By Connor Lynch
ORILLIA — Nearly $2,000 in fines doled out to a driver in the Orillia-area last month kicked off a whirlwind of questions and debate on Twitter, with both the OPP and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture wading in.
A pickup truck hauling a wagon piled high with 11 round bales of hay was pulled off Hwy 12 last month. Police tweeted on Sept. 7 that “8,700 kg of an insecure load hauled on trailer without a braking system, directional or brake lights, plates and an improper licence class resulted in seven charges and $1,900 in fines.”
Farmers jumped right in. Some tweeted that the driver had been fined incorrectly, and questioned licensing, how they apply and whether or not trailers qualify for exemptions for farm purposes.
OFA senior policy analyst Peter Jeffery said there are still plenty of misconceptions about what farmers are allowed to do on the road. Some farmers think that their kids can drive a tractor on the roadway once they’re 14 but they have to be at least 16.
Jeffery is working with the Ministry of Transportation to update the MTO farm equipment guide, with the hopes of releasing a new one sometime this year.
Some farmers were quoting the MTO guide, only to have OPP step in and correct them.
It all added up to a lot of confusion for many farmers. Here are clarifications for some common misunderstandings:
• If you’ve lost your driver’s license because of an impaired or dangerous driving conviction, you can’t drive your tractor on the road either.
• Farm equipment has to yield half the roadway to oncoming traffic. If someone’s approaching and you’re in a big machine that takes up most or all of the road, you need to find somewhere to pull over.
• If you’re driving a tractor, combine or pickup truck that’s pulling an implement on the road, you can’t go faster than 40 km/h, and you have to have a slow-moving vehicle sign. It doesn’t matter how fast your machine can go. It has to follow that speed limit and it has to have a slow-moving vehicle sign, no exceptions.
• Even if the road at the end of your driveway is a two-lane gravel road, it’s still a highway, as long as it’s publicly accessible, said Jeffery. That means highway rules apply.
• You can’t just put a slow-moving vehicle sign and some farm plates on a dump truck or straight truck and call it a “self-propelled implement of husbandry.” (Combines and self-propelled sprayers would both qualify). To qualify, it has to have significant, outward physical change to the machine that makes it able to perform its new farm function, and not able to perform its old function. Or, like a combine, has to have been designed for a specific farm function.
• There’s no maximum length of machinery on the road. You still have to be able to keep your equipment in your lane and stop in a reasonable distance, but there’s no actual limit length, he said.
Jeffery added that although there is some nuance in how the rules apply, and there are some exemptions for farmers, the basic rules of the road still apply. “People who are coming up from behind need to be able to see your signal and brake lights.” He also said he’s heard of farmers trying to fight distracted driving charges when they were using a cell phone in the cab, because they were driving a tractor, not a car. “Distracted driving is the issue, not what you’re driving.”
The rules and exemptions can be confusing, but a useful guiding principle is: “No person shall drive or operate or permit the driving or operation upon a highway of a vehicle, a street car or vehicles that in combination are in such a dangerous or unsafe condition as to endanger any person.” That’s straight out of the Highway Traffic Act.
The MTO guide also notes that, when in doubt, or if something seems contradictory, check the actual laws.
After driver fined, dispute erupts over laws and farm vehicles on public roads
By Connor Lynch