The Driving Standards Agency (DSA) tractor test gives budding farmers the chance to drive machines on the road at the age of 16, but it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
The process involves a practical test that may well included theory-based questions, so it’s well worth sharpening up on the Highway Code before signing up.
To help us get to grips with what has changed with the test over the past few years, we’ve enlisted the help of independent training consultant Robert Patmore, who works in Essex training and testing students on everything from sprayers to tractors.
What age can you drive a tractor on the road?
You can drive a tractor on the road at 16 once you’ve passed the DSA Tractor Driving Test. Prior to the test, you can drive a tractor to and from the driving test location, but can’t practice on the road.
However, at 17 you can drive any tractor unaccompanied on the road as long as you display L-plates.
Do you have to have a provisional car licence?
Yes. You can apply for a D1 application form online – it costs £34. You’ll need an identity document or valid UK biometric passport, addresses of where you’ve lived over the past three years and your National Insurance number.
You can also get the form from the DVLA ordering service or pick one up from your local Post Office, if they stock them. It costs £43 to apply by post; you’ll also need an identity document or passport (as above) and a colour passport-style photograph.
See the gov.uk site for more details.
How do you practice if you’re not allowed on the road?
Before applying for your test, it’s worth getting friendly with a neighbouring farmer or friend to get a few practice sessions in on their farm. You may also be able to visit a training site.
You need to have a tractor for the test, so make sure your farmer friend is willing to lend you one that is suitable. Be sure to check that it’s roadworthy and that you’re insured.
How far ahead should you book? Is there a long waiting time?
The earliest you can book the test is one month before your 16th birthday. Waiting times vary depending on the area, so it’s worth checking with the local DSA.
How much does it cost?
The weekday cost of a test is £62 and the weekend rate is £75 – this hasn’t changed in almost a decade.
Do certain tractor maintenance standards have to be met?
Yes. The tractor has to be in a roadworthy condition. Having clean lights, windows and mirrors will also make your task a lot easier. It is worth making a bit of an effort to tidy the tractor before turning up to the test centre – dropping piles of mud in a spotless carpark is a bad start.
Are you ready for your tractor test?
See further detail in our comprehensive guide Get licensed: Ready for your tractor test?
Does the owner need to tell their insurance company that a 16-year-old is driving their tractor?
It is vitally important that the insurance company is informed that it’s being used for a test. It may not make a difference to some policies, but it could invalidate others.
Do you have to sign a form to say that the tractor is taxed and insured?
Before you turn up for your test, make sure the tractor is roadworthy and fully insured, as you’ll need to sign a form to that effect.
L-plates should be clearly displayed, and you’ll also need to take your provisional driving licence as a form of identification.
How do you book?
You can book online by visiting the government website, where you can also find information about your nearest test centre.
Alternatively, you can call the DSA booking line on 0300 200 1122, which is open 8am to 4pm, Monday to Friday. If you’re in Northern Ireland, you need to speak to the Driver & Vehicle Agency on 0845 600 6700.
The application will go to your nearest test centre and the examiner will get in touch with you to arrange a suitable place. Take time to work out the quietest route to the test venue before leaving the farm and avoid rush hours.
Where do the tests usually take place?
It’s defined as a “home test”, so the application will be go to your nearest test centre and the examiner will get in touch with you to arrange a suitable place. Take time to work out the quietest route to the test venue before leaving the farm and avoid rush hours.
Can you use any tractor for the test?
At 16, the maximum tractor width you’re allowed to drive is 2.45m. So, bear in mind you need to measure your tractor to make sure it’s not too big. That means, sadly, that Fendt 1050s are not allowed.
How long does the test take?
Depending on the location and examiner, it can take from 20 minutes to an hour to complete your test. Make sure you book enough time off school or work.
Does the examiner always stay outside the vehicle?
The examiner generally stands outside and observes – they will usually give you instructions at the side of the road and will watch how you drive as you go around both left and right circuits.
Do you have to do a theory test?
No. But you will be expected to have a good knowledge of the Highway Code, so take it with you to bed and read it from cover to cover. It will be good practice as there is a high possibility that you’ll take your car test soon after, which does have a theory exam.
Assuming you’ve passed, what restrictions are there on 16-year-olds?
If you pass, you’ll be able to drive any tractor up to 2.45m wide on the road, provided it’s not tracked – there’s a separate category for those monsters.
It’s fairly limiting as most modern tractors and trailers exceed this width. You also have to be 21 to drive a combine, forager or self-propelled sprayer on the road.
Can you tow any weight of trailer when you’re 16?
You can only tow a two-wheeled or close-coupled four-wheel trailer under 2.45m in width.
Is there a special speed limit for 16-year-olds?
No. The standard tractor speed limit is 20mph whatever your age.
Where can I find more information?
See the gov.uk website on learning to drive a tractor or specialist vehicle.
However, it is worth noting that the official DVSA tractor driving test is not the same as the Certificate of Competence.
What does the test involve?
- An eyesight test – you need to be able to read a number plate at a distance of more than 20.5m.
- You need to know how to check a tractor for tyres, brakes, oils and lights, so get accustomed to the tractor you’re doing the test in.
- Before you start the engine, adjust the seat and mirrors, check the handbrake is on and make sure it’s in neutral. The hand throttle should not be used during the test.
- Make sure the independent brakes are locked together, as you may be asked to perform an emergency stop.
- You will be asked to move off from the side of the road or behind another vehicle, so make sure you use your mirror and check all the blind spots, then signal before moving. For rear observations, you need to look in your mirrors, then turn and look round so the examiner recognises that you’ve checked the way is clear.
- Pay attention to road signs – you have to react the same as any other road user.
- For the emergency stop, you’ll need to stop as quickly and safely as possible and under full control.
- When you’re asked to reverse around a corner, checking mirrors and looking behind is extremely important, and watch you don’t end up on the kerb. Also, bear in mind the tractor’s nose swings out in the road, so watch out for oncoming traffic.
- You need to be able to park safely along a curb or in a parking position. Again, watch out for pedestrians, cyclists or any hazards.
- The examiner may ask you to turn in the road. If you are asked to do this, you’ll need to complete it in as few moves as possible and also keep a close eye on other road users throughout.
- You will be expected to know how to deal with hazards on country roads, including cyclists and horse riders. Always use the mirror, signal, manoeuvre (MSM) routine and travel at a suitable speed.
- At road junctions and roundabouts, the examiner will expect you to know the correct procedure. Because tractors are larger than normal vehicles, make sure you’re in the correct lane and not encroaching on the other side of the road. As you will need to creep slowly forwards from a junction, look both ways several times before edging out.
- If you really need to overtake, make sure you have enough space and time to get around without squeezing them off the road or cutting them up.
- When you meet and pass other vehicles, get a good look of what’s up ahead and don’t think your tractor can squeeze through a gap that a Mini would struggle with.
- If you have to cross the path of oncoming traffic, ensure you MSM, keep as close to the centre of the road as possible and judge how far away oncoming traffic is before committing to a turn. Make sure you get the speed right, too.
- Because of the height of a tractor, you’ll get a good view of what’s up ahead. But make sure you don’t intimidate people by travelling too close behind.
- Tractors can be scary to small children, so if you have to wait at a pedestrian crossing, give them time to cross and don’t stop too near.
- When it’s time to stop, make sure it’s not in a place that will obstruct the road, cause a hazard, or obstruct a pavement.