It is important for farmers to understand their duties and responsibilities in respect of stock on the road. Farmers are potentially liable for damage or loss that may result if an accident occurs.
Since the introduction of the Animals Law Reform Act 1989 (“the Act”) road users have been able to sue farmers and seek compensation for damage caused by wandering stock.
The Act introduces a statutory definition of negligence. It provides that farmers must take reasonable care to see that damage is not caused by stock straying on to the road. The Act stipulates that when considering whether reasonable care has been taken matters that should be considered include:
- The common local practice – in relation to fencing and other measures to prevent animals from straying on to roads.
- The measures taken to warn road users of stock on the road.
Therefore the measures a farmer must take are dependent on the locality and general farming practices in their area. If stock do stray on to the road and the farmer does not take reasonable care, the farmer could be liable for any resulting loss.
When stock are being driven along the road, Southland farmers must comply with the Southland District Council Roading Bylaw 2008 (“the Bylaw”).
The Bylaw sets conditions for all stock droving and establishes that a permit is required for droves over 10 kilometres or through urban areas.
Except in two limited situations the Bylaw prohibits the driving, leading, or riding of any stock along or across any road during the hours of darkness. Hours of darkness is defined as being any period between half an hour after sunset and half an hour before sunrise on the next day or any time when visibility is less than 100 metres.
There are two situations when the driving of stock during the hours of darkness is permitted:
- For the purpose of returning stock which has escaped to the nearest secure area or for an emergency; or
- Complying with the conditions of a permit issued by Southland District Council.
The Bylaw provides that when driving stock along or across any road farmers must ensure:
- A drove is not commenced unless there is at least 250m visibility.
- Herd/mob numbers do not exceed 600 head of cattle or 3000 head of sheep.
- At least one competent drover to accompany stock when there is less than 100 cattle or 500 sheep, and a minimum of two competent drovers for greater stock numbers.
- Where two or more drovers are required one is to be at the front of the herd/mob and one behind.
- Stock is to move at an average rate of 8 kilometres per day.
- Drovers are to wear a bright coloured jacket or vest.
- Appropriate warning signs or flashing lights are to be used and are to be visible at a distance of 250 metres.
- Stock are kept under control at all times.
- The roadway is kept clear of debris and other matter that may cause a danger or inconvenience to other road users.
The Bylaw requires farmers to take measures to prevent damage to public or private property along the road and ensure that stock are driven in a manner that will ensure that potential danger and inconvenience to other road users will be minimised.
It is an offence for farmers to fail to comply with the Bylaw’s provisions. The maximum fine is $20,000.00 and where the breach is a continuing one a further fine to a maximum of $50.00 for every day the breach continues.
Farmers must be aware that they are potentially liable for damage caused by their stock. The Animals Law Reform Act 1989 and the Southland District Council Roading Bylaw 2008 make it important for farmers to review farming practices to minimise the chance of damage being caused for which the farmer may ultimately be liable.