A sports utility vehicle (SUV) adorned with a “Farm Use” license plate pulled out of Hardees on Main Street in Floyd recently and soon found Virginia State Trooper Keith Gregory behind him with blue lights flashing.
The result: A ticket for violation of the law that allows farmers to operate certain vehicles on public roads without registration, inspection or even insurance.
Although the owner of the SUV argued that he came to town to pick up feed for his farm animals, the stop at Hardees for a hamburger and shake put him in violation of the law. Even more, when he got to General District Court in Floyd on a Thursday morning, he found a skeptical judge who wanted proof he was really a farmer.
Gregory and other law enforcement officers who patrol Floyd County roads are cracking down on increasing and widespread misuse of “Farm Use” plates to avoid registering or licensing a Farm Use vehicle.
A cursory look at the court docket for this week shows a number of tickets from Gregory and other troopers on charges like “failure to have vehicle inspected” or “failure to have license plates.” In most cases, those charges came from someone using “Farm Use” license plates when they either don’t have a farm or have violated the restrictions on use of the plates.
In 2010, the Virginia General Assembly tightened restrictions on use of such plates, limiting the plates to “pickup trucks, panel trucks, trailers, semitrailers, sport utility vehicles and vehicles having a gross weight rating of more than 7,500 pounds.”
Troopers sometimes find farm use plates on passenger cars.
The law is also very specific about what you can and can’t do even if you are a farmer with a legitimate reason to have a vehicle with farm use plates. You can come to town to get feed or other farm supplies but a stop at the grocery store or a fast food restaurant for a bite to eat is against the law in a farm use vehicle.
In court, those who got tickets face a judge who could ask for a copy of tax forms that show income from a farm.
In Floyd County Circuit Court recently, the driver of a Chevy Suburban with farm use plates appealed a conviction from General District Court, claiming he legally used farm use plates on his SUV to pick up feed for some chickens he keeps on a small tract of land on U.S. 221. The judge didn’t buy the story and upheld the lower court conviction. The judge also ordered him to register the SUV, get insurance and start paying taxes on the vehicle.
Times are tight and troopers say people look for ways to avoid paying insurance, registration fees or taxes on vehicles. Misuse of farm use plates is a common practice in Floyd and other counties.
What is farm use? Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles defines legitimate use of a vehicle for agriculture use as:
- crossing a highway;
- operating along a highway for a distance of no more than fifty (50) miles from one part of the owner’s land to another, irrespective of whether the tracts adjoin;
- taking the vehicle or attached fixtures to and from a repair shop for repairs;
- operating along a highway to and from a refuse disposal facility for the purpose of disposing of trash and garbage generated on a farm; or
- operating along a highway for a distance of no more than fifty (50) miles for the purpose of obtaining supplies for agricultural or horticultural purposes, seeds, fertilizers, chemicals, or animal feed.
According to DMV:
Non-farm use is limited to the personal use of the owner and his immediate family to attend church or school, to secure medical treatment or supplies, or to secure other household or family necessities.
In other words, let’s be careful — and legal — out there.