Opinion: A message to motorists stuck behind my tractor

One police force’s suggestion that tractor drivers should pull over, where safe, if there are more than six cars behind them throws up huge practical challenges, claim farmers. What is really needed is compromise on both sides

When it comes to the annual summer battle between harvest traffic and motorists, there are many losers and pretty much no winners, writes Farmers Weekly machinery editor David Cousins.

Car drivers who are used to keeping up a steady 60 or 70mph on country roads at other times of the year find their heart rates soaring and steam coming out of their ears as they stare at the tailgate of a grain trailer and realise they’ll never catch the 8.22am to Newark or Norwich or Nottingham.

Stephen-LockwoodDavid Cousins
Machinery editor, Farmers Weekly

They glare at the driver and assume the reason he won’t stop and pull over is simply because he’s playing Metallica at such huge volume that he hasn’t noticed them. They hate him and his kind for their lack of thought.

The tractor driver, meanwhile, (even if he has a 50kph gearbox) has a maximum speed of 30mph to play with. He’d be more than happy to pull over into a lay-by and let these frazzled commuters catch their trains and get to their jobs. But there are only two lay-bys along the whole 10-mile route and there’s probably a van or two there already, so there’s no room for a tractor and trailer.

And even if he can stop, pulling out into the traffic again is a near-suicidal process not unlike being a Spitfire pilot in the Battle of Britain. Even with 300hp under the bonnet, shifting 25t of metal and grain can be agonisingly slow as you edge on to the main carriageway; meanwhile a new queue of 40 cars has built up after about 30 seconds.

See also: Pull over or risk licence, police tell tractor drivers

What’s the answer? There isn’t one, nor even the remotest prospect of one. Getting the Highway Agency to put in lots of long lay-bys would help, but that’s as likely as England winning the next World Cup. Having fewer, bigger trailers (as is being mooted at the moment) would help, but that’ll take a while, too.

So, in the meantime, all we can do is keep calm, appreciate that both sides have an equal right to be on that stretch of tarmac and pull over in the unlikely event there’s a lay-by. And if all else fails, stick a big notice on the trailer tailgate saying “Don’t blame me – it’s the dog that’s driving…”

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