Farm Ireland

Friday 23 March 2018

The new rules of the road for agricultural vehicles

Plot your way through the new RSA regulations for agri vehicles

The old regulations hadn't kept pace with the size, power and capacity of modern machinery.
The old regulations hadn't kept pace with the size, power and capacity of modern machinery.
Trailer markings and stickers
Trailer Lighting
Trailer braking systems
Trailer weight restrictions
George Glennon
Sean O'Brien at Broughan Trailers Open Day, March 2016
Paul O Connell. Photo Roger Jones.
Derek Casey

Derek Casey

The Road Safety Authority (RSA) introduced some new standards and road rules for agricultural vehicles at the start of this year, but there is still confusion amongst many farmers and contractors regarding the implications for their machinery.

The revised standards apply to both new and existing vehicles and mainly impact on tractors and trailers being driven on the road. They seem complex from the outside and the terminology can sometimes be confusing, so this week in a special feature we try to give a simple picture of what is required.

The RSA say new rules were needed because the old regulations didn't keep pace with the rate of increase in size and capability of modern machinery in the last 50 years. In fact, the old standards have been in place for more than half a century - during which time tractors have clearly become much bigger, faster and more powerful.

However, one area that hasn't been changed under the new rules is the driver licensing and testing arrangements for Category W licence holders (tractor license holders).

Nor is there any talk of the introduction of compulsory roadworthiness testing for agricultural vehicles at this time.

So what exactly do farmers need to do to adapt to the revised rules and avoid falling foul of the law? When it comes to tractors, for most users the answer to that question is little or nothing. Trailers are slightly more complex, so I will come to those later.


The majority of correctly maintained tractors will already comply with the revised standards, especially if you have a tractor that is new or almost new. Some small additions that might need to be made include fitting a flashing beacon to your tractor if it doesn't already have one. Beacons can be purchased from most dealers now and are priced from around €40 upwards, depending on make.

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These beacons are used to warn other road users that they are approaching a large vehicle. Most modern tractors already have them fitted, so - provided they have been correctly maintained - these tractors will not need to have work done.

It goes without saying that all normal lights (side lights, head lights, rear lights, brake lights, indicators and number plate lighting) should be in good working order on the tractor, and that you need to keep the lights clean and visible at all times.

The other key thing to check on your tractor is that it has a manufacturer's plate indicating key information like the tractor's engine serial number, design axle weights and maximum permitted towable load. All tractors should have this plate fitted somewhere, and it is something to always check first when buying an older second hand tractor.

If you are unsure as to whether your tractor complies with the revised standards, the best thing to do is to contact your authorised tractor dealer for advice. This will prevent you falling foul of the new rules and make your tractor safer on the road.


Trailers are where things get a little more complicated under the new RSA rules, so I've broken the requirements down into a few sections (see below and opposite).

Some trailers will need remedial work carried out if they are intended to be used at speeds of more than 40 km/h. That scenario can suddenly arise if, for example, a farmer upgrades his tractor to one that has a 50km/h transmission. Depending on how much you need to spend, some farmers may decide to bite the bullet and buy a new trailer if their old one is in poor order or not worth fixing.

Other machinery

If you are considering buying a new tractor sometime this year with a design speed of over 40km/h, it is a good idea to have your current trailer fleet inspected by an engineer or person familiar with the new rules.

This will prevent possible problems occurring that could make your once-compliant trailer suddenly illegal simply because your tractor can travel faster. Finally, one question I was asked recently is if the revised lighting and visibility standards apply to the likes of balers and sprayers as well as trailers?

The answer is yes - but only if, when attached to a tractor, it blocks the lighting and reflectors fitted to the rear of the tractor.


1 More powerful braking systems will be required for agricultural vehicles operating at speeds in excess of 40km/h. Trailers designed to be drawn at speeds over 40km/h must be equipped with service, breakaway and parking brakes.

2 Trailers manufactured since January 1 2016 which are designed to be drawn at speeds of over 60km/h must now be equipped with anti-lock braking systems (ABS).

3 Agricultural vehicles will need to be equipped with appropriate lighting systems, flashing amber beacons and reflective markings.

4 If you are considering buying a new tractor this year with a design speed of over 40km/h, it is a good idea to have your current trailer fleet inspected by an engineer or person familiar with the new rules.

5 Exemptions from compliance with the revised national weight limits and plating requirements are being provided for certain types of interchangeable towed equipment such as slurry tankers, manure or fertiliser spreaders and grain chaser bins.

Markings and stickers

Under the new rules, trailers with a design gross weight of over 3,500kg must be fitted with reflective rear markings. These are luminous reflector stickers that make it easy for other road users to see the back of the trailer. If the tractor-trailer combination is over 10 metres long, the trailer must also have reflective side markings.

Another new rule is that a rear 'LONG VEHICLE' marking must be fitted to a tractor-trailer combination that is over 13 metres long. The trailer must also have a clear sticker placed on it signalling the maximum design speed that it is intended to travel, for example 40km/h.

The manufacturer will automatically place this sticker on all new trailers, but if you have an older trailer remember to get one fitted as it is now a legal requirement.


Trailers must be equipped with side lamps, rear lamps, stop lamps, indicators and number plate lighting. They must also be fitted with marker lamps if, when coupled to the tractor, the length of the combination is more than 10 metres.

There is some confusion about marker lamps (the small lights along the length of the trailer body), but the official line from the RSA is that marker lamps should be amber in colour and fitted to both sides of the trailer at a height of at least 0.25 metres from the ground, but no higher than 1.5 metres. At least one side-marker lamp must be fitted to the middle third of the trailer.

The first lamp should not be more than three metres from the front of the trailer and the distance between two side-marker lamps should not be more than three metres. The distance between the furthest back side-marker lamp and the back of the trailer must not be more than one metre.


Let's look first at what the  different brake systems do;

A 'breakaway brake' fitted to a trailer is capable of automatically stopping the trailer if it becomes detached from the tractor.

A 'parking brake' is like a handbrake for a trailer when it is detached from the tractor and stationary.

A 'service brake', meanwhile, is the trailer's main braking system.

An 'ABS' system (anti-lock braking system) automatically stops the wheels locking during braking to give better control in emergency stops.

The new rules are as follows. * Trailers designed to be drawn at speeds under 40km/h must be equipped with service and parking brakes.

* Trailers designed to be drawn at speeds over 40km/h must be equipped with service, breakaway and parking brakes.

* Trailers in this category manufactured after January 1, 2016 must also be equipped with air braking systems.

* Trailers manufactured since January 1, 2016 which are designed to be drawn at speeds of over 60km/h must now be equipped with anti-lock braking systems (ABS).

Weight restrictions

Weight restrictions are now in place for trailers, but these can be navigated in some cases by having the trailer manufacturer plate visible and clearly showing that the trailer is built to hold higher weights safely. Under the new rules, trailers operating at weights exceeding 19 and 22.5 tonnes for tandem and tri-axle trailers respectively, or at speeds exceeding 40km/h, are legally required to have both a weights and dimensions plate displayed on the trailer body. They are also required to display a speed disc, as outlined earlier.

Tractor and trailer combinations, where either of them is unplated, will have their maximum towable mass capped at three times the tractor's unladen weight.

Contrast this with plated tractors and trailer combinations, which benefit under the new rules from being able to operate at higher weight limits of up to 24 and 34 tonnes for tandem and tri-axle agricultural trailers respectively. This is provided that the trailer meets certain additional requirements, as follows. The trailer must be:


fitted with a flexible suspension system

fitted with flotation tyres for operation at 10 tonnes per axle in the case of a tandem axle trailer or 9 tonnes per axle in the case of a tri-axle trailer

fitted with a steered or steering axles if the trailer has an axle spacing of 1.8 metres or greater.

The verdict...

Three farmers who attended the Broughan open day give their opinions on the new regulations.

Sean O'Brien, Tullow, Co Carlow

The Irish international's love of farming is well-known, with a Belgian Blue suckler herd keeping 'The Tullow Tank' busy when he is not playing rugby. Being a Carlow man, he is keen to support local business and took delivery earlier this year of a Broughan 25f flat body bale trailer. "I had an old trailer at home but it was in a mess if I'm honest. I heard about the new rules coming in at the start of the year, but when I looked into how much it would cost me to get the old trailer into shape I made my mind up that it would be better to buy new. We have sucklers at home and we handle a few bales so I went for a new bale trailer - so far so good."

George Glennon, Ballymacoda, Co Cork

A cattle farmer whose family have built their own trailer, George is well informed on the requirements under the new legislation. He feels it is vital for farmers to keep-to-up date and ensure they meet the rules of the road with the Road Safety Authority in case of an accident. "It is peace of mind to have everything up to scratch. I feel there should be a lot more open days through Teagasc and other bodies on it. We made our 10t double-axle trailer at home so I think we don't have that much to do. One of them needs a handbrake cable and a ratchet-type handbrake. We have to put a CE plate on it - she is already double LEDs on the back, we have the three lights along the side and the strip on the side and the back. There is a port on both sides of the tractor cab for the beacon - they cost me €37."

Paul O'Connell, Ballybrittas, Co Laois

The grain farmer says the business has a handful of trailers in the yard that will need to be upgraded. "We'll have to spend money and get our trailers in order and make sure we stay within the regulations. We need safety brakes, air brakes on some trailers and then we have to get ourselves fully briefed on the weight restrictions as well. We're still only really getting our heads around it, it is only really starting to come out. With trailers in fields, you don't really necessarily know the weight that is on them. We'll have to plate the trailers as well. It all depends how stringently they are going to be enforced, certainly for a couple of years until people do get their heads around it. There are a lot of trailers on the road that wouldn't pass the test. In the case of tillage trailers are being taken out for four or five weeks of the year and to bring them up to the regulations is going to be very costly."

Indo Farming