The big brake debate

Braking standards are voluntary, but as implement size increases, brakes are increasingly important

Adequate brakes are essential when running farm equipment on roads.

Big tractors and implements require a lot of braking power, but exactly how powerful braking systems need to be in Canada, and between countries, is not standardized. 

Why it matters: Braking systems and standards are not uniform. They are also largely voluntary. This can lead to liability risk in the event of an accident. 

Terrence Sauvé, an Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) engineer involved with equipment safety policy, says Ontario adheres to wider North American standards through the provincial Farm Implements Act. 

North American standards were first developed in the 1980s and last updated in 2011. They have since been withdrawn and replaced with those developed by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.

Overall, equipment standards such as those pertaining to braking systems are voluntary. This has prompted concerns around farmers’ ability to opt out of braking systems otherwise prescribed by the implement’s operators manual. By not adequately considering the capabilities of the implement, the farmer could be liable in the event of an accident. 

“OMAFRA establishes and enforces safety standards and regulations to improve machinery safety and reduce farm fatalities and injuries,” says Sauvé in reference to Ontario’s Farm Implements Act. 

“The Environmental Management Branch also helps to resolve disputes between farmers, dealers and distributors. So far, we have not on record a complaint related to inadequate braking systems.”

While Sauvé says no brake-related incidents have been reported, concerns remain. For Alex Barrie, a Bowmanville-area farmer and soil management engineer with OMAFRA, this stems from the significant size and weight of modern field implements. 

In a previous position within the equipment manufacturing sector, Barrie says his employer began incorporating braking systems on implements (e.g. air carts) where they were otherwise not required. This was done in anticipation of further regulations, though he is not sure if such a policy is common across manufacturers. 

“As a farming citizen, I absolutely think it’s a concern. We’re just getting a bit too big to rely on tractors alone,” Barrie says. 

Dave Peters, Strathroy-based after-sales manager for AGCO Corporation, says he believes more rigorous standards could be an opportunity to improve what farmers are permitted to do with their equipment on public roads. Specifically, they might allow higher operating speeds. 

“The bottom line is that there are no regulations here like they have in Europe. There you need to get your trailer safetied every year just like a road trailer,” he says. 

“Most tow-behind farm equipment has a sticker indicating a maximum speed of well below 50 kilometres. But those are ignored. The bottom line is that we don’t have a good system of regulation, so people pretty much do what they want.

“All that being said, I think farmers are very concerned with road safety. Many large heavy implements, like manure tanks, have hydraulic trailer brakes. The big question is, are they maintained?”

European Union standards enforce brakes

The European Commission enforces braking requirements through what OMAFRA engineer Terrence Sauve refers to as a “mother regulation,” which is monitored by the political body’s market surveillance program. However, every member country is free to set individual requirements that are stricter than general European Union requirements. 

“It is hard to compare since some EU member countries have different requirements on types of braking options depending on size, mass and type of braking technology such as inertia, mechanical, hydraulic or pneumatic brakes,” says Sauvé.

“The overall goal and agreement with the International Organization for Standardization is to harmonize requirements for braking at the international level. The new braking standards from (the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers) has made a large effort to be up to date with market technology and align with other normative standards from ISO that are used worldwide.”

About the author


Matt McIntosh

Matt is a freelance writer based between Essex County and Chatham-Kent. He is interested in all things scientific, as well as rock n' roll, hunting and history. He also works with his parents on their sixth-generation family farm.



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