The rules on towing trailers and caravans will be changing later on in the year, affecting millions of drivers in the UK. We’ve put together a handy guide on everything you need to know.
What are the current rules for towing? (pre-autumn 2021)
At the time of writing (September 2021), you must follow the current laws for towing. What you are and aren’t allowed to do depends on your current licence and in particular, when you took your driving test.
While there is no such thing as a ‘towing licence’ you can gain what’s called an entitlement on your driving licence, which allows you to drive certain categories of vehicle. For example, category B means you can drive a car. Adding an entitlement for category D would mean you can drive a bus. Category BE covers towing trailers and caravans.
The entitlements on your licence will vary depending on when you passed your driving test and whether you’ve gained any extra entitlements since passing.
Above: the back of your driving licence will show you what entitlements you have. (Photo: DVLA)
Existing law for licences issued before 1997
If you got your driving licence before 1997, the law change will not affect you. Licences issued before this time allow you to drive a vehicle and trainer combination up to 8.25 tonnes MAM (maximum authorised mass). MAM is the limit on how much the vehicle can weigh when it’s loaded.
Existing law for licences issued between 1997 and 19 Jan 2013
If you passed your driving test between these dates and have an ordinary category B (car) driving licence, you’ve been able to:
- Drive a vehicle up to 3.5 tonnes or 3,500kg MAM towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM
- Tow a trailer over 750kg MAM as long as the combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg
Existing law for licences issued since Jan 2013
If you passed your test since 2013, you’ve been able to:
- Tow small trailers weighing no more than 750kg
- A trailer over 750kg as long as the combined weight of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg MAM
Towing while supervised
Until the law changes, you must follow the terms of your licence entitlements. You can only tow anything heavier than you’re allowed if you’re properly supervised. You must:
- Display L plates on the front of the car and the rear of the trailer
- Be accompanied by a person who’s at least 21 years old and has had category BE on their driving licence for at least 3 years
What does the new towing law change mean?
For those who got their licence before 1997, nothing will change.
If you passed your driving test during or after 1997, you’ll be able to tow up to 3500kgs MAM (maximum authorised mass), bringing your entitlement in line with those who got their licence before this date. Category BE will be added to your licence.
What this means is that those who passed after 1997 will now no longer be required by law to get B+E training or take a car and trailer test to tow most trailers and caravans.
Drivers who passed their driving test after 1997 will now no longer need to take a B+E test to tow a trailer or caravan
What action do I need to take when the new towing law comes in?
The DVLA will automatically update your driving licence to indicate your new entitlement.
You don’t need to contact the DVLA or request a new photocard licence.
While category BE will be automatically added as an entitlement to your licence when the law changes, the table on the back of your driving licence will only need to be updated when you’re due a new photocard licence (when it gets updated 10-yearly, or if you change your name/address).
When will the law on towing change?
At the moment, there is no official date for the law to change, though the government has indicated the changes will take place in ‘autumn 2021’. Until then, it’s important to follow the entitlements you have on your licence. We know that B+E testing will end on 20th September 2021, so the changes could come into effect soon.
Why is the law changing?
You may have read about the recent shortage in HGV (heavy goods vehicle) drivers. This has been widely reported as critical to industries such as retail, having knock-on effects leading to potential shortages in things like food and medicine.
Following a public consultation, the DVSA has made the move to free up vocational examiners by axing B+E (car + trailer) tests, making more test slots available for HGV drivers to help tackle the shortage.
This, as well as some other streamlined legislation, is estimated to make around 50,000 more HGV tests available each year.
People critical of the law change say that the government are putting road safety at risk by making this move.
This will surely be a kick in the teeth for driving instructors specialising in B+E training, which will no longer be legally required.
The move will also raise eyebrows with the tens of thousands of learner drivers whose theory test certificates expired due to lockdown, with the DVSA citing ‘road safety reasons’ as the reason for not extending.
Above: The new car + trailer testing law will have a knock-on effect on HGV testing
I’ve got a car + trailer test booked…
B+E testing will end on 20th of September 2021.
- Any tests booked on or after that date will not go ahead. Your test will be automatically cancelled and your test fee will be refunded.
- Tests booked before this date will still be going ahead as planned, though you can cancel your test through the gov.uk website.
- Follow the guidance here for more information.
What advice is there for people looking to tow after the law changes?
We strongly advise you still seek professional B+E driver training before attempting to tow for the first time. While you will no longer need to take a test to tow a caravan or trailer, the DVSA are also advising you seek training before towing. With many more people expected to start towing trailers and caravans without prior training, there is an expectation that the law change will have a direct effect on road safety.
As well as seeking training, you can also familiarise yourself with the ‘National standard for driving cars and light vans‘.
As always, if you’re ever unsure about anything, it’s highly recommended that you speak to a qualified driving instructor beforehand. Road safety should always come first.
We’ll aim to update this page as updates are given by the DVSA.
Check out our recent posts:
Dave Foster MA, Dip.DI (or Driving School Dave) is the most qualified driving school owner in the country, after completing his Master’s Degree in Driver Training Education in 2011 at Middlesex University. He also holds a diploma in Driving Instruction and is a Cert Ed. qualified teacher. Dave is the founder and Managing Director of 1st 4 Driving Ltd, and also looks after over 15 driving schools across the country on a consultancy basis.