It is perfectly legal to tow trailers and caravans on the roads in the United Kingdom, provided that you comply with the rules and regulations put in place to maintain safety standards. There are several things which you should check regarding your vehicle, the tow bar itself and your own driving licence in order to ensure that you are towing legally.
Tow bar design
When choosing the tow bar itself, you must make sure that it complies with EU regulations. There are certain types of tow bars which are approved for use within EU member states, as they have been proven to meet approved quality standards. If you use a tow bar which is not designed to these approved specifications then you could face a fine and may even render your insurance invalid in the event of an accident.
There is one exemption to this rule. If you are fitting a tow bar to a vehicle which was first driven before 1st August 1998, your tow bar can be of any design and does not legally have to be of an approved type.
Driving in any vehicle is completely unsafe if you do not have a clear view of the road in all directions. If your mirrors are blocked by the trailer or caravan you are towing and your view of the road behind you is hindered, this puts both you and other road users in danger. For this reason, driving without proper towing mirrors is not legal on British roads. If you are proven to not have a full view of the road behind you or if you have insufficient towing mirrors fitted to your vehicle then you could face several punishments. You could be prosecuted officially by the police; you could be given 3 points on your driving licence; and / or be fined up to a maximum of £1000.
If you tow a trailer or a vehicle which weighs more than 750 kilograms (including any load it is carrying) it must have its own brake system to be towed by cars in the UK. There are smaller trailers which also come with their own brakes, and although these make the trailers safer, they are not obligatory on trailers weighing under 750 kilograms. All brake systems on trailers and caravans must be fully functional.
Just as driving a car with faulty brakes endangers the safety of everyone on the road, so do trailers and caravans with sub-par braking systems. It is therefore a legal requirement to have working brakes on caravans and trailers which are being towed.
For identification reasons, all cars towing trailers or caravans must display a number plate on the back. This number plate must be the same as that of the car doing the towing and must be clearly visible. For cars towing more than one trailer, the number plate should be fitted to the trailer at the back so that it is easy to see.
The maximum weight which a vehicle can tow will depend entirely on the make and model of the vehicle. You will usually find the limit specific for your vehicle listed in the owner’s manual. If you cannot find it there, you should be able to find the same information on the vehicle identification number (VIN) plate in your car.
Regardless of the size or power of your vehicle, the maximum width for any trailer or caravan being towed in the United Kingdom is 2.55m. The maximum trailer length is 7m. Retailers shouldn’t sell trailers or caravans which exceed these limitations but it is always worth checking just in case. If you purchase a trailer which is larger than this and tow it using your vehicle, you will be liable for any fines or punishments incurred.
Driving licences and towing
Any driver who wished to tow a vehicle in the UK must hold a full and valid driving licence. Learner drivers are not permitted to drive vehicles towing trailers or caravans. There are three different classification of driving licence which will affect your eligibility to tow a trailer or caravan.
If your driving licence was issued after 19th January 2013 and is for category b vehicles then you will be able to tow small trailers which weigh less than 750 kilograms and a trailer which weighs more than 750 kilograms provided that the total weight of the trailer and the vehicle doing the towing does not exceed 3,500 kilograms.
Licences issued between 1st January 1997 and 19th January 2013 can legally drive a towing vehicle weighing 3500 kilograms towing a trailer of up to 750 kilograms. They may also tow a trailer weighing more than 750kg if the weight of the towing vehicle and the trailer combined does not exceed 3500 kilograms.
Drivers with licences issued before 1st January 1997 are usually permitted to drive towing vehicles with a combined weight of vehicle and trailer of up to 8.25 tonnes.