A report from the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) showed that within the period of 2007-2016, over 48% of fatalities that occurred in the agricultural workplace involved incidents with agricultural vehicles or machinery, writes Karen Walsh.
Reports from the Garda Síochána also show that six people were killed in fatal collisions involving agricultural vehicles on public roads in 2016.
These figures emphasise just how dangerous farm machinery and tractors can be, and the importance of responsible driving, and taking precautions when driving an agricultural vehicle.
Agricultural vehicles have become far more developed in the last number of years, making them much bigger, faster and more sophisticated than ever before.
January 1, 2016, saw the introduction of new regulations regarding the use of agricultural vehicles on Irish roads.
The changes came about as a result of a comprehensive review by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) of the previous legislation in this area, along with its practical implications and the evolution of modern agricultural vehicles.
In most cases, any tractor bought within the last 12 years or so will already comply with the new regulations.
However, it is still important to be aware of the law in this area along with the repercussions for breaking it.
In most cases, tractors that don’t comply will only require minimal inexpensive work to bring them up to compliance standard.
The new regulations pay a large amount of attention to the use of trailers on roads.
Trailers intended to be used to carry heavier weights or at speeds of more than 40km/h are now obliged to be fitted with a speed disc and a national weights and dimensions plate.
All trailer users should familiarise themselves with the specific weight requirements, along with rules about the distribution of such weight. There are also some exceptions to these revised weight limits, and certain types of interchangeable towed equipment will not require compliance.
With regards to braking, any vehicle intending to travel in excess of 40km/h now requires a more powerful braking system.
This requirement reflects the rapid advancement of machinery and vehicles in recent years, and their ability to reach higher speeds than ever before.
While this requirement is largely met by most tractors, it is important to ensure this to be so, given the hazardous road conditions often brought about by the Irish weather, and their impact on braking.
The new regulation also requires tractors to have a flashing beacon and reflective markings to provide warning to other road users.
Tractor drivers should always ensure optimum visibility, not just when driving at night or in bad weather, and farmers should check all head lights, brake lights and indicators regularly.
Failure to comply with the new regulations has serious consequences, with those in breach facing the possibility of a courts summons with a potential fine of up to €2,500, a prison sentence, or both if convicted.
With regard to road traffic offences and agricultural vehicles, most people are aware of the implications of speeding, dangerous driving, or driving without tax or insurance. where cars are concerned.
But what happens in these instances where it is someone committing the offence with an agricultural vehicle?
Agricultural vehicles are governed by the normal rules of the road and road traffic laws on driver’s licenses, tax and insurance, with the same repercussions applying if they are not complied with.
Tractor drivers require a category W licence.
With regard to insurance, any vehicle used in a public place must be covered by third party insurance, as required by legislation.
It is worth noting that a public place not only includes public roads, major or minor, but also applies to marts and factory yards.
Insurance is also required on all trailers.
Tractor drivers must also be extremely careful when transporting loose material such as silage, slurry or gravel, because release of such materials on a public road is likely to cause an accident or damage to the vehicle behind.
Section 13 of the Roads Act 1993 states that it is an offence to allow stones, clay or any other material to remain on a public road, where doing so would cause a hazard or potential hazard to people using the road, and would obstruct or interfere with the safe use of the road.
Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners,
Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork
(021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing,
probate and family law.