Driving a tractor on public roads: The rules to look out for

While driving a tractor may be second nature to most experienced operators on farms, the minute you drive onto public roads, more stringent rules apply. Most rules will come as no surprise – but a couple might catch you out.

In this article, rules for driving a tractor on public roads are explored, using advice provided by the Road Safety Authority (RSA).

First off, to state the obvious, if you use an agricultural tractor on a public road, it must be licenced, taxed and insured.

A category W licence is required to drive a tractor – with or without a trailer.

tractors ABS
Image source: Adrian Leech Photography

For novice drivers, the RSA makes it clear that N plates should be displayed on tractors during the first two years of holding one’s licence.

For such drivers, an N plate should be displayed on the rear of the tractor, or placed in a vertical position on the rear of the trailer or implement being drawn.

Turning to number plates, the authority stresses that tractors are legally required to have number plates to the front and rear when on the main road.

To be allowed to travel on Irish motorways, a tractor and any towed equipment must be capable by design of maintaining a minimum speed of 50kph.

While front mudguards are not legally required on tractors driving on a public road, it should be noted that, under the Roads Act 1993, it is an offence to place or deposit “dung or urine from an animal owned by him or any material or thing which falls from a vehicle owned or used by him”, according to the authority.

All tractors are required to be fitted with a flashing amber beacon and have it switched on when in use, the RSA notes.

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Image source: Galway Agri Videos / Conor Ryan

If travelling with a front loader and pallet forks attached, the authority advices that “forks or other front mounted handling attachments should be faced down as it is considered a dangerous projection causing risks of injury to other road users”.

Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness Testing (CVRT) was introduced for so-called ‘fast tractors’ in 2018. According to the RSA, a ‘fast tractor’ is defined as a wheeled tractor in category ‘T’ with a maximum design speed exceeding 40kph.

The RSA stipulates that a ‘fast tractor’ does not have to undergo a test if it is used:
  • For the purposes of agricultural, horticultural, forestry, farming or fishery activity solely within the state and mainly on the land where such activity takes place, including agricultural roads, forestry roads or agricultural fields;
  • Exclusively on a small island. This exclusion from the requirement for compulsory testing applies to all of the islands off the Irish coast.

Finally, the RSA says: “Training on the proper use of machinery is essential. Teagasc, FRS network and FTMA run courses focusing on the safe and efficient operation of tractors and farm machinery.”