Changes to towing rules due to be introduced today have been delayed at the final moment, following an announcement by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency.
From 15 November, all drivers who passed their test after 1997 were set to be allowed use a car to pull heavier caravans or trailers weighing up to 3,500kg without needing to pass any additional tests.
However, on Friday the government agency confirmed the rule change has been delayed to ‘autumn 2021’ and is now subject to Parliamentary approvals.
The Government announced the rule change earlier this year in a desperate bid to boost the availability of an extra 50,000 HGV tests each year to tackle driver shortages.
Licence to tow: Rule change due to be introduced from 15 November to allow drivers to pull heavier trailers and caravans without passing an additional test has been delayed
The decision could leave some drivers in legality limbo.
Anyone who purchased a caravan with a weight in excess of 750kg with the intention to tow it from today without having already passed a required test will now have to wait until the rules have been signed off in parliament later this year.
DVSA’s website says drivers who fail to comply with towing rules can be hit with a range of penalties, from a £1,000 fine to six penalty points and even driving bans.
Currently, any motorist who got their licence between 1 January 1997 and 18 January 2013 can tow a trailer that is up to 750kg if their car or van weighs less than 3.5 tonnes – which is generally most passenger vehicles – or more than 750kg as long as the trailer weighs less than the unladen weight of the vehicle (up to 3,500kg in total).
For those granted licences after 18 January 2013, the same rules apply, though they can haul a trailer above 750kg as long as the combined weight of the trailer and vehicle is no more than 3.5 tonnes.
For those with licences pre-dating 1997, they can usually drive a vehicle and trailer with a combined weight of up to 8,250kg.
Road safety groups had already condemned the decision to change the rules, saying it raised ‘serious safety concerns’, especially around the summer holiday period when caravanners hit the road en masse.
The Government gave notice in September that it intended to make changes to towing laws, terminating the car and trailer test, or ‘B+E test’, from that month.
The Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency was set to update all licence records, with the category ‘BE’ to be added when motorists renew their photocards, which has to be done every 10 years.
By ditching the need for a trailer test an extra 50,000 HGV tests are to be made available each year, as MPs attempt to ramp up the number of qualified drivers to transport products up and down the country.
The category ‘BE’ is set to be added to all drivers’ licences who passed after 1997 when they renew their photocard, which has to be done every 10 years
While the DVSA says that ‘all car drivers will still be encouraged to undertake training to tow trailers and caravans’, the decision to scrap additional assessments for those who want to tow heavier trailers has been criticised by road safety groups.
On Friday – just days before the rule change was due to come into force – the government agency tweeted: ‘The rules about towing a trailer or a caravan with a car will not be changing on Monday (15 November 2021).
‘The change will be introduced in autumn 2021, subject to Parliamentary approvals.’
With winter officially beginning on 21 December, there is just a five-week window for the rule changes to be approved.
It added that it will confirm a new date for the rule change ‘as soon as we can’ and told drivers to ‘continue to follow the current rules until the law changes’.
It adds on its website: ‘The change will be introduced at a later date, and as soon as possible.’
Motorists can sign up to an email alert system that will notify them when the ruling will take effect.
Currently, drivers are restricted to towing trailers with a max weight of just 750kg. MPs have culled towing test to open the door for 50k new HGV tests following lorry driver shortages
Road safety charity and driver-training provider IAM RoadSmart has been hugely critical of the decision to allow motorists to tow heavier trailers without having to pass additional tests.
It highlighted that DVSA’s own roadside safety checks carried out over the last two years found that 17 per cent of all caravans are unsafe.
Around one in every six caravans pulled over at the roadside between September 2019 and January 2021 were found to have a defect with key safety features, such as illegal tyres, malfunctioning lights, breakaway cable problems and brake faults.
The checks – which reviewed a total of 2,282 caravans and trailers – also identified that almost two in five small trailers had dangerous issues.
IAM RoadSmart said the timing of a rule change couldn’t be any worse, given the huge demand for caravan holidays since the pandemic disrupted foreign holidays.
Even before Covid-19, the charity points out that 30,000 people sat the trailer test in 2018, up from 20,000 in 2014/2015.
Neil Greig, director of policy and research at IAM RoadSmart said: ‘The DSA [Driving Standards Agency as it was known then] had a clear safety reason for introducing the test in 1997, and these reasons are still valid.
‘People need proper training to be able to drive an articulated vehicle, particularly when they are doing so for the first time.’
The charity adds that the trailer and caravan tests were ‘designed to help holidaymakers with some of the issues they may encounter while towing’, which includes dealing with a lateral swaying movement of a trailer – referring to when it snakes and pitches from side to side.
‘If drivers are no longer trained to manage these situations and the popularity of domestic holidays continues, the decision to scrap the test is likely to come under further scrutiny,’ it warned.
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