Should towing licences be mandatory?

Article from RV Daily.

In the wake of COVID-19, new and used caravan sales are going through the roof.  This means there will be a lot more first-time towers on the roads.  Is it time to reconsider towing licences?

A couple of years ago, the popular Caravanner’s Forum asked its members if they supported the introduction of caravan towing licences. 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?police road stop

Some people argue we are already over-regulated. What do you think?

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 8,250kg.

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

  • Driving a car up to 3,500kg 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 3,500kg.

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.5th wheel rig

Should you be able to drive this rig on a normal car licence?

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 historic 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.caravan rollover

Will towing licences stop these crashes from happening?

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 which are 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.

Safe travels.

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Comments 36

  1. No to towing licences. Too many bloody licences now.
    I have driven semi trailers & towed caravans for over 40 years and most of the problems I have seen in this time on the road have been caused by impatient idiots who put other’s lives in danger by overtaking without having enough visibility or clear road space ahead, not the people towing, also people who don’t drive to the conditions.

    1. Not everyone has driven trucks, mate. Too many newbies that haven’t even towed a box trailer and their daily driver is a nissan micra are going out a buying Dodge rams, Land cruisers, Patrol’s etc and a big ass caravan.

      Do you see the problem now??

  2. My recommendation will be to have a special licence for anybody who can not demonstrate that had caravan or camper trailer registered to his/her name for minimum 2 years. It would help to asess if such person is totally new or has at least some expirience.
    It is in a safety of the rest of us on the road. I am towing caravans for 39 years and still learn. Problem is with elderly people cashing on super and buying big cars and even bigger caravans driving all their lives medium size sedans. Statistics will prove that this group of people will dominate in crashes.

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  3. I think the 1st step would be that anyone buying or owning a caravan must do a mandatory caravan course. Then look at the statistics from that, and then talk about licensing upgrades

  4. The main problem is that there are misinformed people using the wrong vehicle for the size of the caravan
    i have seen lots of people with out extension mirrors too.
    there needs to be road side checks on vehicle combinations & wieghts.
    yes people should do courses to learn how to handle different situations.

  5. I think a towing test should be mandatory, I’ve seen so many caravan owners who could not reverse a caravan to save their lives. So many arguments between husband and wife. When we did our trip around Australia we loved to sit and watch the fun when husband tried to reverse the caravan into a site. An endorsement on your licence is a good idea.

  6. We tow a relatively small 5th wheeler, ATM 2850 kg, a Nissan Navara, a rig which is inherently more stable than a caravan. We have also undergone Nationally recognised Tow Ed training. Caravans seem to make up a high proportion of RV crashes. I’m not aware of any 5th wheelers involved.

  7. What a load of nonsense. Nothing you have written has anything to do with capacity to drive with a caravan. As is the case in many things nowadays. People want to impose their opinions on others under the guise of “safety concerns”. People are required to have a Drivers Licence to drive legally on the road. This has not stopped stupid, lazy, inept people from driving on our roads, killing, injuring, crashing, speeding or acting irresponsibly. How in licencing caravanner’s going to change that. Get out of people’s lives. Mind your own business.

  8. One way a towing licence could be introduced could be forced by insurance companies by giving very generous discounts to drivers who can show that they have the experience to operate a car heavy trailer combination. Personally l hold a HC licence and have had 1.5 million Kim’s + experience driving truck trailer combinations and tourist coaches many times towing a 6 tonne capable trailer.
    This would reward other drivers with similar experience, and it would then encourage drivers with car licences to upgrade them with an endorsement on their car licences.

    1. Hi Peter , I agree with your comment. I to have an HC licence and also have driven coaches. You cant stop stupidity but you can educate people so the can see how to do it properly . I have done about 40,000k with a van now and have set the van up with a Safety Dave twin camera on the rear of the van with a monitor in the cabin. With this I can see any vehicle behind even on straight roads where mirrors are useless as you can’t see a car behind you. With trucks a UHF two way , you can let them know that you know that they are noted and will get them past when safe to do so. Another feature is the second camera is for backing into a site. There is a mic in the camera and a person can give advice to the driver when backing into a site. For those that have not had the experience with caravaning before , do a course where you will learn how to set up your van for towing, fitting of stabilizers and how to reverse with a van on the back . You will find the experience well worth it .

  9. I have had a license for 50 years and have towed most things but not often .I would have no issues with having to complete a questionnaire that teachers users what to be aware of like loading ,speed,braking etc because many first time users would not have clue . They just hitch up and head off at 110 k .

  10. I do not think a towing licence will help at all.
    I think that 90% of the problem is in our new cars and mostly light weight Utes.
    We have very light weight cars towing loads 50 % more than they weight and vans with a sail area bigger than any racing boat.
    They might be ok under perfect conditions , but as soon as anything happens ,basic physics takes over , the large load will take control every time.
    Years ago the rule was you could not tow anything more than the weight of the tow car .and most vans were under 6 m.
    Car makers are just in a race with each other to up the tow rating without being held responsible for the results . And van makers go along with this just as long as they sell vans.
    As much as I dislike the big yank Utes, they are good tow rigs.
    I would like to see a brake down of the size of the tow rig against the size of the vans that are rolling over.I think the results would back me up
    Ron

  11. A hard one. Having towed big vans and trailers for years i never assume i know it all. Conditions on the road are never static . Side winds coupled with passing road trains, speed and over reaction by the driver can change daily. I have found the difference between towing at 90 kph and the legal speed pf 100 kph to be critical. Stable at 90kph to unstable within 10 kph (down hill ) can catch the most experienced driver out.
    Maybe the UK model should be considered at least

  12. Should be seriously considered. Some drivers go from Small hatch maybe 4 metres long then buy a 4WD and a caravan at around 8 metres long with out any experience. Of course if you have been a truck driver there could be an exception.
    Weight of a small Hatch 1ton Weight if a 4wd and caravan 5-6ton big difference

  13. yes a half day course would be ideal for first time users and create some work $$ for old timers with all the experience to teach others . If you had a bit of room or a farmlet you could set up a course and they could pay $20 to stay the night
    as well

  14. Yes I have been towing a caravan for about 45 years now and yes i have seen people having reversing a van and even more often a car trailer But fail to see just what that has to do with the ned for a specialist licence absolutely nothing I would suggest have you ever seen a van rolled over in a van park Secondly the loss of control of a van while out on the road is not always the fault of the driver many other things will often be a factor wind for incidence trailer swaying could be due to the car & van not being suitable for one & other did the sales person do his job rather than obtaining another sale Countless times I have seen this problem crop example we came across a driver in WA towing a van that was far to heavy for the towing vehicle if this person was pulled up by the relevant organisation or had an accident they would have been in a very bad situation no insurance for one thing Consider the consequences in this situation he had received a very bad deal from a dealer and found him-self in a dire situation that definitely was not his fault both dealers and also van manufacturers must do better and are still selling and building vans that have very little pay load capacity as a result the owners find them-self’s over loading the van and inevitably the owner takes the blame.

  15. It’s a no brainer, towing licences are a must! Having said that I realised that the dropkicks and deadbeats out there that think they are gods gift to driving expertise will never agree to such a proposal. I recent followed a large van along the road and was horrified at the behaviour of the driver. The right hand indicator on the van was not working, several bicycles hanging off the rear of the van obsecured the number plate, the towing vehicle had no towing mirrors, the rig was on or over the white line frequently and the van was fishtailing noticably. An accident waiting to happen!
    Most drivers ignore the rules of the road now so a towing licence will not change this problem! So until motorists improve their driving habits accidents will continue to happen!

  16. I think of all comments so far, that Ron is on the money. Towing a pig trailer that weights as much or more than the tow vehicle is madness. Pig (axle/s in the centre) trailers are naturally unstable in pitch and yaw and nothing will change that. Also, driver licencing in Australia is quite a joke. The only on road skills you need to display are hill starts, a reverse park and staying in your lane.

  17. I think there should be some driving course you have to do before towing a big caravan
    as there are a lot of people who just think you hitch it up and off you go at 110
    they have no idea about loading a cvan , how it effects the tow vehicle
    then there are side winds and passing a truck winds
    lots to learn for the first timers

  18. Licences for towing are not necessary. Common sense, care and respect for other road users is required. Education that is made easily available for all is more valuable than the licence process.

  19. Towing licenses.
    I myself tow 5th wheel with a possible combination of 8,400 KG on a “C” class drover license. Does this mean I do not have the knowledge to safely operate this combination on the road?? I am also a drover trainer and provide driver instructional training with on of Australia’s leading RTO’s in driver training and outdoor education. I have put myself through the required skills sessions to understand what is required to operate a motor vehicle correctly on our roads, 99% of people DO NOT even bother to do this!! I also provide education session for towing and work closely with CTIAQ and industry to gain the require knowledge in understanding on what can go wrong and how to respond. The evidence on the road is the higher percentage of people towing DO NOT know what to do and how to respond and I see the very poor driving behavior every day in just motor vehicle not just when towing. SO, should you be made to undertake additional education to Drive & Tow. keep up the current habits and it may become mandatory.

  20. I vote YES.
    As I replied to the bloke above, every drivers experience level is not the same.
    I grew up around trucks, dad had a business, and camping on beaches from the age of 11. I was taught how to 4wd not hoon and the intricacies of towing from a box trailer to a low loader and I can reverse them both.
    You only have to watch folks at the local rubbish dump trying to revers a box trailer or even just their ute.
    Even if they introduced a mandatory course in towing with a practical test involved. Anything that makes it safer on the roads and off road.

  21. A trailer licence wouldn’t be required and wouldn’t be useful as our current police can’t do much other than point and shoot for revenue.
    If they opened they tested more visually poorly loaded vehicles and weighed them the issue would disappear very quickly. Vans are sold at nearly the weight limit add food and water no chance of being underweight.
    Easy to observe a vehicle doing 15klm /hr less then the posted limit or front wheels in the air!
    And the age old debate about elderly driving vehicles in the first place if their skills have deteriorated let them tow 3 t.
    The article puts a number on roll overs and loss of control incidents. Correlate that to age of drivers and injuries and you have a starting point.
    They don’t enforce travelling in the left lane to allow traffic to flow therefore give tacit approval to the dangers of under passing then put adds on TV demonstrating and accident and blame it on speed.
    What hope….?

  22. A great many caravan accidents appear to be sway related. I have witnessed one such accident. Most sway related incidents could be prevented by the use of a Dexter or ALKO sway controller fitted to the van. These cost $12-15 hundred fitted as an after-market job, probably less when fitted at the factory. I have one of these on my van and it is fantastic. Any sway is quickly arrested. Insurance companies could help by recog nising the reduced risk with lower premiums for vans so equipped. Some van builders still insist on ball weights that are too low as well. When are these new standards for australian trailers coming into force?
    These issues should be addressed in that process.

  23. YES!!!!! Towing licenses should have bee introduced years ago along with how to load caravans and trailers properly. The license test must be thorough and include how to back properly using mirrors and on road courtesy to other road users.

  24. I think at least a tow course should be mandatory, with maybe a note on current licence to say you have the training.

    On another note the government need to hold car and caravan manufacturers to account with the way they advertise their tow weights and car makers advertise their max tow capacities and are unrealistic, I don’t know of any car that can realistically to at their said weight, and caravan sales when asked how heavy the van is will always tell you the weight with no load, uninformed people these days get a car with 3.5 ton rated towing and then go buy a 3.5 ton van.
    They will automatically be over weight and dangerous on the road but the sales people made the sale.

  25. Very true .With the advent of people pulling vans and buying SUV’s you would think the prominent manufacturers would build these vehicles to carry 4 ton without the need for a thirsty V8 It would be a real winner/seller I reckon. Land Cruisers and Rams are too expensive and very thirsty so not many cannot afford them but I notice on the TV shows they are always using a RAM and big van because they are not providing the vehicles or paying for the fuel ,the sponsors are . Most Mums and Dads have average size vans .

  26. Gary Sowter you sound like a grumpy old man . Hope i don’t come across you on the road ! EDITOR YOU DIDNT MODERATE HIS ABUSE !

  27. Hell yes I agree, there most certainly should be an endorsement on your license. What is the difference between a fifth wheel caravan and a semi-trailer? Absolutely nothing. Yeah, you can argue that they are no where near being the same due to the weight differences and the length differences and that it is nothing more than government money grabbing but seriously, if that is the best argument you can put forward, its a pretty weak argument.

    It doesn’t matter what you undertake in todays world, there is some training course that you have to pass. Take my divers license for example, sure, I can dive, to a limit of 18 meters, if I wish to be able to dive deeper depths, than I need to have my license endorsed to do so. Why? Safety. To prove that you know what you are doing and the implications of what will happen if you don’t.

    Now lets look at my Concealed weapons license (Handgun), I had to sit down, do a safety course, prove that I knew exactly how to safely handle my firearm and how to use it. Once again its a case of being restricted in caliber sizes for 12 months, why? Ever fired a .22 pistol? Ever fired a .45 magnum pistol? The difference in weight and the power of the kick back is a dramatic difference and to the untrained and the unaware, can leave you shell shocked in more ways than one.

    Forklift Ticket is the same, get your forklift ticket and you are restricted in size for a period of time before you can upgrade to a larger forklift.

    Move on to our vehicle licensing and its the same principle. Get your car license and away you go, never again to be tested on your knowledge of road rules or your ability to drive and in todays world, you aren’t taught to drive, you are taught to pass a test. You want to drive anything bigger and once again it involves getting your license endorsed to do so. As someone who has been around oversized loads as a pilot and truck driver, it amazes me the amount of DRIVERS OF ALL AGE GROUPS who don’t know how to respond when a 10 meter wide load that can weigh 100 tonnes comes towards them is mind blowing. Caravanners are the worst of the worst, don’t respond to being called on the UHF when being warned about an oversized load coming towards them and then feel they have the right to abuse us because we never gave them any notifications that we were coming. Well, there has been at least one pilot vehicle coming towards you and on larger loads, anywhere between 2 pilot vehicles and 2 police cars in front of the oversized load and we can be stretched out up to 2 – 5 kms out in front of the load but we never gave them any warning. How much bloody warning to do you need to slow down, find somewhere safe to pull over and get off the road? And if somebody can explain to me why someone who has lived in a city all of their life, probably never towed anything bigger than a 6 X 4 box trailer if that, should be allowed to go out and buy a 25 ft caravan, get on the road with no idea of how to tow or pack their caravan or vehicle and deem that to be acceptable.

    I’ve managed a caravan storage facility and to this day it still amazes me the amount of people towing caravans that don’t know how to read the age of their tyres, that the tyre wear you are suffering is showing signs of faulty wheel bearings, springs or axles. The amount of people I’ve had to teach how to reverse upto their caravan just to hitch it is mind blowing, with one elderly gentleman claiming, “Wow, I never knew you could do that and I’ve been towing for 16 yrs”. Scary… Bloody scary. The amount of times I’ve had to reverse their caravans into a spot because they don’t know how to is just as mind blowing.

    And as a qualified motor mechanic, it terrifies me what other people drive on the roads. I’ve seen front brake rotors worn down to the cooling fins in the middle of the disc but the customer will stand there and argue that the brakes have only been squealing for a couple of days now. Yeah right.

    I’m now 47 yrs old, grew up on a farm, was driving cars, tractors, trucks and motorbikes from the time I was 10 or younger, towed trailers, caravans and driven trucks for most of my life, I would still be more than happy to sit both a written and practical driving test to show that I am competent in towing. I still believe that there is always something that I can learn, and in some cases I can teach. The traffic on the roads today compared to even 30 yrs ago when I got my license has quadrupled, I live in a relatively small country town and to this day you still have the 80 yr old cow cocky who drives around thinking that its still just a quiet little country town and are oblivious to the traffic around them.

    The simple truth of it all and this is going to upset a lot of people when I say this, is that people are to stupid and self absorbed in their own little world of self importance. If there isn’t a sign in front of them telling them not to do something stupid, then you can bet your arse that someone is going to. Hell, I just got back from camping on Fraser Island, half the Island is devastated by fires and yet a group of dickheads thought that it was still appropriate to be letting of fireworks. Hello genius. We are trained for everything we do in life and yes, I’m the first to argue the point that its time we let nature take its course and weed out some of the dumb. But at the end of the day, its about safety, after being involved in 1 fatality through no fault of mine or the other vehicles in the convoy and one extremely lucky individual, who I might add, elected to ignore 2 pilot vehicles to get off the road and when the police vehicle finally pushed him off the road, decided he didn’t have to stop after the police officer moved on, pulled back out on the road and had the top of hi hilux cab completely torn off by the tray of a mining dump truck. His stupidity almost cost him and his girlfriends life.

    So whats the one common thread in all of this? Safety. Whats my biggest sorrow about all of this, the police, ambulance, fire officers that have to go out and deal with the carnage that has been caused and the loss of lives because people don’t know what they are doing. Believe me, get called out to a fatal accident, see the carnage, see the blood stained road and the bits of skin and bone left behind. Thankfully, I’ve only ever witnessed 3 fatal vehicle accidents and those memories still haunt me.

    Bring in Towing Endorsements. Its not going to save everyone but it might also just save a few lives. I’ll tow anything, anywhere, anytime, I’m happy to push my own limits and the limits of the vehicles I drive but I also know that I have my limitations and that there is always somebody out there who knows more than what I do and be prepared to learn.

  28. Absolutely I think anyone towing should have an endorsement on their licence!
    I have really only been towing for the last ten years, and have had a great guide in my husband who is very experienced. But so many people (so many more now due to the increase in caravan sales) are towing with underpowered vehicles, have no idea about sway or how to handle it and in many cases have rarely driven outside of the urban areas, so are also largely unaware of animals that can suddenly appear on the road, constantly curving roads, narrow roads and of course the large trucks that keep our country moving!
    There are caravan towing courses that anyone considering towing should attend.
    I believe we will see a lot of tragedy on our roads in the next year or two, and mostly totally avoidable.

  29. I’ll say straight off that I’m most definitely NOT in favour of additional licensing requirements for towing a van as I do not believe it will do anything for safety or statistics. It’s just a way for the authorities to gouge more money from the driving public under a false pretence. I did find the article interesting and hadn’t realised they’d changed the regulations in the UK. However, it has to be said that UK roads are substantially busier than in Aus, and most people do not tow in the UK with a 4WD like a land cruiser etc. In addition, the regulations as they stand in Aus are significantly stricter anyway as you have to comply with the GVM, GTM and GCM figures. I also have to point out that caravans in the UK are not fitted with electric brake controllers.

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