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