Keeping your trailer towing the legal line

8 June 2001

Keeping your trailer towing the legal line

This week we continue our Transport Special feature with

two more important aspects – the legal requirements for

trailers and the ways manufacturers attempt to overcome

the problems of transporting wide implements

REGULAR MOT tests help to ensure that older vehicles are in a roadworthy condition and this helps cut the risk of accidents.

But the tests do not apply to trailers and it is up to the owners and operators to make sure they are properly maintained.

The absence of an official test scheme for trailers does not mean they are exempt from the law. Trailers used for moving small numbers of livestock between farms or for the journey to or from the local market have to comply with the regulations covering animal welfare as well as those for roadworthiness. Both carry the risk of a fine if the regulations are broken.

The animal welfare rules are under review and may soon be revised, but rules relating to safety factors such as brakes, lights and the condition of the tyres are well established. Apart from the risk of a fine, there is also a danger that using a trailer which falls below the required standards could cause a serious accident.

The following list of construction, maintenance and driving regulations applies when livestock and other trailers are towed on public roads within the UK. They apply to category 01 trailers with up to 750kg gross weight and to category 02 with between 750kg and 3500kg weight maximum. There are separate regulations for bigger trailers exceeding the 3500kg gross weight figure. &#42


Number plate The back of the trailer must carry a number plate with black letters on a yellow reflecting background, displaying the number of the towing vehicle. The number plate must be illuminated at night.

Manufacturers plate Most manufacturers fit a plate displaying their name and address plus the trailer serial number, but this is not a legal requirement for braked trailers with less than 3500kg gross weight. All unbraked trailers must be marked with both their unladen and maximum gross weight figures plus the year of manufacture, but this information need not be on a plate.

Tyres Regulations for condition and tread depth for car and van tyres also apply to the tyres on trailers. The tyres should be designed for at least a 60mph road speed with the trailer fully loaded and must be inflated to the pressure recommended by the tyre manufacturer. Cross-ply and radial tyres must not be mixed on the same axle. If a spare wheel is fitted the tyre must also comply with the regulations.

Lights All lights must be in working order and fitted with suitable bulbs whenever the trailer is towed on the road, even in daylight hours. Lenses and reflectors must be in good condition.

Weight limits – a) Trailers: The maximum gross weight for an unbraked category 01 trailer is 750kg, increasing to 3500kg for an 02 category braked trailer. b) Towing Vehicle: For an unbraked trailer, the kerbside weight of the towing vehicle is recommended to be at least twice the actual weight of the trailer and its load, unless a lower weight limit is specified by the vehicle manufacturer. The general rule for a braked trailer is not to exceed the towing weight limit specified by the vehicle manufacturer.

Towbars The towbar and associated electrical couplings on the towing vehicle are not covered in the MOT test procedure, so do not assume they are checked annually in the MOT. The towbar must be of the appropriate type for the vehicle, and this can be checked with the vehicle manufacturer or dealer. The towbar must not obscure the rear number plate of the towing vehicle when the trailer is not fitted, and it must be marked with the maximum approved static load and a "D" value (a figure based on the trailer and towing vehicle maximum gross weights). Approved couplings include towballs, pin/hook and eye couplings, but parallel jaw type couplings are not approved. All couplings should be checked for wear and damage.

Brakes Trailers with a gross weight exceeding 750kg must be equipped with brakes. All brake systems must be in good working order and the breakaway cable must be connected when the trailer is in use. Unbraked trailers manufactured since Jan 1, 1997, must be equipped with a secondary coupling or "breakaway" cable or chain.

Driving licence A full driving licence is required when towing a trailer. Drivers who passed their test after Jan 1, 1997, and have class B entitlement only are restricted to driving a towing vehicle and trailer with a combined weight not exceeding 4250kg.

Speed limits The maximum towing speed on a motorway or dual carriageway is 60mph and 50mph on other roads unless a lower speed limit is in force. The maximum speed on motorways and dual carriageways is reduced to 50mph when the combined weight of the vehicle and trailer is more than 7500kg.

Passengers Passengers must not be carried in or on a trailer.

Carriageway restrictions Vehicles towing a trailer must not be driven in the outside lane of a three or more lane motorway or dual carriageway unless an obstruction such as road works or an accident makes this unavoidable.

Rearview mirrors The mirrors on the towing vehicle must allow the driver to see the road behind both sides of the trailer. Any additional mirrors fitted to achieve the required visibility must not extend more than 20cm outside the trailer width or the width of the towing vehicle when the trailer is not attached.

Further information about trailer regulations is available in Towing and the Law, a booklet published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and available from the Society and from leading trailer manufacturers.

See more