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Towing: The Laws You Need to Know

By: Kevin Dowling BA (IMC) - Updated: 21 Nov 2012 | comments*Discuss
Towing Vehicle Braked Speed Licence Test

If you are planning on using a vehicle for towing, either with a caravan or trailer, then you’ll need to know the rules of the road that apply to towing vehicles.

Do I Need a Special Licence to Tow Vehicles?

Motorists who have already passed their driving test and hold a full driving licence are allowed to drive vehicle and trailer combinations up to a specified limit of 8.25 tonnes.

Motorists who passed their test after 1 January 1997, however, also have to comply with the following restrictions. For example, they are only able to drive vehicles up to a weight limit of 3.5 tonnes, and with no more than eight passenger seats (classified as Category B vehicles), and with a trailer weighing no more than 4.25 tonnes.

For those category B vehicles that are accompanied by larger trailers, motorists are still authorised to drive them, with the proviso that the combined Maximum Authorised Mass of the vehicle - and the trailer - does not exceed a total weight of 3.5 tonnes. Vehicles over this weight are considered ‘large goods vehicles’ and motorists would be required to pass an additional test before being legally allowed to drive one.

What are the Speed Limits when Towing?

The speed limit for towing a vehicle is 60 miles per hour (mph) for motorways and dual carriageways and 50mph on all other roads, unless there are lower speed restrictions in operation, for example a 30mph zone.

If the combination of the vehicle plus the trailer is over the 7500 Maximum Authorised Mass, then the limit of 50mph is applied to dual carriageways also.

What are the Main Differences between Unbraked and Braked Trailers?

An unbraked trailer has no brakes fitted to it, meaning that the vehicle towing the trailer has to do all the braking. Conversely a braked trailer has its own set of brakes which are also known as ‘overrun brakes’.

This means that when the vehicle towing brakes, the trailer will apply its own set of brakes, which are mechanically linked and connected via the vehicle tow bar.

Will I be Breaking the Law if my Load Hangs over the Trailer?

This depends on the length of the load and how far it overhangs the trailer. If the load overhangs by between one and two metres in length, it is the motorists responsibility to ensure that the end of the load is clearly visible, by attaching a warning (or perhaps a piece of cloth) that is identifiable to following drivers.

If the overhang is between two metres and three metres, a long vehicle ‘marker board’ must be fitted and illuminated at night. If, however, the overhang is longer than 3.05 metres, then the police require notification at least two days before the journey.

Will I Need a ‘Long Vehicle’ Marker Board?

A long vehicle marker board or plate is only considered a legal requirement for trailers over 3.5 tonnes, where the overhang of the load is significant (as mentioned above) or where the towing vehicle is considered to be the size of a lorry.

Where they are required, you will need different types of market board, depending on the length of the vehicle.

Are there Other Legal Requirements to be Aware of?

It is worth bearing in mind that since 1982, all trailers – including unbraked ones – must be clearly marked with their maximum gross weight in kilogrammes.

Finally, according to the Department of Transport, it is recommended that trailers with a weight of less than 3.5 tonnes should display a manufacturer’s plate. This should provide helpful information on the trailer including maximum weight, manufacturer serial numbers and maximum weight per axle.

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