Compliance: Towing

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The laws governing which drivers are qualified to pull trailers behind cars or LCVs changed in 1997, meaning anyone passing their driving test since then needs a specific category B or BE entitlement.

On January 19, 2013, they will change again, limiting the weight new drivers can tow without a separate qualification.

Any trailer weighing more than 750kg with a combined vehicle and trailer weight of more than 3.5 tonnes will require a specific BE qualification. This is covered in the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (no. 977).

All drivers who passed a car test before January 1, 1997, retain their existing entitlement to tow trailers until their licence expires. This means they are generally entitled to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8.25 tonnes GVW. They also have entitlement to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750kgs GVW.

The GVW for a rigid is set at homologation, according to manufacturer Ford, and “will be shown on a vehicle’s VIN plate. This is the total permissible all-up weight of a rigid vehicle – i.e. with body, payload, ancillaries, fuel, oil, water, driver and crew”. What it can tow will be laid down in the handbook.

It is worth refreshing your protocols on towing with small vehicles, as the penalties for running overweight, improperly licensed, or with an improperly secured load, can affect both your driver with points, fines, and possible imprisonment, and find you liable as an employer under health and safety legislation. If you have an Operator’s Licence, breaches can also see you defending it in front of the Traffic Commissioner.

The penalties and rules surrounding safe weight limits of vehicles and trailers are laid out in the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986. The acceptable weight range is vehicle and load dependent so it is impossible to generalise – it is your responsibility to check the law and ensure compliance.

There are two sets of parameters you must take into account when fitting a trailer and load to an LCV: the manufacturer’s recommendations governing towing and the legal permissible weight.

You also need to pay careful attention to the distribution of the load. The SMMT says the load should be evenly distributed across all axles, with a very slight bias towards the front to keep the towing attachment stable.

Police say the most common offences they see are improperly distributed loads which can make the trailer unstable – and you can be prosecuted for overloading one axle even if the overall weight is fine.

You should also check Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance on proper load restraint; the safety of workers when manually loading (handballing); and ensure secure attachment of the trailer to the vehicle.
If you have any doubts about the weight of your vehicle and trailer you must go to a weighbridge. If you are found to be overloaded on the way, it is an offence but, provided you were genuinely heading for the nearest weighbridge, this is often an adequate defence, according to SMMT.

You also need to be aware of speed restrictions for towed trailers. Generally these are 50mph on a single carriageway road and 60mph on a dual carriageway.

For more details, see SMMT Towing and the Law:

O-licence laws

In December 2011, Operator Licensing rules came into effect which means any trailer and vehicle combination exceeding 3.5 tonnes total weight requires an O-licence, provided it is used for hire and reward and not on the user’s own account (ie carrying your own goods or goods you will use). Builders using trailers to clear waste from sites, for example, should double -check with VOSA as to whether the vehicles require an O-licence, as this waste removal could be construed as a pure freight journey.


  • Do I need an O-licence?
  • Is the driver qualified?
  • Is the trailer and load suited to the vehicle according to manufacturer’s recommendations?
  • Is the load being properly distributed and safely secured, for transit as well as later unloading?
  • Is the vehicle and trailer under its maximum permissible weight?
  • Is the trailer weight legal overall and over each axle?

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