AA cool on farm transport change, others back idea
The Automobile Association says new rules would allow fatigued operators to drive on roads. Sue O’dowd reports.
Proposed changes to agricultural transport rules threaten public safety, the Automobile Association says. The organisation says it is worried that agricultural vehicle operators who work long hours will put motorists at risk.
‘‘They might be driving home after 18 hours on a tractor,’’ principal AA adviser Mark Stockdale, of Wellington, said.
‘‘What confidence can motorists have that an agricultural machinery operator working long hours on a farm is not fatigued when he’s on a public road?
‘‘The agricultural industry says it’s difficult to work within the regulations (restricting drivers’ hours of work) but the trade-off is public safety.’’
The Government’s proposed changes will establish a two-tier speed system for agricultural vehicles.
Those operating below 40kmh on the road will be exempt from warrants of fitness and the requirements limiting the number of hours that drivers can work.
Holders of a restricted car licence can drive these vehicles.
Agricultural vehicles exceeding 40kmh on the road will need an annual warrant of fitness and must be driven by the holder of an agricultural endorsement or class 2 licence.
Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges said the proposals would reduce compliance costs without compromising safety.
The NZ Transport Agency is seeking public feedback on the changes until November 30.
Agricultural contractor Billy Moratti said operators would still be restricted to working 13 hours a day, with regular half-hour breaks, unless they gained an exemption, perhaps after a long period of wet weather.
Contractors would hire more staff and equipment so health and safety guidelines were observed, he said.
Operators would be collected from farms and delivered home if necessary.
Mr Moratti wants the speed limit for agricultural vehicles increased to 50kmh for better traffic flow.
‘‘If we’re travelling at 40kmh, it means we take longer to get there and hold up more traffic.’’
Early-morning traffic could be heavy and agricultural vehicles were forbidden from travelling continuously inside the white line on the left of the road. Mr Moratti said traffic could be intolerant. ‘‘Drivers are impatient, they toot, they flash their lights, they pass in stupid places. ‘‘Everyone’s in a hurry.’’ Mr Stockdale said the AA preferred the existing 30kmh speed limit and opposed a 50kmh limit. ‘‘The faster you go, the bigger the mess.’’ The AA doubted the ability of an 18-year-old with a restricted class 1 licence to drive a 25-tonne tractor on the road and considered training was essential.
Rural Contractors New Zealand executive director Roger Parton, of Wellington, said his organisation supported all the changes.
Youngsters who grew up on farms were often competent operators of machinery, and no contractor would let an inexperienced person operate expensive vehicles.
Operators wanting to drive vehicles at 50kmh would face more compliance issues and the 40kmh limit met the industry’s requirements.
‘‘Operators are aware of the size and speed of their vehicles, and make way as soon as they can, but sometimes there’s nowhere for them to go.’’
Agricultural vehicles represented 1.15 per cent of New Zealand’s vehicle fleet and were involved in 0.2 per cent of accidents between 1997 and 2010, Mr Parton said.
There were 28 fatalities, 73 people seriously injured and 175 minor injuries, he said.
Federated Farmers transport spokesman Ian Mackenzie said the proposals were common sense and unlikely to have any adverse effect on safety.