Farmer’s ute stopped at gate

Suzuki Blatchford

NO GO: Woodville farmer Graeme Blatchford has had the registration of his ute cancelled. Photo: Graeme Brown

Amid the concern over quad-bike safety, a Woodville farmer thought he had hit on the ideal alternative vehicle, only to find definitions and laws have stymied him. Richard Rennie investigates.

A Woodville farmer has driven into a brick wall in efforts to have his late-model farm ute re-registered as a farm vehicle with New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA).

In August last year Graeme Blatchford bought a new Suzuki Farmworker ute as an alternative to a quad bike for his bull-farming operation.

“The price difference between the ute and a quad bike was minimal and we have not used quads for years in the interests of safety,” he said.

“With bulls it is better to have a cab around you for protection.”

The Farmworker utes were sold saying they were for off-road use only and were not able to be registered for road use as a general passenger vehicle.

“This was fine by us,” Blatchford said. “We only wanted it to travel around the farm and on the road to get to parts of the farm. We did not buy it with the intention of using it as general transport.”

His purchase from Dannevirke Suzuki included a Class B registration and a warrant of fitness.

However, in late September he sought to re-register the vehicle, only to have NZTA cancel the registration on grounds the vehicle was classed as a passenger vehicle and did not meet required safety standards.

“They seem to have decided it was not an agricultural vehicle. They have classed it as a passenger vehicle.

“However, as an agricultural vehicle it could legally be used with a Class B exemption to go between farms and points on one farm using the road, which is what we do.”

Blatchford’s frustration grew when after a complaint to Member of Parliament  for Wairarapa John Hayes, NZTA also pulled the registration on another farm ute, a Suzuki Carry.

He is left with only one vehicle, a 1986 Suzuki SJ, which is similar to the Farmworker.

Other farm vehicles, including quad bikes and tractors, are capable of having Class B exemptions and Blatchford said he failed to see how a quad bike could offer greater safety options than an enclosed-cab ute.

“They are basically saying it is safe to drive a quad bike on the road, which is ludicrous.”

Hal Schmidt, of Dannevirke Suzuki, said the Farmworker utes had been popular in the region.

“The NZTA seem to have blinkers on with this ute,” he said.

“This machine is almost the same as the SJ, but has a different motor. Structurally it is the same, and that is still all right for him to use.

“If I was a farmer and I did not want to get killed by a bull I would want to be in a ute, not a quad. It seems someone at NZTA went to sleep on this.”

“While the Farmworker is used predominantly off road and for farm, its design meets the legal definition of a passenger or goods vehicle, not an agricultural machine. As such it cannot be registered unless it meets the appropriate safety standards.”

Andy Knackstedt

New Zealand Transport Agency

However, it appears Blatchford’s Suzuki has fallen into legislative quicksand relating to definitions and standards required of vehicles to operate on public roads, regardless of whether they are specifically for farm or general use.

NZTA spokesman Andy Knackstedt said the Farmworker did not meet standards to be registered to travel on NZ roads. Even having an exempt Class B license did not change that requirement.

An exempt Class B status that allowed a vehicle to access a farm via public roads did not exempt it from required safety standards, only from some levies and fees.

He confirmed some models of the Farmworker made before 2006 met safety standards and could be registered for use on public roads.

Blatchford said quad bikes were capable of having a Class B exemption but Knackstedt said quad bikes and ATVs were not required to meet the same safety standards as passenger or goods vehicles.

But Blatchford said there was a place for the Suzukis that could save farmers from injury and risk that they were exposed to on a quad bike.

Schmidt said he knew of a number of owners operating machines in the area in the manner Blatchford operated his and they had also received an NZTA letter requesting they surrender the licence plates.

Knackstedt was unable to confirm how widespread the issue with the model was, but said NZTA had received some calls through its contact centre about the Farmworker.

He said there appeared some confusion between vehicle type and vehicle usage.

“A vehicle’s type is determined by the legislation. In this case the definition is it is a goods and passenger vehicle. Once registered the owner can select appropriate usage.

“While the Farmworker is used predominantly off road and for farm, its design meets the legal definition of a passenger or goods vehicle, not an agricultural machine. As such it cannot be registered unless it meets the appropriate safety standards.”

He said Blatchford’s ute had been registered as a “self-propelled agricultural machine” for its exempt Class B registration.

“While the usage is correct, the vehicle type of self-propelled agricultural machine is not, so the incorrect registration was cancelled.”

NZTA had been in contact with Suzuki NZ to ensure it explained to customers the vehicles could not be legally registered for on-road use in NZ, he said.