Driver licence obligations for farmers, rural landowners and workers
There are plenty of tasks that involve driving if you are a rural landowner. The nature of farming and its associated enterprises, and the lack of viable public transport alternatives means that most people that work in rural industries need a driver’s licence. As the rules are complex and varied, many farmers are unsure of them, particularly when it comes to driving larger machinery on the road, and lifestyle block owners may find themselves driving with awkward loads on difficult terrain.
Driving with the incorrect licence will invalidate any insurance policy, and could also mean the driver doesn’t understand the handling characteristics and safety requirements of the vehicle.
Options for driving without a licence
If you have someone working for you without a licence, they can drive any type of vehicle on private property but they must not drive it on a road. ‘Road’ has a very broad definition in law and includes rivers, road shoulders, bridges, beaches, car parks and wharves. The fines are quite steep if they are caught on the road – $400 for the first offence and up to $1000 for persistent offending.
Children who live on a farm can drive a tractor from age 13 as long as they don’t drive on the road. They must also have been trained in the safe operation of the tractor, and any trailer it is pulling.
Vehicles must be licenced and registered to be used on the road (unless exempt), and this rule also applies to ATVs and motorbikes. Given the broad definition of a road, motorbike riders must wear helmets even if on the road shoulder.
Be sure to check your insurance covers your vehicles for being driven by an unlicensed person off-road (they definitely won’t be covered on the road).
Getting a driving licence
In order to get a learner licence, a person must learn the Road Code. The quickest way is to use this free Road Code practice test. Once competent on that website, the theory licence test will be simple and can be taken at an NZTA agent.
Learner drivers cannot drive some vehicles (e.g. road-registered vehicles like a ute or SUV) unaccompanied, so the next stage (restricted licence) is more desirable. Restricted licence drivers are allowed to pull a trailer, but the total maximum weight must not exceed 4500kg, whereas a person with a full licence can drive a vehicle up to 3500kg and a trailer with a gross laden weight that doesn’t exceed the difference between the vehicle’s GVM (gross vehicle mass) and 6000kg. E.g. if the vehicle’s GVM is 3200kg, then the trailer’s gross laden weight (GLW) must not be more than 2800kg. GLW is the maximum weight of the trailer and its load.
Driving farm machinery
NZTA’s agricultural vehicles guide outlines the safe and legal use of farm vehicles on NZ’s roads.
On a learner, restricted or full car licence (class 1), a person can drive an agricultural tractor up to 18000kg GLW, or an agricultural tractor and trailer up to 25000kg gross combination weight (GCW) at up to 40km/h on the road. If the driver has a wheels (W) endorsement it can be driven at more than 40km/h. Agricultural tractors towing a non-agricultural trailer, e.g. a boat, are limited to 30km/h on the road when using a car licence.
Owning a class 2 licence removes the speed restriction for agricultural tractors of 18000kg or more, and owning a class 5 licence removes the speed restriction for agricultural tractor and agricultural trailer combinations of 25000kg GCW.
Using foreign labour
Any driver with a full overseas driver’s licence is eligible to drive under class 1 restrictions on New Zealand’s roads for up to 12 months after their arrival without changing to a New Zealand licence. If they leave the country then return, the 12 month begins again. You can check that they know the road rules by having them use the aforementioned road code practice test. If a heavy vehicle licence is required, a test must be taken.
When transporting horses by towing a horse float with a car, SUV or ute, the gross combined weight must not exceed 6000kg, otherwise you will need a class 3 licence for a small truck and trailer, or a class 5 licence if you have a semi-trailer and tractor unit. If transporting horses within a rigid horse truck, you will need the appropriate class of licence for a rigid truck (class 2 or 4, depending on the length, weight and number of axles).
There are various endorsements for different types of farm vehicles. For self-propelled agricultural vehicles (e.g. harvesters) the driver might need a W endorsement, as mentioned above.
Class 1 + W endorsement: you can drive these vehicles at less than 40kph on the road
Class 2 without W endorsement: you can drive these vehicles at less than 40kph on the road
Class 2 with W endorsement: you can drive these vehicles at more than 40kph on the road
For forklift vehicles an F endorsement is required.
Transport service licence
Some goods that are transported in a goods service vehicle of more than 6000kg may require a transport service licence. It’s best to check with NZTA on 0800 822 422 as the rules are detailed.
Following the above guidelines and rules will ensure the safety and legality of drivers driving on rural properties.