IAM RoadSmart: Tips to towing safely

Blog post posted on 28/02/22 |

Just months after scrapping relevant tests, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) is set to introduce training schemes in March 2022 to help drivers familiarise themselves ahead of towing caravans and trailers.

DVSA is working on a new voluntary trailer training accreditation scheme that will offer motorists the necessary competency, skills, and knowledge to ensure they are towing safely. After all, when we are towing something, the number one priority should always be the safety aspects involved. Keeping you, your passengers, your vehicle and the trailer or caravan, and other road users safe is a must every time you head out on the roads while towing.

IAM RoadSmart is on hand with some top tips to help keep you and others safe on the roads and clarify what has changed.

What’s changed?

The rules around towing a trailer or caravan with a car changed on 16th December 2021, and as part of those changes anyone who passed their car driving test from 1st January 1997 is now allowed to tow a trailer of up to 3,500kg MAM. If you passed your car driving test before 1st January 1997, you are not affected by this change.  

Please note: Car and trailer driving tests have now stopped so you can no longer book one. If you had booked a test yourself, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency has automatically cancelled and refunded it. DVLA will update your driving licence record to show that you’re allowed to tow trailers. You do not need to contact DVLA for this to happen as it’ll be done automatically. You’ll get category BE added to your driving licence when you next apply to get a new driving licence.

  1. Knowing your limits

    All cars have a maximum weight they can tow, and this is usually listed in the handbook or specification sheet, alternatively the vehicle’s ‘gross train weight’ may be listed on the vehicle identification number (VIN) plate on the car, which is normally under the bonnet or inside the driver’s door. Always check before planning your trip. Be aware that some vehicles may have a zero permitted towing weight.

  2. Checking your connections

    Check that your breakaway cable or secondary coupling is undamaged and connected correctly to a suitable point on the tow bar or towing vehicle. As well as inspecting for damage, make sure that the trailer is correctly coupled to the tow-ball or pin.

  3. Service your trailer

    Do not neglect your trailer when you are planning your vehicle service requirements if you are not competent yourself take it into a specialist. The NTTA (National Trailer Towing Association) will offer a free visual safety check at one of their approved centres. NTTA

  4. Tyre pressure

    The tyre pressure must be correct and all tyres free from cuts, bulges and with adequate tread (including the spare which should be inflated to the highest pressure that may be required). Remember, tyres must have a continuous tread depth of at least 1.6mm on cars, light vans and trailers, across the centre three-quarters of the width. Visit Tyre Safe if you need to check your pressures.

  5. Fit the plates

    Be sure the correct number plate is fitted. This should be the same registration number as your vehicle and needs to conform to DVLA Standards.

  6. Visibility

    Having a good view of the rear of your trailer or caravan is always advisable. This usually means seeing an area 4 metres wide from the side of and 20 metres behind. Almost all vehicles including 4x4 s will require extended mirrors to achieve this, and if the caravan or trailer is wider than the car they will always be required. You can be fined up to £1,000 and get 3 penalty points for failing to use suitable towing mirrors, so check your visibility before travelling.

    However, don't forget to remove the mirrors when you're not towing - it's illegal to have them fitted if you don't need them.

  7. Watch your speed

    Always keep to the legal speed limit for the road you are using, and in case you need a recap here are the speed limits for cars towing caravans or trailers:

    • 30mph limit applies on all roads with street lighting unless signs show otherwise.
    • 50mph applies on single carriageways unless signs show otherwise.
    • 60mph applies on dual carriageways and motorways.

    It should also be remembered that you must not travel in the outside lane of a motorway, with three lanes or more, if you are driving a vehicle towing a trailer.

  8. Weather forecast

You should have increased vigilance when towing in wet, icy or windy weather conditions as you are at amplified risk. Avoid towing in these circumstances if you can, but if you have no choice then be careful when driving downhill or round a tight bend and be careful of exposed areas where the wind may affect you. When you’re turning, engage a lower gear to give you more engine braking. Also check the Met Office for the latest weather forecast to help you to plan your route.  

Richard Gladman, Head of Driving and Riding Standards at IAM RoadSmart, said: “The removal of the requirement to be tested to tow a larger trailer should not be seen as a removal of the requirement to ensure you are competent to tow it. Whilst it may be possible to manually handle a smaller trailer on your own a larger unit will often prevent this. A sound knowledge of the dynamics of moving forward, the intricacies of reversing and the knowledge required to ensure safe loading are paramount to staying safe. If you are unsure sign up for a course at one of the Caravan or camping clubs, or make use of the knowledge of a friend or relative who may have the requisite skills.”