This has been reproduced with the kind permission of Practical Caravan
The Practical Caravan Magazine web site can be reached by clicking this link
Click for notes relating to this artice
Some useful links:
National Trailer & Towing association: www.ntta.co.uk
Did you know that its illegal for your towing mirrors to protrude more than 20cm from the edges of your caravan? Or that it is an offence to tow in the outside lane of a motorway or dual carriageway with three or more lanes? Even if you did, you may well have some swotting up to do before you set off on holiday this summer. The fact is, there’s a lot more to the law on using a caravan than observing lower speed limits, and many of these regulations could quickly put an end to your caravan holiday if you got stopped by the police. Some of these laws are complicated or unclear in the printed literature available, so make sure you don’t become a victim of your own ignorance, by reading this plain-English guide to caravanning dos and donts.
Driving licence requirements
This is a complex and much-misunderstood issue that has often been incorrectly and misleadingly stated by the general press; even government departments have been known to get it wrong.
There are currently two different sets of rules that govern what you can drive on a Category B car licence without taking an additional test:
Licence gained before 1 January 1997
If you gained your driving licence before 1 January 1997, you will be entitled to drive any vehicle-and-trailer combination up to 8250kg total weight, of which the towing vehicles maximum weight must not exceed 7500kg. This right remains while you still have this particular licence, but is removed if it is withdrawn. This means that if you are disqualified or made to re-take the test you will lose the right to drive heavier vehicles without further testing and will revert to the post-1997 rules. For pre-1997 licences that are still current at 70 years of age, there are some extra medical rules if you wish to renew an existing right to drive vehicle and trailer combinations of up to 8250kg maximum weight. To keep this entitlement you must take the D4 medical test, which your doctor will charge you for, and you must be able to pass the existing standard car eyesight test. Unless you satisfy these conditions you will also have to revert to the post-1997 rules. Details can be found on the DVLA website (www.dvla.gov.uk). Look for form INF40, also available from post offices or by telephone (0870 240 0009).
Licence gained after 1 January 1997
If you gained your licence on or after 1 January 1997, then you will be restricted to driving or towing with a car (or light commercial vehicle) with a maximum weight of 3500kg. Note this is not the actual weight as loaded, but the vehicles maximum allowable weight, or gross vehicle weight, as set by the manufacturers – you will find this in your car’s handbook.
You can tow a trailer or caravan with this licence, but its maximum weight must not exceed 750kg - giving a total possible maximum outfit weight of 4250kg. If you wish to pull a caravan weighing more than 750kg (in practice, this covers all conventional caravans), you must follow the restriction that the maximum allowed weight of the car-plus-caravan combination weighs no more than 3500kg, and that the caravans maximum weight does not exceed 100 percent of the cars unladen weight (this is not the same as the car’s kerbweight - have a look at the panel on this page for a full explanation).
What makes this rule appear rather odd is that if you wish to tow a trailer that weighs over 750kg, you actually end up with a lower total limit for the car-plus-caravan outfit than you would if you were towing a trailer under 750kg, where the total can be 4250kg.
If you want to exceed any of the above limits, you need to take a further driving test. For post-1997 drivers, a B+E test (E refers to entitlement to tow trailers over 750kg) can be arranged to give you the same rights as the pre-1997 car driver. It is not a hard test for a seasoned caravanner, but a novice would need some instruction. Professional tuition is advisable but not compulsory, though you will need to do a lot of homework on the test details and minimum test vehicle requirements if you do this yourself. Some test details are available to view on the Driving Standards Agency (DSA) website (www.dsa.gov.uk - go to the Learners’ section) and on the Driving Instructors Association (DIA) (www.driving.org, which has a search facility for driving instructors by postcode).
Tests take place at Goods Vehicle Test Centres, but finding an instructor to help you practice may be hard. For advice on finding tuition and on arranging a test, your best bet would be to contact the DSA or DIA.
There are currently European Union (EU) proposals to change the maximum weight of trailers that can be towed by a car licence holder - at least so the regulations are easier to understand - so although existing rights will probably be preserved, future licence entitlements may well be different from those that currently exist. Concerned that any further changes will be a disincentive for young caravanners, the caravan industry in the UK is campaigning for no change, or at least only a minimal change, but as this article goes to press the outcome is still undecided.
Health and eyesight
You are required by law to notify the DVLA of any ongoing condition that would affect your ability to drive. If you are in any doubt as to what should be reported, ask your doctor. For example, it is an offence to be driving a car when your eyesight - with glasses if necessary - has fallen below the standard needed to pass a normal driving test. You should have an eye test every two years or so to be sure of this, as eyesight does deteriorate with age.
There are rumours that the EU may strengthen the eyesight law in the future, with a compulsory eyesight test at regular intervals if the driver is over 50 years of age. This is not yet a foregone conclusion, although it does seem likely to gain general UK acceptance as a safety benefit. The old system of a licence until you are 70 with no further checks looks on the way out, and the advent of the photocard licence which has to be renewed every 10 years is probably just the first step.
Some recent research has suggested that several million of the 30 million licensed drivers in UK could fail this simple test. Again, this could put your insurance at risk as well as lead to prosecution.
Maximum size of caravan
The maximum dimensions of a trailer that can be towed by a car or light commercial vehicle in the UK (neither of which may have a maximum allowable weight over 3500kg) are fixed by law at 7m long (excluding the drawbar) and 2.3m wide (including any fixed body parts such as mudguards). Note that this restriction applies to caravans towed by all types of vehicle within this weight limit, including 4x4s and light trucks, so those 2.5m-wide German caravans you see being towed by Transit-type vans or 4x4s are almost certainly illegal.
This law should also apply to tourists from countries where the width limit is higher (as in Germany), but in practice few are ever prosecuted. If you want to tow a caravan over these size limits, then you must use a towing vehicle that has a maximum allowable weight of more than 3500kg (in practice, a heavy commercial - or goods - vehicle). In that case, the trailer can go right up to 12m long and 2.55m wide.
Towbars, sometimes called towing brackets, are now covered by law. Until 1 August 1998 there were no specific legal restrictions, although British Standards for towbars were in force.
If you fit a towbar to any car registered after that date, it must meet certain minimum requirements as specified by Type Approval Regulations. Among other things, the bar will have marked on it the approval standard (EU 94/20) and the maximum download, or noseweight, that it can accept. It must fit to all the towcar manufacturer’s approved mounting points and must not obscure the towing vehicle’s number plate.
Also since 1 August 1998, car manufacturers have had to confirm that their vehicle is suitable for towing, and give the towing and noseweight limits for their models. The rules are not retrospective for older cars, but it is strongly recommended to fit only type-approved, or at least British Standard-approved, towing brackets to any vehicle.
(See advice page from the National Caravan Council on this subject Correct attachment)
Any breakaway cable fitted must be used when the vehicle is on the road, and it has to be attached so that it will work as it is designed to. Using a proper ‘pig-tail’ mounting on the towbar is best, but if you don’t have one you may loop the cable once round the towball. This is not itself illegal.
The law on towing mirrors is a little hazy. The law requires the driver to have an "eadequate"e view to the rear and down the sides of the caravan, but does not define "eadequate"e. So do you need extension mirrors or not? Not if your towing vehicle’s mirrors are large enough and can be adjusted to see down past the sides of the caravan. But most cars will need extension mirrors to satisfy the law.
If you do fit extension mirrors, remember that it is an offence if they project more than 200mm from the side of the vehicle or trailer, whichever is the wider. This means that when driving solo, they must not project more than 200mm from the edge of the towcar - hence most will need to be removed after pitching if you are going to take the car off the site.
Tyres on caravans must comply with the same laws as tyres on cars. They must be suitable for the purpose (which includes inflation pressures correct for the load being carried and the speed at which they could be used), be free of cuts and other defects, and have a minimum tread depth of 1.6mm over at least three-quarters of the width of the tyre and around the entire circumference. There is no requirement for a caravan, or a car, to have a spare wheel, but if it is used, it must comply with the same regulations.
MOTs and vehicle condition
You must have a current MOT for your towcar at all times, but the list of things to be checked does not include any fitted towing equipment, and as yet there are no MOTs for caravans or trailers themselves. The EU is rumoured to want to bring trailer MOTs in line with those of some other countries, but even if agreement were to be reached, it would probably be years away.
The UK position is that there is no evidence that touring caravans are a road-safety risk in their own right. Official government figures show that caravans are involved in only 0.07 percent of all reported accidents (that’s just seven in 10,000), and that this figure has fallen 30 percent over the last 10 years. It is, however, the law that all vehicles, including trailers, must be kept in road-worthy condition at all times, and the police can ban seriously defective vehicles from continuing on their journey.
For lesser offences you can be given an official notification that requires you to repair the defect within a fixed period and present the vehicle for inspection. This could include unsuitable tyres, or malfunctioning brakes or lights. On the whole, the police will issue a gentle warning rather than take official action, especially if it appears that the defect has occurred during the current journey, but they can - and do - throw the book at some of the more flagrant offenders.
All vehicles being driven or towed on the road must be covered by insurance. Most insurers will cover the essential legal requirements (third-party risks) when towing for no extra charge, which shows how safe insurers think caravanning is. This basic cover, however, will not cover the cost of damage to or theft of the caravan or its contents, for which you should get specialist insurance, but this is not a legal requirement.
Do remember to check the position with your car insurer, and to be on the safe side always inform your insurer that you will be towing when asking for a quote. Then check this is covered in the small print.
On the road
Cars towing caravans or any other trailer must not exceed 60mph on a motorway or dual carriageway, and 50mph everywhere else outside built-up areas.
If in doubt, check the table on this page. Caravans cannot be towed in the outside lane of a dual carriageway of three or more lanes. There are some exceptions due to road works, wide loads, and so on, but basically if you are caravanning in the outside lane it is an easy nick for the boys in blue.
There are two different definitions of the kerbweight. According to the UK Construction and Use Regulations 1986, kerbweight is the "eweight of the vehicle as it leaves the manufacturer with full fuel, adequate lubricants and water, standard tools and equipment but no driver, occupants or load"e. According to EU Directive 95/48, it is "ethe weight of the vehicle as it leaves the manufacturer, with fuel tank 90 percent full, all necessary fluids for normal operation, a nominal driver weight of 68kg and 7kg of luggage"e. By and large, this means that EU kerbweights are around 70kg more than UK figures. Most new cars will use the EU definition.
Unladen weight is not the same as the kerbweight, which you will normally find in the car handbook. Unladen weight is the cars weight minus any fuel, water and tools, and driver. This figure is a hard figure to come by in documentation. In practice, for a medium-sized car, the unladen weight will probably be about 130kg less than the published kerbweight for most cars.
The effect of this on, say, a Ford Mondeo 2.0-litre diesel hatchback with a kerbweight of 1423kg means that the post-1997 car driver with a Category B licence can only legally tow a caravan of just under 1300kg maximum weight with this car, because the maximum allowable weight of the caravan may not exceed 100 percent of the unladen weight of the car.
Enforcement authorities on a roadside check may well not be able to determine the correct figures for your combination, so it may help you stay in their good books if you can prove to them that you are driving legally. You may want to use a weighbridge to get accurate kerbweight figures for your vehicle, but having your driving licence with you is a also good idea, as is a note in the car handbook showing the relevant figures.