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Farmers Battle to Defeat Proposed Machinery Tests

28th March 2013

Tractors and farm equipment may have become bigger over the years, but the rules and regulations that govern what is acceptable on the road have failed to keep pace. It’s becoming a huge cause of frustration for farmers, says NFU European policy adviser Adam Bedford

In the UK, the maximum acceptable weight for a tractor and trailer in combination is 24.39t and the speed limit is still just 20mph (32kph). That's unless you have a JCB Fastrac or Mercedes-Benz Unimog, in which case the speed is 40mph.

These out-of-date limits form the backdrop to a battle that the UK farming unions have been fighting in relation to proposed new rules from the European Commission on roadworthiness testing.

We have been lobbying for some time to get the legislation surrounding tractor and trailer weights and speeds increased.

However, last July the EC announced proposals to harmonise roadworthiness testing across member states through the launch of its Roadworthiness Package.

Large tractors

The package was originally designed to cover those large tractors that in some member states are directly competing with the road haulage industry - a problem we don't have in the UK. However, the wording of the proposals is so woolly the commission may inadvertently end up including a much larger range of equipment than was originally intended.

In essence, these proposals could mean MoT-style tests for most tractors and trailers, including livestock trailers.

Most importantly, if these proposals are accepted in their current form there would be no harmonisation of weight and speed limits across Europe, despite the same equipment being used.

This potential testing requirement would be a bitter pill to swallow, especially when we consider the speeds and weights that our farmers can travel at compared to other member states (see table right).

If the commission's proposals are carried through into legislation unchanged, tractors with a design speed of greater than 40kph would have to undergo an MoT-style test one year after the date of manufacture, and thereafter annually.

Similarly livestock trailers (or any trailer above 750kg up to 3.5t) would have to undertake testing four years after the date of manufacture and thereafter annually.

Bearing in mind there is little evidence in the proposals that these mandatory tests would improve road safety (the impact assessment is sketchy at best) these proposals will instead be expensive, time-consuming and unnecessary.

In addition, a registration system for trailers in the UK currently does not exist so the enforcement agencies would have to create such a system to ensure that the vehicles could be administered correctly. Previous experience suggests we know who ultimately pays for new systems like this - the industry.

The proposals mean that in the test, the tester would benchmark components against the original design specification. Manufacturers of equipment would have to make this information available possibly through an electronic vehicle information system. This could mean a more prescriptive test than the current MoT testing in place for other vehicles.

What are the UK farming unions doing?

We were quick to identify the potential implications of these proposals on UK farming. We have been working closely with the Federation of Small Businesses, whose members also use trailers in their businesses and have similar concerns to us.

The NFU has also worked closely with the Department for Transport (DfT) in the UK and with the UK government's permanent representation (UKREP) in Brussels to help them understand the impact of these proposals on the farming sector.

Union staff highlighted the time and costs involved for farmers to potentially get a large number of their vehicles and trailers to a testing centre. We again pointed out that the proposals could have a disproportionate effect on farming businesses, at a turbulent economic time for the agriculture sector.

We have also been speaking with European policymakers. The final set of rules will be drawn up jointly by the Transport Council (made up of transport ministers from all 27 member states) and the European Parliament. It is the job of these two institutions to amend the commission's initial proposals.

The position of the Transport Council is helpful to us - recognising the need for proper exemptions for agricultural vehicles. The parliament draft position is more worrying. The MEPs have not removed agricultural vehicles from the proposals. Instead they have made things worse with a proposal to split the MoT testing regime in the EU to make sure that the person testing the vehicle is different to the person carrying out repairs.

This has the potential to cause huge issues for England, Scotland and Wales. In essence it favours big, monolithic and inflexible testing regimes over flexible testing through local garages.

The Roadworthiness Package proposals are overly bureaucratic and could have a significant negative effect on UK farming for little road safety benefit. For our part, our strong lobbying continues with the DfT and MEPs of all parties and across member states.

We are highlighting the potential negative impacts on the industry and providing guidance on how the proposals must be improved. The Transport Council is moving the proposals in the right direction and we must urge our ministers to hold their position.

Meanwhile we will continue to work with MEPs to improve the parliament's position before the final vote in July. For your part, you can highlight the effect that these proposals would have on your farm business by writing to your local MEP.


 Maximum Speeds and Weights Allowed in the EU  


Max speed

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Luxembourg, Germany and the Netherlands all have some form of testing regime to national standards.

This article first appeared in the Farmers Weekly on the 12th March 2013 and was written by Adam Bedford.


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