Opinion: Farmers’ road behaviour reflects on whole industry

Tractor on road with cars behind

© Tim Scrivener

There seem to have been more tractors and implements on the roads this autumn than I can ever recall.

Most of the time it’s fin. There is often some minor irritation over delays, but occasionally tractors can cause big problems. Farmers, drivers and contractors need to wake up to all of this and improve.

The minimum that should be expected is that tractors and their attached implements are roadworthy and driven safely.

Elizabeth Elder and her husband Jake run sheep and cattle on 235ha of hill ground on the Otterburn Firing Range in Northumberland.

A few weeks ago I narrowly avoided being skewered on the loader spikes of a tractor emerging from a gateway on to the road. The tractor itself was still in the gateway but the spikes extended into the carriageway.

This is a bit like those parents who prepare to cross the street by pushing their child’s buggy out into the road, with their own feet safely on the pavement. It is unintentional, but dangerous and stupid.

On this occasion, I managed to veer out of the way, but I know of at least two others in this county alone who have not been so lucky in similar incidents.

This would seem to indicate that there is a more widespread problem with tractor driver awareness, specifically with regard to front-loaders or spikes. This has to change.

My other gripe is about roadworthiness. Recently, on the main road towards home a tractor transporting straw suddenly loomed up out of the darkness in front of me. The trailer had no lights and the bales were stacked so high that you could not see the tractor lights from behind.

This was on an A-road, at least 10 miles from the nearest potential source of straw – not at dusk, at night. It wasn’t a case of being caught out by a defective bulb – there was no bulb, no brake lights, no indicators. The only concession to health and safety was a tailgate reflector.

What sort of operator would ever think this was a good idea? This sort of behaviour gives the industry a bad name.

Generally speaking, tractors on the roads are safe, but slow-moving, which can create a rolling roadblock effect, especially where there are few opportunities to overtake.

This autumn at least two police forces have put out notices calling for tractor drivers to pull over more often to let traffic pass, because the public have been making complaints.

As a regular road user, I am not surprised. I don’t recall seeing any tractor pulling over to let people pass. The best that can be hoped for is a signal from the left indicator to encourage overtaking. This signal is not sanctioned in the Highway Code, but appears to be universally understood.

It is true that not all car drivers react to agricultural vehicles in a sensible way. Some seem to automatically attempt to overtake, whether they can see if the way ahead is clear or not. Others don’t fancy overtaking at all, compounding the frustration of following drivers.

Despite this, wouldn’t it be good if tractor drivers made it a regular practice to do the thoughtful thing and pull off the road every so often to let the queue pass? It would only take a minute to do and it would be appreciated. Think of it as time invested in customer relations.

Walt Disney used to instruct new employees that “Your every action and mine also is a direct reflection of our entire organisation”. Disneyland staff think of themselves as “on stage” the whole time. Tractor drivers on public roads should adopt this philosophy too. Following a tractor may be the most direct contact many people have with farming.

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