By Tom Collins
NAPANEE — On June 14, cash crop and hog farmer Mark Davis’s 14-year-old son had just finished driving a tractor 15 km back to the home farm for maintenance when a police officer stopped by the farm.
The complaint? His son, Andrew, was driving a tractor on the road. Someone had called the police and reported a 12-year-old was driving a tractor. Andrew turned 14 in April, and Davis said he’s a big kid for his age. The police officer agreed, saying Andrew doesn’t even look close to 12.
The Napanee-area farmer, who runs Hay Bay Genetics at Napanee with his brother Eric, said since the complainant reported that Andrew was driving well, there must have been something else behind the complaint.
“Maybe I pissed one of the neighbours off, because he knew Andrew’s name. He knew my name. He told the cops where we farm,” Davis told Farmers Forum. He believes the complaint was from one of the area cottagers, who have made complaints in the past about farming. “They come from the city, and they build these multi-million dollar cottages and they try to run the area. Basically, people should mind their own business.”
Davis is among many farmers convinced that you need to be 14 to drive a tractor on the road. Some farmers think you can be younger. Said a friend of Davis on Twitter, “Hell, I was driving on the road by age 12.” Said another: “I had three years in by 14.”
Many farm kids learn to drive the tractor at a young age and many farmers are under the impression that kids can drive tractors on the road. However, Section 37 of the Highway Traffic Act says otherwise. The Act permits children of any age to drive farm equipment and allows children of any age to drive directly across any road. But the driver must be at least 16 years old to drive farm equipment down any public road or along the shoulder of a road.
When a child turns 16, he can drive farm equipment on a road even without a driver’s licence as a licence is not required to drive a tractor or other farm equipment. These rules have been in place since at least 1980, says the Ontario Federation of Agriculture senior policy analyst Peter Jeffrey.
The police officer didn’t charge Davis or Andrew and even pulled out the Highway Traffic Act. “He shook my hand and said ‘Good luck planting’,” said Davis, adding he has no ill will toward the officer who was just doing his job.
Is Davis worried about a further complaint? “I’ll take my day in court,” he said. “The kid lives for farming. That’s his life. It would be different if my son were doing something wrong, but it’s too grey an area and he’s too big a help.”
The fine for driving a tractor on the road under the age of 16 ranges from $60 to $1,000, said Jeffrey.