Anyone caught using a mobile phone when driving a tractor or other agricultural vehicle on the road risks a £200 fine and six points on their licence, a PSNI road safety officer has said.
Addressing a UFU meeting in Dungannon on Monday, Constable Trevor Kirke said the use of a mobile phone is now by far the biggest problem issue in road safety, and linked to over 80% of all road traffic collisions.
He said that increasing numbers of tractor drivers are being caught, especially young men. If they are within two years of passing their test, six points will mean they lose their licence. They might also struggle to get insurance once they re-pass a test.
According to the PSNI officer, it is not just an offence to be making a call, but also if you are caught texting or interacting with social media.
“Driving with your phone in your hand is an offence. Phones and driving don’t mix,” said Constable Kirke.
He confirmed that making a phone call hands free is not an offence, but advised common sense. “A quick phone call is one thing, but if it’s going to be a lengthy conversation, tell them you will ring back,” he suggested. Where a serious road collision occurs, phones will be seized and if a person involved was making a call (even if hands free) that information will be presented to a court, leading to potential prosecution, he warned.
Among the other main road safety issues, Constable Kirke confirmed that drink driving is not the problem it used to be, but beware driving the next morning if taking alcohol the night before.
However, too many farmers still drive without a seatbelt, often making the excuse they are only doing short journeys between different blocks of land. “Most people who die on the roads are within five miles of home,” he said, adding that where a seatbelt is fitted (including in a tractor), it must be worn.
Where a queue of cars forms behind a tractor on the road, pull in when safe to do so, but driving along a hard shoulder is an offence. Often a queue forms when a nervous driver is directly behind, so try let them past, suggested Constable Kirke. It is important that mirrors are clean and fully operational, and work lights are switched off.
Young people aged over 16 can obtain a provisional licence (Category F) allowing them to drive tractors on the road, but they cannot drive through a town where a 30mph speed limit applies.
“If there is an issue and you sent them out on the road, you could be prosecuted and end up with six points,” warned Constable Kirke.
He also emphasised that only quads licenced for road use should be on the public road, and a helmet must be worn. “A quad is dangerous. Treat it with respect, and keep the kids off them,” he said.
From 1 January 2017 to 31 August 2022 there have been 24 collisions and four fatalities involving quads in NI. Over the same period there have been 80 collisions involving agricultural vehicles leading to 15 fatalities.