Whether you tow a trailer for work or domestic reasons, it is important to know your legal obligations and ensure that you do not drive a vehicle or tow a trailer that your driver licence may not cover.
Before towing a light trailer, it is important that you understand what combinations of towing vehicles and trailers you are allowed to drive depending on the category of driving licence you hold. It is also important that you identify the towing capacity of your vehicle, and the load-carrying capacity of your trailer.
Light trailers are those with a maximum mass (as specified by the manufacturer) not exceeding 3,500kg. Such trailers typically include anything from small domestic trailers to general duty trailers including flatbed or plant trailers, car transporters, trailer caravans, horse boxes and livestock trailers.
The Law & Driving Licence Entitlements
It is important to distinguish between a driving licence (which is a full driving licence) and a Learner Permit which is a permit issued to learners to enable them to learn how to drive. Both documents have different entitlements.
The following guidance should also be considered before undertaking a journey with a light trailer. If you comply with it you can be confident your journey will be much safer.
If you’re towing a trailer, it is your responsibility as the driver to ensure that both the towing vehicle and trailer are safe and mechanically sound, fit for purpose, and legally compliant with all relevant Road Traffic legislation, i.e. tyres have adequate tread depth and are free from defects, lights and brakes are working and the hitch is in good condition. Remember, to be fully compliant, your towing vehicle must be taxed, insured and have passed its roadworthiness test – that is, the NCT or Commercial Vehicle Roadworthiness Test (CVRT) as appropriate.
Coupling & Uncoupling
Before coupling a trailer, make sure you read the relevant sections of your vehicle and trailer’s owners’ handbooks. Do not try coupling or uncoupling a trailer on your own until you are fully familiar with all the steps and can complete them safely. All drivers towing trailers are responsible for learning how to couple/uncouple a trailer safely. As with any manual handling task, proper training and instruction, along with common sense and using proper techniques, will reduce the risk of personal injury. For example, should you load the trailer before or after you hitch it to the drawing vehicle? If possible, it makes sense to hitch an empty trailer to the drawing vehicle.
Loading & Unloading
Loads must be evenly distributed and securely tied down. Unevenly distributed loads will reduce the stability of the vehicle combination and increase the likelihood of an accident. Loads should also be positioned in such a way as to keep the nose weight (that is, the weight exerted by the trailer drawbar on the coupling) within the limit specified by the manufacturer of the drawing vehicle. Make sure you are familiar with safe loading practices and always follow them.
Remember that your vehicle will handle differently when you’re towing a trailer, especially when the trailer is loaded. Therefore you need to take special care and drive more defensively, anticipating the effect of the trailer. For example, you need to ask yourself has your stopping distance increased – in most cases, the answer will be yes.
If possible, you should store your trailer on a property or in a building with security features close to your house. You should keep a record of the vehicle identification number (VIN) which is visible on the manufacturer’s plate. This number is also usually stamped on the trailer chassis. You should also consider putting your own unique marking on your trailer to help you identify it if it is stolen. This can be an effective deterrent. Remember to photograph your trailer, including the manufacturer’s plate and any unique marking you put elsewhere on it.
Preparing for the BE Driving Test
If you do not hold a full category BE licence and you wish to tow trailers with a maximum mass exceeding 750kg or vehicle combinations where the combined maximum mass of the vehicle and trailer combination exceeds 3,500kg, you will need to pass a practical driving test. If you have never passed a theory test, you will need to pass one before you can apply for your category BE learner permit. Once you have your learner permit and before you apply for a driving test, get plenty of training and practice with an RSA Approved Driving Instructor (ADI). Your ADI will assess your knowledge and skill and will develop a training plan to help you to practice and to prepare for your practical driving test.
Finally remember that the maximum speed limit for a vehicle towing a trailer is 80km/h, and this also applies on roads where the posted road sign speed limit is higher. As always drivers are subject to the lowest posted speed sign so it will not always be possible to travel at 80km/h
The RSA has prepared a booklet entitled ‘Road safety advice and driver licencing rules for drawing light trailers’. It contains practical advice and guidance and is an essential reference for those involved in towing light trailers.
The headings under which advice is provided includes the following: The Law & Driving Licence Entitlements, Trailer Roadworthiness, Coupling & Uncoupling, Loading & Unloading, Road Safety, Trailer Security, and finally, Preparing for the BE Driving Test. The booklet is also accompanied by a series of short “Show-Me-Tell-Me” videos focusing on these topics. These are available to view on the RSA’s YouTube page - www.youtube.com/rsaireland
Hard copies of the booklet can be ordered by clicking here.