Towing rule changes, safety tips and checks

If you own a touring caravan – or are about to – the good news is that the rules about the type of caravan you can tow behind your car are about to be simplified. The less good news is that implementation of the new legislation, which was originally scheduled for the 15th of November 2021, has been delayed – but with the assurance that the changes will be made “at a later date”.

Towing: What will change?

It has to be said that the current rules are confusing. Exactly what caravan – or trailer – you can tow depends on when you passed your driving test. There are no fewer than three critical dates. Defining the rules as simply as possible, your towing entitlement corresponds to whether you passed your driving test:

Before the 1st of January 1997

  • a towing vehicle and caravan with a combined Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of up to 8,250kg;

Between the 1st of January 1997 and the 18th of January 2013

  • a towing vehicle of up to 3,500kg MAM and a caravan up to 750kg (MAM) – or a caravan weighing more than 750kg MAM, provided it is no more than the unladen weight of the towing vehicle (up to a combined total weight of 3,500kg);

After the 19th of January 2013

  • the same towing vehicle of up to 3,500kg MAM and a caravan up to 750kg (MAM) – or a trailer more than 750kg MAM, provided the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg (no reference to the unladen weight of the towing vehicle).

Once the planned changes come into effect, our understanding as at the time of this blog suggest the rules will be much simpler. Although there is still a difference for those who passed their driving test before or after 1997, anyone in the latter category will be able to tow a caravan of up to 3,500kg MAM – and will be granted the relevant category BE driving licence.

In the meantime

In the meantime, until the new legislation comes into force, the current rules continue to apply – you need to refer to the date you passed the relevant driving test (before 1997, between 1997 and 2013, or after 2013) to determine the permitted weights of your towing vehicle and caravan.  Sign up for email alerts at the Government website to be told when the changes come in to force.

Safety tips

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) updated its tips on safe towing in an article dated the 9th of September 2021:

  • start with small steps – practice towing with a smaller, lighter caravan first, before moving on to anything bigger;
  • off-road practice – using a private carpark, for example – will be safer than using public roads or private driveways;
  • learning to hitch up the caravan is critical since it is the connection between your car and trailer – so, pay particular attention to the way you first position the towing vehicle, carefully attach the breakaway cable, and make the coupling with the tow ball on your car;
  • another area where you’re likely to need plenty of practice is reversing – remembering that you steer in the “opposite” direction to that when you’re driving forward;
  • brake earlier and allow yourself more time when making manoeuvres such as changing lanes or overtaking slower-moving vehicles;
  • whenever you’re driving, consideration for other road-users needs to take pride of place – together with an appreciation of the prevailing weather and road conditions.

When you are still practising how to tow your caravan safely and – perhaps even more importantly – when you set off for any outing, the DVSA also suggests a checklist of safety checks to perform before any journey.

These include checks to the towing gear and breakaway cable, wheels and tyres (including checking their age), lights and indicators, and making sure that both the towing vehicle and your caravan are with the permitted maximum weights.

The DVSA also adds a reminder about the availability of free safety checks for any trailer up to 3,500kg MAM – including your caravan – through the National Trailer and Towing Association.