Legal & Technical Chair's Blog - 7 May 2019

We are approaching the time of year which sees many spending a lot of their time in the tractor, and often on the road. To keep everyone properly informed and on the correct side of the law, NFU Scotland Legal & Technical Chair Jamie Smart has produced some top tips for farmers and crofters to bear in mind as they take to the road.

As we enter silage season many of us will be spending large numbers of hours in the cabs of our agricultural machines, whether that be a tractor, forage harvester or handler. It is vitally important that we make sure that these vehicles are safe and legal to use. Many pieces of legislation cover us in these vehicles including health and safety, construction and use, licensing etc. To cover all of this would take up a very large book but I will attempt to give a few pointers to the main points.

General Checks and Maintenance

All vehicles, trailers and implements should be serviced according to the manufacturer’s instructions. There is no reason why you can’t do this yourself if you feel competent to do so but remember to keep a record of what has been done and when.

Each day the driver should do a “walk round inspection” of their vehicle. This should cover lights, brakes, tyres, couplings, hoses, glass, and mirrors. Make sure they are all working, adjusted properly and not worn. Again, it is worth keeping a record of these checks and ensuring any forms for doing so are readily available.

Size and Weight

If you are using larger vehicles or implements (over 3m wide or with a front or rear overhang of 4m or more) you should consider getting a dispensation notice from Police Scotland. Details of the process can be found at You should also make sure that you have suitable marker boards attached. If the vehicle is over 3.5m wide you must also have an escort vehicle.

Maximum weight for a tractor and trailer combination is 31 tonnes. The maximum laden weight for the trailer is 18.29 tonnes. The maximum speed for the vast majority of agricultural tractors is 40kmh (25mph) although some JCB Fastracs and Mercedes Unimogs can travel at up to 40mph but only if higher braking standards including ABS are fitted to both tractor and trailer.


A licence to drive an agricultural tractor can be applied for from the age of 16. At 16 the provisional licence holder can only drive to their test, take their test, and return from their test if they fail. If a passenger seat is fitted, they must be accompanied by a full licence holder, if there is no passenger seat there must not be an instructor. A 16 year old (before or after their test) may only drive a tractor 2.45m or under and tow a single axle trailer or close coupled twin axle trailer. Close coupled is where the centres of the two axles are less than 840mm apart. At age 17 these restrictions are removed. A separate trailer licence is not required when driving a tractor.

Other agricultural machines such as combines, self-propelled sprayers or telehandlers are driven on a car licence. There are age related weight bands for these vehicles as follows. At 17 the maximum weight is 3.5 tonnes ate 18 this increases to 7.5 tonnes and to exceed 7.5 tonnes the driver must be 21 or over. To tow with one of these vehicles a trailer licence must be held. A trailer licence will be required to tow with one of these vehicles or a car/pick up etc where the driver passed their test after January 1997.

Mobile Phones

Mobile phones must only be used with a suitable hands free kit. Tractor drivers using their mobile phones is probably the issue I get most complaints about from the public and police are also taking a real interest in this issue. Drivers caught using their phone will receive 6 penalty points and a £200 fine. New drivers (those within 2 years of passing their test) automatically loose their licence if they gain 6 penalty points and have to resit their driving test before getting it back, an expensive phone call.

As I say the rules covering agricultural vehicles are complicated and I don’t have room here to cover them all. NFU Scotland members can get in touch directly and the details for doing this are on the back of your membership card.

There are also two DVSA workshops organised for members who would like to learn more about agricultural vehicle legality and would like the opportunity to ask any questions they may have. The two workshops will be held at St Boswells (Friday 17 May) and Cupar (Thursday 30 May). For more information go to


Author: Jamie B Smart

Date Published:

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