Updated 13th June 2016
Towing a caravan without being able to adequately see to your rear is both dangerous and potentially an offence under law.
Here is a quick guide from us at Cover4Caravans on the subject. Do please note that it is not a qualified legal statement and it’s intended only to draw certain issues to your attention. The information is correct as the time of publication, but may be liable to change.
Ultimately the responsibility for ensuring that your vehicle plus caravan is safe and legally compliant must, of course, rest with you!
The law – A quick refresher
The law dictates a number of things when considering a caravan that is being towed by a motor vehicle. They might include, amongst other things:
- maximum towing weights;
- required minimum power levels of the towing vehicle;
- lighting and driver visibility;
- widths and lengths;
- licence requirements; etc.
Unless the prospect of a roadside in-depth philosophical discussion with the police appeals to you, it might be sensible to read up on the details of these through the government’s DVLA site.
The law on mirrors
The law is absolutely clear on your obligation to have a clear and adequate view of the road behind you and along both sides of your caravan as you drive along.
Whatever some very odd rumours might state to the contrary, this means fitting appropriate and adequate towing mirrors in situations where your caravan is wider than your towing vehicle. Those mirrors must be e-rated and of an approved type.
If you do not take this seriously or cobble together a clearly inappropriate towing mirror solution, you may be liable to prosecution resulting in three points on your licence and a fine of up to £1000.
Many of us have seen caravans being towed where there was no clear rearwards visibility for the driver concerned or with extraordinarily ramshackle arrangements in place that would seem to have been unlikely to meet legal requirements.
Don’t do it!
If your car was sold as new after January 2007, your mirrors may not project more than 250 millimetres past the widest part of the vehicle. For vehicles sold prior to January 2007, that limit was / is 200 millimetres.
These limits also apply to your caravan. Of course, for you to have visibility your caravan mirrors must be wider than the caravan itself, however, they must not project further out from the widest point of your caravan than the above limits.
Different types of fitting
There are a significant number of different solutions available, all of which may be certified and type approved.
They might include things such as:
- those attached by bands or buckles to your existing wing mirrors;
- varieties that are effectively clamped onto your existing mirrors through various forms of metal projection;
- stick on ones that could adhere to existing wing mirrors;
- suction pad devices that stick to your door, window or wing mirror.
The technologies and techniques used tend to change regularly as manufacturers have new ideas, so it’s perfectly possible that the above list is already out of date and there might be other options available.
What is suitable for you?
As is the case with almost any vehicle or caravan accessory, some caravan towing mirrors may be specifically designed for certain types of vehicle and are therefore probably unsuitable for others.
Many are sold on the basis of being universal to all vehicle types though it may be a matter of opinion as to whether that could ever be achieved by a single device!
The bottom line is that whichever type of mirror you use, it must be fit for purpose and allow you to meet the requirements of the law. In order to choose, you may wish to take the advice of other caravanners, online forums and reviews or perhaps suitably qualified organisations such as the AA or Caravan Club.
Using towing mirrors
If you are using towing mirrors for the first time, even if you are simply using a new type of mirror you have not used previously, it might make sense to do a little bit of practicing with them before setting off on a major journey.
After fitting, take your caravan to a quiet spot at the weekend, such as a deserted trading estate, to do just a bit of basic turning and reversing with your mirrors.
Different mirrors sometimes offer different depth and perspectives and that might be particularly the case when you are reversing or turning. Better to get the feel of them in situations where you haven’t got huge volumes of traffic all around you!
A word on insurance
Apart from the legal implications mentioned above, remember that caravan insurance may depend in all or part upon your compliance with legal requirements.
If you would like to sleep easy knowing that your caravan continues to be fully covered, you should make sure that your mirrors meet the demands of the law.
Security of fittings
Another thing that is moderately commonly seen when driving along are towing cars with their mirror extensions dangling uselessly by the side of the vehicle or missing altogether.
This happens because certain types of mirrors have a reputation for falling off at high speed, though in many cases this is probably attributable to poor fitting techniques by the owners concerned.
Apart from the legal and safety issues, this can also be bad news in terms of scratching, denting and other damage to the car’s bodywork.
If you are less than totally sure you understand the fitting instructions or if you are short of some key tools, don’t be tempted to improvise or make a wild guess. Take it to a garage or other approved fitters and make sure the installation is done correctly.
At the time of writing, this is something of a legal nightmare in terms of trying to interpret what the legislation does or does not permit.
For a start, some device display types (e.g. Cathode ray tube devices or CRTs) are not legal if they can be seen by the driver of a car. In other cases, even if the display type is legal it may be technically illegal if it is in the driver’s line of sight when looking forward through the windscreen.
As an aside, some SATNAV positioning is also illegal if it is fitted to the windscreen of the vehicle concerned. The same typically applies to ornaments or air fresheners that are suspended from the rear view mirror stem and which therefore dangle in front of the windscreen.
As a general principle, at the moment the law does not appear to permit cameras and related technology to be used as a total substitute for rear view mirrors. There may, in certain circumstances, be some exceptions to this for special types of vehicle and situations.
However, it might be unwise to make assumptions and simply to abandon your caravan towing mirrors in favour of a camera – at least not without getting in-depth confirmation and advice from a duly qualified legal expert and very possibly the police.
Almost all responsible caravan owners will want to ensure that their vehicle is safe when it is being towed on the road.
There are plenty of mirrors available that should help you meet this objective and as mentioned above, there are a number of excellent pieces of advice and guidance on selecting the appropriate mirrors and other related aspects of the subject which can be found online at reputable websites.
Before rushing out to buy your mirrors, it might make sense to spend a little time researching the subject in some depth and looking at these publications.