UK tractor operators, what you need to know

When in the field the modern tractor and skilled operators can achieve amazing rates of work. The operator has all of the tools required to ensure the tractor is running at peak efficiency, achieving maximum output at minimum cost. The operator is able to concentrate on the job at hand without disruptions.

On the road the modern tractor is just as able, running faster and more economically than ever before, unfortunately though, the roads are also busier than ever before. It is vital that all tractor operators have at least a basic understanding of the regulations applicable to them on the road. Hopefully this article will give you that information plus some further guidance on safe operation of agricultural machinery.

What is a tractor?

I know this sounds like a really silly question but as far as legislation is concerned it is important to understand if they apply to you.

Defined in EU Regulation 167/2013, for our purposes, essentially a tractor is defined as a motor vehicle designed to ‘pull, push, carry and actuate’ equipment to perform agricultural or forestry work.

Telescopic handlers (telehandlers) can also be type approved as tractors – this is something you would need to clarify for your specific machine by referring to the manufacturer’s information.

Other telehandlers, along with combine harvesters, crop sprayers and other agricultural machines fall into the wider definition of ‘agricultural motor vehicles’.

The activities that are considered ‘agricultural purposes’ are available in Excise Notice 75 (section 10). The definition includes activities for horticulture and forestry.

An ‘agricultural trailer’ is trailer used only for agriculture, horticulture or forestry. A trailer that is also used for other purposes can be used for agricultural purposes but would, from a regulatory perspective, not be considered an agricultural trailer.

How fast can I go?

Remember that just because your tractor can go at a certain speed, it does not mean it is safe, legal or morally responsible to do that speed. All traffic regulations must be adhered to and it is always advisable to limit your speed through congested/busy areas.

Most tractors may travel at up to 40 kph (approximately 25 mph). However, some tractors are permitted to be driven at up to 40 mph (around 65 kph). These tractors are built to higher specifications including but not limited to all-wheel suspension, braking efficiency of 50%, pneumatic tyres, a speedometer and a horn. The exact requirements are available here. 

Other speed limits are applicable to wider tractors

  • vehicles between 2.55 metres and 3.5 metres are limited to 20 mph (around 32 kph)
  • vehicles between 3.5 metres to 4.3 metres are limited to 12 mph(around 19 kph)

These width measurements include tyres, including when added by the operator, and any towed implement or trailer. The full requirements are available here.

So, even if your tractor can normally legally be driven at 40kph by fitting flotation tyres that increase the width over 2.55 metres the lower speed limits will apply.

While we are talking about width it is also worth remembering that for vehicles over 3m it is generally required that the police should be notified of your journeys, and vehicles wider than 3.5 metres must also have attendants to escort the vehicle.

What about letting other vehicles pass?

This is always a contentious issue, you don’t want to pull over in busy traffic because it is so difficult to pull back out into the traffic safely or you have a very grumpy forage harvester driver who isn’t interested in excuses. However it is important to remember that what you do reflects on all farm workers and many of the people stuck behind you are also working and have deadlines etc.

The Highway Code rule 169 states;
‘Do not hold up a long queue of traffic, especially if you are driving a large or slow-moving vehicle. Check your mirrors frequently, and if necessary, pull in where it is safe and let traffic pass’.

Please use your judgement and if it is possible to pull over safely, please do so.

Driver licensing

To drive a wheeled agricultural tractor on the public road you will require a category F entitlement. Category B (car) licence holders automatically have category F entitlement. To drive a track-laying vehicle, including tractors, on the public road requires category H entitlement.

Although you can have a category F licence at 16 years old, there are some restrictions to be aware of. 16-year-olds may only drive tractors up to 2.45 metres wide, and tow trailers up to 2.45 metres wide and with 2 wheels, or 4 close-coupled wheels. These restrictions do not apply when reaching 17 years old.

The category F licence only applies to tractors used primarily for agriculture or forestry. To drive a tractor on the public road not primarily for agriculture or forestry the operator will require a goods vehicle licence. That is category C1E for combinations with a maximum authorised mass up to 12 tonnes (8.25 tonnes if licence was obtained before 1997) and CE for combinations with maximum authorised mass over 7.5 tonnes (8.25 tonnes for pre-1997 licences).

Other, non-tractor agricultural motor vehicles require a category B licence, and you must also be over 21 years old to drive these.

Road worthiness

Even if your tractor is exempt from roadworthiness testing, it (and it’s trailer) legally must still be in a roadworthy condition. Check out HSE PUWER 98 Regs for more details. In addition a great scheme has been set up to check trailers roadworthiness called ‘Tilly Pass’ which I recommend.

If your tractor is only used off road there are still Health and Safety requirements that must be adhered to. If your tractor is eligible to be taxed in the agricultural tax class then it is exempt from road worthiness testing.

If however your tractor is

  • taxed in any other class
  • is capable by construction of exceeding 40 kph (approximately 25 mph). This applies even if your tractor is not permitted to exceed 40 kph due to its width for example.
  • used to haul goods (of any description) more than 15 miles from your operating base which may be different to the address they are registered.

Then your tractor will require a valid goods vehicle testing certificate. Its first certificate will be due at 4 years old and then every two years.

If a trailer is not used solely for an agricultural, horticulture or forestry purpose it is not exempt from goods vehicle testing, even if towed by a tractor.

Driving Hours

Most agricultural tractors are exempt from the EU drivers hours regulations if

  • the tractor is not capable of exceeding 40 kph and/or
  • the tractor is used for agricultural or forestry activities within 100 100 (62.1 miles) of their base.

Additional regulations include the GB domestic drivers hours rules which limit on road driving to 10 hours per day (off road driving if for agricultural or horticultural work does not count towards this total) so most agricultural tractor drivers will be ok. If doing lots of road work it would be advisable to keep a record of your hours on road.


The weight limit for agricultural tractor and trailer combinations is 31 tonnes. The trailer itself is limited to 18.29 tonnes (including any load imposed on the tractor through the hitch).

Red Diesel

Unlicensed vehicles not used on public roads

You may use red diesel in your vehicle if you do not keep or use your vehicle on a public road, for example if it’s used only on private land, providing:

  • your vehicle is not licensed by the DVLA to use the road – licensed means taxed, even at a nil rate
  • you have made a SORN to the DVLA, if you are required to

Vehicles that became untaxed before 1 February 1998 and unregistered vehicles that have never used the public road do not require a SORN.


You may use red diesel if your tractor is an agricultural tractor designed and constructed primarily for use otherwise than on roads and do not use the tractor on public roads for activities other than for:

  • purposes relating to agriculture, horticulture or forestry
  • cutting verges bordering public roads
  • cutting hedges or trees bordering public roads or bordering verges which border public roads
  • gritting roads, including travel to and from where gritting takes place, and for the collection of equipment and material for gritting

Quad bikes etc.

Vehicles that have a revenue weight not exceeding 1,000kg. are designed and constructed to seat only the driver and primarily for use other than on roads. They may use red diesel providing they are used only for purposes relating to agriculture, horticulture, forestry, or for gritting roads.

Agricultural material handlers

Agricultural material handlers are those vehicles designed to lift goods or other loads and designed and constructed primarily for use off road. You may use red diesel in an agricultural material handler, provided you do not use them on public roads except for:

  • agricultural, horticultural or forestry work
  • cutting verges bordering public roads
  • cutting hedges or trees that border either public roads or that border public roads
  • gritting roads, including going to and from where gritting will be done and when collecting of equipment and material for gritting


Other agricultural vehicles/engines that may use red diesel if meeting the criteria include combine harvesters, crop sprayers, forage harvesters and pea viners and similar vehicles. Mobile seed cleaning machines and feed milling machines.

General guidance

The HSE provides numerous guides and advice relating to the safe operation of tractors and agricultural vehicles. Always think ‘safety’ when operating machinery. Don’t take risks or cut corners trying to save time.

For example;

Don’t drive tractors unless they are properly maintained and safe.
■ Fix or report defects as soon as possible.
■ Take your time and never rush when operating tractors.
■ Watch out for obstacles and blind spots.
■ Take care with projections such as bale spikes. Remove them or carry them in
a safe position both on and off the road.
■ Comply with warning signs.
■ Remember, other people and children may be around, even if you’re not
expecting them.
■ Equipment, loads, bad weather or bright sunshine make it harder to see, so
take care.
■ Get help if visibility is reduced, especially when reversing.
■ When reversing, use mirrors and horns and any other reversing aids fitted to the
■ Remember, confined or dark buildings and small farmyards make spotting and
avoiding dangers difficult.
■ Agree safe routes for other tractors and machines to avoid accidents.
■ Watch for rear-end swing when travelling with long implements such as

A list of all the HSE free agricultural leaflets is available here.

Please checkout for other articles.

Thanks for reading, Justin.

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