Road rules you might be breaking

MTO officers highlight what can – and can’t – be done when moving farm vehicles on public roads

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Updated Jan. 8

Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act gives special exceptions, and some additional conditions, for farm equipment. But in an effort to improve overall roadway safety, Ministry of Transportation (MTO) enforcement officers encourage farmers to go beyond minimum safety requirements.

Doing so, they say, starts with understanding what’s considered a farm vehicle, why exemptions are or are not in place, and taking a more comprehensive, logical look at equipment before hitting the road.

Why it matters: Not taking steps to mitigate hazards while operating farm vehicles on the road can brings both liability and safety risks.

Speaking during the 2021 Ontario Agriculture Conference, Matthew Mitchell and Richard Curado, enforcement officers based near Windsor and Clinton, say highways, as defined in the Highway Traffic Act, refer to roads of all types, not just the larger thoroughfares of common parlance.

Understand definitions

Definitions of vehicle, motor vehicle, and why farm equipment is different, are also important.

  • Tractors, self-propelled sprayers, and other common farm equipment are not legally considered motor vehicles as are tow-behind and other implements such as planters or wagons. They are called self-propelled implements of husbandry and are only included in the definition of a motor vehicle under the Criminal Code of Canada, and so would relate to criminal offences such as impaired driving or dangerous driving.
  • Vehicles that can be used for non-farming uses, like a water truck, don’t necessarily fall into the agricultural category. The same truck hauling manure would, however, since it can’t – or at least shouldn’t – be used for anything but moving nutrient.
  • Both officers reiterated the definitions of what constitutes a farm vehicle or implement are clear.
  • Cases where people have encountered grey areas tend to come from what Curado referred to the anecdotes shared during “coffee shop talk.” He later encouraged viewers to ask the MTO directly if they have questions.
  • “If you think there’s going to be an issue, there’s probably going to be an issue,” says Mitchell.

Get new SMV signs

  • Every vehicle or implement not capable of maintaining 40 kilometres per hour, including on an incline, is required to have a slow-moving-vehicle sign. That sign has to be posted in a place which other drivers can clearly see, and in the correct orientation (triangle pointing upwards).
  • All farm tractors, self-propelled vehicles of husbandry, and motor vehicles towing implements are defined as SMVs and require SMV signs regardless of their max attainable speed.

  • The sign also has to be clean and new enough to actually be an effective identifier.
  • Both officers encourage farmers to take a good look at their current SMV signs, and if in doubt as to quality, get new ones.

Age restrictions

  • Individuals under the age of 16 are permitted to operate farm vehicles on farm property, and to cross roadways. They cannot, however, drive down the road – no matter how short a distance. Those over 16 can operate along roadways with or without a driver’s licence.

Lighting

  • When it comes to lighting, Mitchell says sticking with the basics is the best strategy.
  • Have good, clear turn signals, headlights, and rear lights – and make sure to use them 30 minutes before sunset and after sunrise.
  • Flashing lights can be both required or useful too, but he says it’s also important not to go overboard with lighting. Doing so can be distracting, and actually make the situation less safe.

Liability

  • Mitchell stressed farmers need to remember their own liability, particularly if steps to mitigate safety risks have not been taken. Both reiterated farmers need to be conducive to all Highway Traffic Act regulation. That means being reasonable and having care not to affect others on the roadway.

Can I do that?

A number of questions were fielded during the officers’ presentation. Below are synopses of some queries and their associated responses.

Can I block the road when loading grain, even briefly?

No. Even small backroads cannot be blocked. Some space for vehicles to pass must be maintained.

My tractor goes over 40 km/hr. Can I drive faster?

No. Farm vehicles are classified as slow-moving vehicles, and are restricted to that speed. While this speed restriction is commonly cited as a grey area, in actuality, it’s not.

Can I operate a tractor if my licence was suspended?

Maybe, depending on what the licence was suspended for. If it was suspended for impaired driving, for example, the Criminal Code bars the individual from operating any motor vehicle.

Can I put a SMV sign on a pickup?

If it’s being used to move equipment used in husbandry, at or below the 40 kilometre per hour limit, yes. When not being used for that purpose, however, it’s a regular motor vehicle and the sign needs to be covered or removed – even if the speed restriction was maintained.

Can vehicles not designed for farm use be classified as farm vehicles?

Yes – if they have had “significant” and “specific” changes made to restrict them solely for husbandry use. Welding a gravity bin to a truck frame would count, for example, while bolting the same bin would not. Regardless, the safety considerations of any modification (e.g. whether a tractor has enough braking power to stop a modified semi-trailer), need to be considered beforehand.

Can I use a semi-truck as a farm vehicle if it’s governed to 40 km/hr?

No. It has not undergone a significant-enough change, and could still be used for non-husbandry tasks.

Can I legally use a tractor to tow a trailer and excavator?

It’s possible, but not likely. You must be able to prove it is exclusive for husbandry operations. No commercial activity is permitted, however small. This burden is on the individual to convince a present MTO officer, or a judge in court.

Do I drive on the pavement, or shoulder?

Whenever possible, pavement is preferred. While it is common to try and leave space for vehicles following behind, the best practice is to only pull over when you have a safe place to do so. Factors such as dust kicked-up from the shoulder can make a situation more unsafe than it otherwise might be.

Do I need an escort vehicle?

Except with vehicles considered oversized, escort vehicles are generally not required if everything else is being done correctly. It can be an extra safety layer, however, and employed if it would help make the situation safer.

Updated Jan. 7 to correct spelling of a name and to add information about definitions of farm vehicles and when SMV signs are needed.

About the author

Contributor

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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