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Should towing licences be mandatory?

We wonder if the question ‘have you got a licence to tow that thing?’ will become a legal one.
Words Marty Ledwich

In a recent poll, the popular Caravanner’s Forum asked its members if they supported the introduction of a test for a caravan towing licence. The poll followed a long and intense debate about the case for introducing towing licences in Australia, where many issues with the current system were highlighted and discussed. The result was surprising. Almost 70% of those who responded said: “No…”!

If that’s an indication of public opinion, imagine the reaction if the roads authorities in this country introduced a restriction on the weight of a trailer you can tow with a normal car licence, and reduced it to much less than what it is today? How would you feel if you were required to get an endorsement on your car licence to tow anything heavier than a box trailer?

Well, before you answer, you might want to consider that this hypothetical situation has in
fact happened. In the United Kingdom, if your licence was issued to you before January 1, 1997, you are allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination with a maximum authorised mass (MAM) up to 8250kg.

However, if your licence was issued to you after January 1, 1997, you are restricted to:

  • Driving a car up to 3500kg MAM towing a trailer of up to 750kg MAM;

OR

  • Towing a trailer over 750kg MAM as long as the combined MAM of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3500kg.

To tow anything heavier, you have to pass a ‘Car and Trailer Driving Test’. It involves another practical test that you can take after obtaining a normal car licence. There are six parts to the test. One that appeals to me involves reversing a vehicle to show that you can manoeuvre a car and trailer into a restricted space and stop at a certain point (www.gov.uk)

Just consider this for a minute. In the UK, the case was made to introduce stricter licencing conditions for drivers towing anything heavier than a laden box trailer; yet in Victoria (for example) on a normal car licence you can drive a vehicle up to 4.5 tonnes GVM and you can tow a single trailer up to 9.0 tonnes GVM or to the manufacturer’s specifications (whichever is less) without any formal towing training, certification or assessment.

With that in mind, consider the number of drivers you know who may have held a car licence for many years and can’t reverse a small box trailer, let alone a 3500kg caravan; yet they can legally drive on the road towing a large trailer without having mastered this most basic of skills. It’s an extraordinary situation.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the number of incidents involving caravan rollovers is increasing and the number of dash-cam videos appearing online would seem to support that. While there is little official data to back this up, figures provided by a major insurance company (who asked not to be identified) which holds over 30% market share of the caravan insurance industry, show it has processed over 500 claims involving caravan rollovers in the last 4.5 years. The number of ‘loss of control’ incidents numbered in the thousands.

When asked for his views on the case for towing licences, Acting Sergeant Graeme Shenton (the police officer responsible for organising the recent trailer safety checks at Newmerella) said he was in two minds about licensing for caravan users, however… “I have recommended (to my superiors) that it is an area that needs to be explored for further investigation.” He went on to say he had been studying the UK system and found it quite interesting.

So how do we ensure that drivers who intend to tow big loads have the skills and knowledge necessary before they go out on the roads? Answering that question will take greater minds than mine but I would like to think – in an age where everything is online – that there could be a very simple alternative.

What if you were able to take a simple online test that, when you passed it, allowed a towing endorsement to be registered on your licence?
If you were pulled over by a police officer, he or she would simply look up your licence details on their in-car computer and it would show them you have obtained the online towing endorsement. Granted, such an endorsement would not prove you can actually drive with a trailer connected; but it could confirm you have the basic knowledge required to do so.

The test could assess your knowledge of a variety of towing-related skills including how to determine load limits from a compliance plate, how to correctly load a trailer and how to regain control of a swaying trailer. All vital skills necessary for safely towing big loads.

Today, if you buy a new car and caravan combination, it’s more than likely you’ll be driving a rig in the 6000 to 7000 kilograms combined weight range. It is vital that you have this basic knowledge before you hit the road.

Will the day come when drivers in Australia are required to possess a specialised towing licence? Who knows? If it could happen in the UK, it could easily happen here. But the costs and administration overheads of such a system could be prohibitive. An online towing endorsement of your car licence might be a more practical solution.  For now, we here at RV Daily strongly recommend you do a towing course if you intend to safely tow a caravan or large trailer.

 

 

This article was originally posted by RV Daily.

Comments 14

  1. Peter Peterson

    I think the thing everyone needs to look at is they already have to have a different licence to tow their 3500kg trailer. A standard class “C” licence is for you to drive a vehicle up to 4500kg GVM. so your landcruiser and 3 tonne caravan already puts you into the next class of licence. So how many people are driving unlicensed towing their big caravans’ boat and horse floats.

    1. John Stamenkovic

      Peter Peterson, l would be very interested in who would be issuing these towing licences? As to date,no one in your mind is capable of towing due to lack of licence! Compare the number of caravans on the road at any given time to the heavy trucks on the road at the same time, now , all these trucks are operated by heavily trained, licensed drivers! Still with me? Now, how many truck accidents occur in a year compared to caravans, taking into account there are probably at least 5 vans to every 1 truck at any given time. Personally l think more focus should be placed on the Van builders/importers selling these units to improve the safety aspect of a lot of these vans currently being sold! I.e. Cheap imported tyres, shoddy welding of chassis etc. ok l admit there are some that crawl along the highways without a thought to others, but not everyone is comfortable towing at 100/110km and neither they should be! Majority do the right thing and pull over where they can, always going to have the odd one but we have that in all walks of life, licensed or not!

  2. John Cooper

    In this country (Aust) it is ridicules that there is no restriction on caravan towing.Any one on a full car licence can do it with no concept of what they have taken on.In addition we see under rated vehicles towing oversize vans.Half of these people dont even have rated shackles and no idea of the wheight they are carrying let alone where it is located.

  3. James Wall

    Absolutely agree that there should be a national standard for towing caravans and a class of license for it. I have a NSW HR (Heavy Rigid) Rigid vehicle with 3 or more axles and a GVM of more than 8 tonnes. Any towed trailer must not weigh more than 9 tonnes, plus a motorcycle endorsement and I was tested for both. A NSW C class license covers Vehicles up to 4.5 tonne Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM). Vehicles that seat up to 12 adults, including the driver. And on that you can tow a caravan, or boat trailer, of any weight that fits in with the GCM. It’s time for a towing endorsement and testing for all states.

  4. Dan Worthington

    Cheaper insurance for large vehicles/caravan owners with an MR (and above)licence would be a catalyst for change.

  5. Kevin McNamara

    I agree with putting some sort of regulation in place, me and the wife both have truck licenses but the wife is not that confident at the thought of towing a van so we are both going to do a tow test purely for her to feel safe while traveling this great country we have. They bought in a boat license so its just a matter of time, all due to people loading up and heading of with no idea and no patience. Or is it the fact that people still look at pictures and don’t bother read the details of their vehicles.

  6. Barry Morton

    Yes we all should have some common sense when it comes to towing anything and if need be a licence as such that covers all of aussie would be appropriate as different states do have different approaches. However one point I do wish to put out there is the manufactures of caravans, tare weights and fully loaded weight. In the process of having one professionally built I have over the past 12 months sought and obtained information from every possible source I can find leading me to the conclusion that it is not only the layman or retiree buying that first “caravan”that does not understand the inevitable inertia that can occur but a considerable number of manufacturers as well. Although I do not have a truck or HR licence both James and Kevin would be well aware of the unseen dangers and as does John’s reference. But the debate needs to happen for all of us on the road to arrive safely.

  7. John Ritchie

    I definitely think that a test and a trailer should be mandatory to tow a trailer, caravan or fifth wheeler

  8. Andre Keune

    Yes, definitely a test and a licence with up to the maximum large caravan and gross weight should become law in every state. As a Long distance truck driver of 47 years standing, I’ve come across many misfortunes in that time, leaving people hurt and worse but also very distressed as it usually happened within the first couple of days of their dream journey. These are usually the over confidant younger vanners as well as the under/half confidant greyer ones, whom I now have also joined on the road to the long longed for destination in our beautiful country. There is more and more traffic in all our states with intimidating large trucks increasing all the time, as are us grey nomads. Don’t delay this process as peoples lives are under thread as more and more aggression and impatience by other road users is being experienced by us all.

  9. Andre Keune

    As an additional comment to my last one, is that confidence is achieved by training and / or experience.
    Not only is your own life and your beloved outfit under a cloud by non of the above but also the lives and outfits, rigs, etc. of other road users. I’ve had quite a few increases in heart beats when an oncoming outfit got the wobbles on, for whatever reason and indeed had to take such evasive action once that I got bogged in the sand on the side of the road with my multi trailer outfit with its million dollar freight on board, all in order to literaly saves the lives of a young family losing confidence. Luckily there was no culvert there at the time ( as so often happens ) as that could have put my own life in real danger but it still took me a good 6 hours to get it all back on the bitumen again and cope with a very unhappy customer because of the late delivery and almost losing a very good contract. So snowball effects are always present so forget your pride and do the training, it doesn’t take long and the cost is very well worth it and for your own happiness.
    That young couple by the way did stop to see if I was OK but took off without an offer of any sort of assistance. Just great !?

  10. Sheds

    Dan Worthington hit the nail on the head, however with the following existing conditions/laws Australia wide. Don’t make the rules/regulations more complex than they already are. For example you are limited to 4500 kgs GCM of your tow vehicle and trailer whatever that is on a ‘C’ class licence. Above this GCM you are required to obtain a ‘LR’ licence. If your GCM is up to 8500 kgs (this would only be the very largest towing combinations) you require a MR licence. I’m sure this would reduce the 500 towing accidents spoken of above. It would be interesting to know the licence class of the drivers involved in the 500 incidents spoken of above.

  11. TERRY SEYMOUR

    As a truckie of 50+yrs and a MC license I believe a towing licence needs to be required, with the amount of vans on the road there is no room for error. As a truckie in the 80s I could pull out of a truck bay with a triple road train and I might have seen three caravans in a day, now its bedlam trying to get into the stream.
    I feel that a minimum licence needs to be equivalent to the MR and also a loading course for the family because for example the husband is at work and the wife is preparing the van for the long weekend away, encourage van manufacturers to to increase loading capacity to at least 600kg to allow for 180 lts water 60 lts drinking and a grey water tank, the licence holder needs to be able to show an understanding of travelling at 100ks, not tailgating, being able to pass, without getting speed wobbles, the use of a UHF radio. and compulsory fitting to the towing vehicle of a radio.

  12. John

    I and my wife resently retuned from a month trip to out back QLD The number of vans on the road was incredible. At the van parks ,free or pay was the comedy hour, it begins in the late afternoon . Whatching some of the van drivers trying to park their vans , as l said it was funny but also unsettling. If it’s that hard in the parks what are they like on the roads. Yes I’m in favour of a caravan license via a vehical &a van test.

  13. Neville King

    I disagree with a lot of the above , I like most above are pulling a van of some size mine is 21ft with a ATM of 2500kg, before that a camper trailer. From what I have seen travelling from Atherton Tablelands to Townsville twice a month is that most Vans and Vehicles (combined) are over weight one does not need to blind to see that (except for the Police Force they can only issue speeding fines) one in four vehicles do not have towing mirrows which can and do cause accidents (not only that if they are in a accident they will lose their insurance on both car and van) I dont believe that we need another licence however when we purchase a van the dealer should go through a list of does, donts, and how to

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