Trailer law change eases red tape but raises safety concerns

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has confirmed that drivers who passed their car test after 1 January 1997 will be able to tow a trailer weighing up to 3,500kg without taking a separate test.

The change follows a consultation earlier this month as the government tries to free up more testing capacity for lorry drivers to combat a shortage which is putting severe pressure on the UK’s supply chains.

See also: Road rules reminder: Trailer safety, tractor speed and licences

The B+E trailer tests will stop from 20 September, but the law will not change until later this year, with an exact date yet to be confirmed.

The DVSA said anyone who had previously passed a car and trailer driving test will not be able to get a refund or compensation for any training taken, and no refunds will be available for any tests taken but not now needed.

Tests booked in for before 20 September will go ahead, but can be cancelled and a refund will be given. Tests scheduled for after that date will not go ahead and if the test was booked direct, the DVSA will automatically cancel it and issue a refund.

Industry reaction

Vicky Anderson, owner of a large agriculture training centre in North Yorkshire which runs trailer courses, said the law change raised safety concerns and would put some trainers out of business.

She told Farmers Weekly: “When I saw the announcement it was quite a shock. It is a bit of a backward step.

“From a safety perspective, there are so many things that can go wrong with trailer towing. I was speaking to staff this morning and they said they felt much more confident having done the test. One of the main things they learned was hitching and unhitching safely.

“For a number of training centres, that test is what they do, day in day out. In the consultation, the government did accept that there were a number of businesses that solely do this and they did indicate they would put something in place to help them, but I haven’t seen anything yet.”

Some farmers on social media welcomed the impending changes that will reduce red tape.

Merseyside arable farmer Olly Harrison said: “Nice to know the injustice of #TestAfter1997 B plus E has been rectified 24 years later.”

But others shared their frustration about the money they had spent on tests, while recognising that training was important for staff.

Contractor John Mather (@avtservicesltd) said: “Typical. Just spent thousands over last few months for four lads to tow trailers. I do think though that some training is necessary before turning out guys with a 7t combination of van and trailer.”

Current rules

Currently, people who passed their category B car test before 1 January 1997 are generally allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg maximum authorised mass (MAM).

MAM is the limit on how much the vehicle can weigh when it is loaded.

Drivers who passed on or after 1 January 1997 are currently limited to driving vehicles with a MAM of 3,500kg, plus a trailer up to 750kg (up to 4,250kg total).

However, it is possible to tow heavier trailers than this if the total MAM of the vehicle and trailer is no more than 3,500kg.