DVSA decision to scrap trailer towing tests condemned by safety charity

The tests for towing trailers up to 3,500kgs have been scrapped to boost the number of HGV lorry tests available, sparking safety concerns

Government moves to scrap the test for towing trailers up to 3,500kgs have been condemned by safety charity IAM RoadSmart.  The timing of the announcement on 10 Sept, which comes days after a consultation period closed, has also raised concerns that the consultation process was a sham. 

Scrapping the trailer test is one of the reasons the government has been able to announce an extra 50,000 HGV lorry tests will be available each year, which the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) says will help out the haulage industry which is struggling with driver shortages. The DVSA maintains “all car drivers will still be encouraged to undertake training to tow trailers and caravans”, but that hasn’t satisfied IAM RoadSmart, which is itself a driver training provider.

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“We are very disappointed that a consultation that only closed a few days ago has led to an immediate cessation of trailer testing for car drivers.” says IAM RoadSmart Policy & Research Director Neil Greig. “It is clear that the government intended to do this all along which makes the whole consultation process something of a waste of time. Our concerns remain that trailer use requires a special set of skills that are best instilled by a testing process. Whilst the HGV driver shortage is clearly a big issue for society as a whole, the government’s hasty approach is putting not only road safety but the whole consultation process at risk.”

During the consultation period, IAM RoadSmart raised concerns that the decision would exacerbate an existing safety situation, saying that the DVSA’s own roadside safety checks showed that up to 1 in 6 caravans that were stopped had a serious safety issue. Additionally, up 4 in 10 small trailers were also found with serious safety issues by the DVSA’s own checks.

“The DSA had a clear safety reason for introducing the test in 1997, and these reasons are still valid,” says Grieg. “People need proper training to be able to drive an articulated vehicle, particularly when they are doing so for the first time.”

Training for the soon-to-be-scrapped trailer test was intended to ensure drivers have the knowledge and confidence to deal with issues such as snaking – a lateral swaying movement of the trailer – or pitching, which is when the caravan’s front end moves up and down, pulling the rear of the car around like a seesaw. 

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IAM RoadSmart is especially concerned about the increasing popularity of caravanning, spurred on by the trend towards staycations during the Covid pandemic, as research suggests that many taking part in the caravanning boom haven’t any prior towing experience.

What is the law on towing

As the law stands, only drivers who passed their test before 1997 are allowed to tow trailers up to the 3,500kgs limit, under the so-called ‘grandfather rights’. If you passed the test after 1997, you’re only allowed to tow up to 750kgs unless you take the trailer test to add B and E categories to your licence.
When the law changes this autumn (the date is still to be confirmed), all driver records will be automatically updated to include the B /E categories, but licences themselves will only be updated when new photocards are ordered.

All trailer tests from next 20 September are being cancelled automatically, but there are no refunds or compensation for anyone who has recently paid for training or a test. It’s also worth noting that the current laws still apply until the rule change comes into force in the autumn, so towing an overweight trailer still risks a hefty fine.

Do you think scrapping the trailer towing test is a good idea? Let us know in the comments below…

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