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Why Australia should have a national towing licence

Crash after crash. “People can’t tow.”

Well you know what? We’re not born with the ability to drive, let alone tow. Now you may have been lucky to have learned about cars and towing by osmosis since you were a nipper, but that’s hardly the case for everyone, and my experience of such people is they often have knowledge gaps, or do the right thing without really understanding why and then get into trouble on the occasions it doesn’t work.

So why a license? Do you agree with these three statements:

  1. towing requires a lot of knowledge and skill to do safely;
  2. it’s not possible or safe to just learn as you go;
  3. if you get towing wrong, you could perhaps die and take people with you.

That’s just the sort of activity that governments can, and should regulate. And the people that follow me agree. I asked my Facebook followers whether or not there should be a towing licence, and same for my YouTube subscribers. The results are: 90% on Facebook, and 65% on YouTube reckon a licence is a good idea.

Now given the point of any licence is to reduce crashes, incidents and problems, you’d want to start by figuring out what’s going wrong first, then design the training to suit, and the licence becomes proof of competence. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any hard data on trailer crash rates, causes, consequences. That doesn’t mean to say there isn’t a problem or that training can’t work, but it does mean it’s a bit of a shot in the dark even if know there’s a target there somewhere.

So here’s my proposal. You’ll need to pass all the items below to tow any trailer over 300kg or 4m in length. And it’d be a national test, exactly the same across all states and territories (I know, right? Bizarre idea!) So here it is, comment away:

Australian National Towing Test & Licence

Towing Theory Test

Weights – to pass you’d need to explain every weight and its relation to another; ATM, GTM, rear axle and more. No need to do complex maths, there’s a calculator for that, but at least be aware of the terms.

Dynamics – you’d have to describe the effect on the towcar of a heavy trailer on a towcar under brakes and cornering, and the effect of sidewinds and passing traffic.

Laws – pass questions concerning road laws such as maximum weight for different types of trailer brakes, tow limits, speed limits etc. This would be for every state and territory, so people in NSW would need to understand WA regulations…what a pain in the butt, if only everything was synchronised! This would also include questions on setup such as towing mirror requirements.

Trailer maintenance – to pass you would need to know about tyre age and how to find it, and which parts of trailers should generally be maintained e.g. wheel bearings, and a basic understanding of tyre pressures vs load, important for car trailers in particular. Wouldn’t include general caravan items. This would not be how to do it, more awareness of importance so people know not to tow with 15 year old tyres.

Sway – you’d need to explain what sway is, list five contributing factors, and explain how to recover from it. And explain the two types of electronic sway control systems (watch this if you’re not sure), and mechanical anti-sway.

Towing Practical Test

Hitching up – show that you can connect a trailer to a towcar without assistance; this would include two chains, breakway cable, Andersen plug and at least 3 types of hitch eg 50mm, DO35 and McHitch.

Maneuvering – back a trailer out of a cone garage, around another cone, and back into the garage…in one go.

Driving – competently and safely drive a trailer at least 6m long weighing 2000kg plus in a range of traffic conditions for at least 30km including speeds of 100km/h on freeway.

Braking systems – identify accurately and describe use of overrun brakes, electric brakes and remote electric braking systems.

WDHs – identify and explain what a WDH is, and how to adjust one.

Trucks – you will be taken to a parking area where there will be a prime mover connected to a semi trailer, a heavy rigid connected to a dog trailer, and and a towcar/caravan. You will have to explain why the three are not, in fact, identical and that the prime mover can safely tow a trailer many times its weight and the car cannot. If you can’t, then you will be formally banned from posting in any caravan forums. Whilst you ponder your sins you can eat an orange, apple and banana…or as you may say, “just fruit”, as they’re all the same, right?

Towball mass – you will be asked whether the ideal towball mass is 10%, and if you say yes you’ll be asked to produce evidence and studies to back your assertion, or retake the entire course. Evidence does not include “OldMate58 on Towing Universe said so”.

Could a towing test be a reality?

I doubt it’ll happen, and certainly not as detailed as I’ve described; look at how basic the driving test is, the HR licence test, the boat license. There’s a lot above, but you tell me what could be taken out.

I think the public would support towing education. Nobody wants any more licences in their lives, but we like even less seeing the results of crashes and accidents. And, there’s never a week that I don’t have someone writing to me asking for help about the confusing experience of buying a trailer and towcar that’s legal; so this education would help.

But there’s a big blocker and that would be some elements of the caravan industry, which see any licence as a barrier to caravan purchase and therefore eating into their profits. And I can see their point, they may be correct. But in my mind, the safety of the community overrides corporate profits. The insurance companies have an interest in this, but I don’t know if that’d translate to action. The caravan clubs should also be pushing it.

The UK, did, for a while, have a towing test. It was basic but better than nothing, and only applied to new license holders. I don’t have any stats on its effectiveness, and anyway I suspect there’s fewer towers per capita in the UK, they tow slower and for shorter distances, and they definitely don’t have a lot of extremely heavy caravans.

So what do you think, towing license yes or no, and if yes, then what? If no, then what do we do?

Common objections to a towing licence

So just to be clear, the way this works is we identify a problem, work out the skills and knowledge needed to reduce the problem, give people the those skills through training, and get proof of competence through a licence test. Now for the common objections:

Wouldn’t eliminate all the problems – well of course not. No safety measure is ever 100% effective. There’s a law against murder and a police force, but people still murder. Or should we just make murder legal? Or maybe get rid of driver training entirely as people still crash?

Government revenue raising the licence cost should just cover the costs to create and administer the system.

I don’t need it then you should have no trouble passing the test without any preparation, and proving your knowledge. Yes there are people who truly know a lot, but working out who they are is difficult so everyone needs to take the test. I even learn when I teach novices, and most other trainers say the same.

Too much red tape – nobody likes red tape, but generally people like crashing, injuries, deaths and wasting the money on the wrong rigs even less.

Wouldn’t do any good – don’t understand this one. How is training and sharing knowledge going to be anything other than helpful?

The mavericks won’t listen anyway – the maverick idiots are a tiny percentage of the problem. Most people are willing to listen and learn, but they don’t know what they don’t know. It is this majority a licence will help.

The valid objection in my mind is the quality of the training and test. If it’s like the L-plate test, which in Victoria doesn’t involve speeds about 60km/h, no emergency situation tests, and relies on dated techniques like head checks…then there’s little point. So it has to be a solid test as described above that people will be proud of once they’ve passed, and actually learn something.

Finally, here’s a question.

Do you think that we should have the L-plate test, or just allow people to buy a car and drive it without any form of instruction or test? If not, then how’s that different to towing?

Want to learn about towing?

Well that’s one of the topics I cover here on my website and on my YouTube channel, along with 4X4, camping, tech and fast car driving. Example videos:

What’s this about weight distribution? Watch this:

Trailer weights explained

How to recover from trailer sway

Show CommentsClose Comments


  • by Mike
    Posted 7 March 2022 17:17 0Likes

    I doubt it will happen. I also doubt that a one time test would have any affect on the quality of driving by people towing. It seems to have little or no affect on non-towing driving quality. Another layer of government control and charges is unlikely to change anything. You can’t put brains in a pumpkin.

  • by john
    Posted 7 March 2022 19:33 0Likes

    i dont mind the test but the cost would put a lot out of reach even though they would pass unless your rich

  • by Daryl Pilbeam
    Posted 7 March 2022 19:37 0Likes

    Australia we get issued with a Licence , only yanks use the word License as a noun and a verb.

  • by Graham Walker
    Posted 7 March 2022 19:45 0Likes

    I’ve towed for 45 years and there is a lot there that I don’t think is required.

  • by Nev
    Posted 7 March 2022 19:49 0Likes

    If you apply those sort of standards and detail to ordinary drivers licence tests, only about 10% would pass!

  • by Pam
    Posted 7 March 2022 23:02 0Likes

    You’re a journalist yet you lack basic English and spelling skills. Perhaps improve your presentation to be more professional before attempting to influence people.

    • Avatar photo
      by Robert Pepper
      Posted 9 March 2022 19:08 0Likes

      Pam that’s known as an ad-hom attack. How about addressing the points made?

  • by chris
    Posted 9 March 2022 19:04 0Likes

    any one who believes a 10 percent ball weight is what it should be is wrong. testing from Europe found that simply is not the case and 5 percent is a more reasonable figure. what really is important is that the trailer is loaded correctly with the correct weight balance so the trailer carries the load and there is a slight forward bias so the coupling is in constant contact with the ball or hitch pin. and the average person should be able to lift the drawbar up and down when standing at the hitch while its connected to the vehicle it should feel like the weight of 50 kg. which by the way is the static vertical load of many european and asian vehicles. if you need a load levelling hitch your loaded wrong or simply too bloody heavy.

    the idea of a towing endorsement on your licence isnt a bad idea. for a lot of people who have worked in the city in office buildings they have never towed anything before except maybe a 6×4 box trailer when they trimmed the hedge out front. and its silly they can go to thier local dealer buy 50 or 60grand of 4wd and then go and buy a 80 grand or more van and head off down the road. they would be safer in a 30 seater bus converted to a motor home although legally they couldnt drive one without the relevant truck licence.

  • by arthur
    Posted 17 March 2022 11:02 0Likes

    HI. using your towing calculator i can not tow anything with my LC200, as the rear axel is always overloaded (above 1950kg). I bought the car not to have towing problems, but seems i can’t tow anything… something is not right.
    and we don’t need more regulations, as we already live in a nany state.

  • by Fang
    Posted 5 April 2022 17:53 0Likes

    Recognised Prior Learning should be a noted exception on your licence! If you have any truck or LR HC, Articulate Licence, this “should” qualify for 3.5T Tailer endorsement!

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