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The UK is scrapping its towing license test

Ever since 1st January 1997 you’ve needed a license to tow heavy trailers in the UK. But no longer.

The UK uses the term “MAM”, Maximum Authorised Mass – this is the total mass of the towcar and trailer, equivalent to the GCM in Australia. The current UK law is that you need a license endorsement to tow more than:

  • a car or van up to 3,500kg MAM towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM (up to 4,250kg in total)
  • a trailer over 750kg MAM as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3,500kg

As of the UK’s autumn, that requirement is being scrapped and you can tow trailers up to 3500kg with no training.

The reason, according to news reports, is a shortage of examiners who are needed to address the demand to train new lorry (truck) drivers.

This is interesting news to say the least, and disappointing. Towing heavy trailers is a difficult, complex, non-inutitve task and risk of getting it wrong is high, and the consequences can be dire, so I’d like to see training introduced in Australia, and polls of my readers indicate they agree. Nothing in a driver’s pre-tow experience sets them up to tow, which is why training is so important. A new tower needs to understand and be proficient in:

  • Weights (GCM, GVM, weight distribution and more)
  • Reversing
  • Hitching up
  • Sway prevention, detection and correction
  • Various road laws to do with trailers
  • Manouvering
  • Mirror setup
  • Braking (controllers, overruns)
  • Trailer loading
  • Trailer tyre pressures
  • probably more I forgot!

Frankly it’s amazing we don’t have more accidents. I’d like to see before/after license endorsement stats on towing accidents in the UK, but I’m not sure they’re available.

In the meantime, here’s some videos, and don’t forget the Tow Weights Calculator.

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1 Comment

  • by Neil Mclean
    Posted 11 September 2021 10:17 0Likes

    Agree with all you write about towing being non-intuitive and the need for knowledge of regulations and safe practice. Just calling out a comment you made above: “Frankly I am surprised we do not see more accidents…”. By implication the accident rate is already lower than expectation. I don’t see how more regulation/legislation will result in further reduction. Remember the 80:20 rule etc. I truly wonder, if we all had to do knowledge tests for licence endorsement to tow, whether the accident rate would reduce. Why?:
    – those who are too lazy/stupid to do self learning today will only do enough to get past a knowledge test and not actually come out better for it. Will still be a danger to themselves and others.
    – “ignorance of the law is no excuse”. The first level of counter-intuitive thinking regards towing is that many people, if they know anything, only know the max towing capacity of their vehicle and so look forward a van that does not exceed that one and only metric. Totally “ignorant” of the raft of other limitations imposed by law – before we even get to actual practical driving skills. How are they expected to know there are multiple legislated limits and new skills required if they are not being told at the point of purchase? Other pathways (like your efforts and videos to educate) are there for those who imagine there may be some mysteries to resolve. But for the majority they don’t know what they don’t know.
    – It is the industry, happily selling vans to the ignorant, who should be stepping up voluntarily to at least draw buyers’ attention to ALL legal regulations and point towards the non-intuitive driver knowledge gaps – then at least new buyers will be exposed to possible knowledge gaps and be allowed to choose to get educated.

    Have much more to say/argue in this regard but already have written too lengthy a tome. It’s something I feel strongly about as I have just gone through a personal quest for knowledge in this area in the past several months, because that’s just the type of person I am. I went self guided through the minefields before buying a camper van and through digging found great resources like your articles and videos, and read so much for so long.

    Knowledge acquisition on this subject should not be so hard! Nor the need for it so obscure for the average joe.

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