750kg gross must be equipped with effective brakes," says PC Bryant. While the police may treat some minor breaches of the traffic regulations lightly, using a loaded trailer on the road without brakes is regarded as a serious offence. "Defective brakes, on any vehicle is likely to cause an accident. On a heavily loaded trailer the consequences could be particularly grave."

Trailers should also be equipped with effective lights if they are on the road in poor visibility, and these should include indicator lights. When an accident occurs while turning off the road, particularly to the right, the lack of indicator lights could make it more probable that the tractor driver would be at fault.

"If the trailer is not equipped with lights, there is really no excuse for failing to fit a light board with indicators on the back of the trailer," he insists. "It could help to avoid an accident."

JCB Fastracs and other high speed tractors also featured in PC Bryants briefing.

"The Fastracs high speed capabilities combined with its truck-type brakes and steering are a welcome development," he says. "They reduce traffic disruption, but there may be licensing problems.

"These tractors are very popular and there are hundreds of them on the roads in the eastern counties, but if they are used for hauling goods or produce more than 15 miles away from the farm they should have an operators licence."

Tractor MOTs

When he is not in his patrol car PC Bryant spends much of his spare time driving tractors, and his close links with farming help him to see both sides in some situations, including the question of MOT-type tests for farm tractors.

"There is no MOT scheme at present, and my personal view is that self-regulation is better than having a scheme imposed," he says. "Tractors are generally well maintained in this area but there are exceptions. If a few farmers continue to take risks with the condition of their tractors I believe an MOT scheme will be introduced, bringing more expense and bureaucracy for farmers."

PC Bryant is the first to admit that regulations concerning agricultural vehicles on the road are complicated. Even so, he believes that a better understanding of the law should be an objective for farmers.

"I would be pleased to talk to groups of farmers or Young Farmers Clubs about traffic regulations, and I am sure there are officers in other counties who would have the same approach," he says. &#42

Above: Effective brakes, road legal lighting and safe loads – traffic police could be watching your trailer. Left: PCMark Bryant of the Suffolk traffic police. "A better understanding of the law should be an objective for farmers."