Dozens of Tyrone teenagers as young as thirteen are learning to drive tractors at courses funded by the Department of Agriculture.
The department revealed this week that 22 Tyrone children had taken the new two-day driving course so far in 2016, with only three failing it.
Similar figures for Fermanagh showed that five had taken the course.
From the age of thirteen, children are legally allowed to drive tractors on the farm, and the idea of the courses is to enable youngsters to develop their driving skills safely and competently.
Farmers believe the current age limits are fair and many might say they are too strict, but people from a non-farming background might be alarmed at the idea of children that young operating powerful machinery.
In the USA where children are regularly allowed to drive tractors, figures show that teenagers are four times more likely to die on a farm than in any other workplace.
Critics have raised concerns that children are being exploited as cheap labour.
The Loughry College course is designed to allow teenagers to ‘tractor safely and with confidence’, and that the key fundamentals of driving, loading and Health and Safety are covered.
According to the Department of Agriculture, anyone between the ages of 13-18 must have attended and passed a formal driving assessment to be allowed to drive tractors anywhere in Northern Ireland.
“Therefore if you are under 18 and driving a tractor without a Lantra certificate in tractor driving, you are currently breaking the law. Visit the Lantra website; www.lantra.co.uk to locate your nearest training provider”, the department advises.
“No person under 16 years of age may drive a vehicle on the road. Between the age of 13 and 16 can however legally drive a tractor during agricultural, horticultural or forestry field operations. Tractors must be fitted with an enclosed, approved safety cab.”
Is 13 too young to be driving a tractor? Have you experience of youngsters driving behind the wheel?
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