Farmer Focus: Time to update rules for young tractor drivers

As harvest approaches, our attention turns to trailer maintenance, combine servicing, grain store preparation and any necessary training (alongside haymaking, irrigating and spraying).

Over the years we have had a few apprentices in our workforce, and this year we have agreed to take on a local lad who finishes school this summer.

He’s only 16, but keen as mustard, and has been here in school holidays and Saturdays since February.

As his skills build and he passes his test, he’ll be venturing on to the roads a bit, so I thought I’d better update myself on the various obligations of an employer of a young tractor driver with an F-category licence.

See also: Video: All you need to know about passing your B+E trailer test

In terms of safety (particularly grain haulage), I’d class weight and speed to be major factors in accident prevention, but surprisingly, the rules carry no restriction beyond Cat B licence holders in this regard.

The rules major on width (2.45m) but fail to say where width is to be measured. Is it the extremities (mirrors), main body (say mudguard edges) or across the tyres (which are obviously track-width adjustable)?

A normal 12t grain trailer measures below the limit in its main body, but wider to the extremities of the hydraulic back door.

It’s all a bit ambiguous and out of date, really. The trailer axles must be either single, or closed coupled tandem, no more than 840mm apart.

I measured the axles of what was our “big” 8t corn trailer in the 1980s and found its axles to be 900mm apart. A 12t Mono on 550/45r22.5 tyres was about a metre, and a 14-tonner about 1.3m.

So technically, all are illegal until he’s 17, when magically they all become safe. Crazy.

See also: Taking your tractor test – all you need to know

With the safety record this industry has, it is high time the legislation was both fit for purpose and practical to implement.

This means a 16-year-old cannot drive a tractor capable of 50kph on a road. We were all young once, but back then even 40kph was rare.

And the gross train weight should be restricted to the “old rules” figure of 24 tons (24.39t) – which essentially means starting out on a smaller and slower rig, to learn how weight and speed affect stopping. Proper servicing and regular checks are also mandatory.

Have a safe and bountiful harvest everyone. I’m off to move an irrigator…

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