Monday 23 January 2017

Drivers risk breaking our trailer laws when it comes to towing

Driving with wrong licence could hit insurance cover too

Published 27/04/2016 | 02:30

Many people driving with trailers are not properly licensed.
Many people driving with trailers are not properly licensed.
Skoda say 22pc of all the vehicles they sell here have had a towbar fitted.

Thousands of motorists could be breaking the law, putting themselves, others and their insurance cover at risk because they are not properly geared up for, or licensed to tow, a trailer, horsebox or caravan.

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That's the stark conclusion after revelations of how hazy our knowledge can be of weight and towing limits, especially as far as legislation introduced since October, 2012, is concerned.

Consequently even those who regularly take cattle to marts, ponies to shows, etc, may not have the correct licence, it is suggested.

Worse still they may be over the legal limits for towing weights, thereby posing the danger of an accident or mishap to themselves and others.

The lid on the whole area of trailer and towing laws was emphatically lifted by a special event organised by Skoda Ireland this week.

Experts showed not only how easy it can be for someone to overlook elements such as towing weight and correct licence requirements but also how complex an area it has become. Which is why I would urge you to check out comprehensive details on trailers and towing on www.rsa.ie

At a special series of events to highlight the issue, expert John Kearney told us there is poor awareness of trailer and towing laws. He posed us a few questions based on practical situations which, in my case anyway, substantiated his claim of substantial ignorance.

Skoda's Ray Leddy, who organised the event, said: "In many cases people are driving and are not properly licensed. In the main, a standard category B licence does not entitle the holder with a large 4x4 commercial or SUV to tow a horsebox or livestock trailer because the combined maximum weight exceeds 3,500kgs. In this case a test is required to acquire a BE licence." He emphasised how insurance could come into question in some cases too.

Important: always check your vehicle is safely capable of doing what you ask of it because, no matter what, YOU are responsible for it once you take the wheel.

One thing became clear as our Trailer Day wore on; towing is fraught with danger. We picked up a Skoda Citigo from Mullingar Autos and ferried it on a lovely trailer pulled by an Octavia Scout 2.0 150bhp diesel 4x4. The legal limit is 80kmh but as I drove towards Glasson, Co Westmeath along good, country roads I realised how little room there was on my side of the road, especially when I met lorries or buses. Equally there is a real skill in reversing and handling car-and-trailer in tight spots.

Skoda told us 22pc of all the vehicles they sell here have had a towbar fitted. And while cynics might say it is in their commercial interest that one of their towbars be fitted, there are genuine safety considerations in doing so too. You absolutely can't take any risks with flimsy add-ons in this area. The cost of fitting a towbar to an Octavia is €499, a Yeti €549 and a Superb €899 - for that money you get trailer stability assist, bulb monitor, upgraded ABS for extra weight, parking sensors etc. It's not just a towbar. It's a combination of towing elements.

All-wheel-drive or 4x4 is a big help too where you have a lot of additional weight bearing down on the back axle as it substantially improves traction.

I admit I was ignorant of many new regulations, rules and procedures. It would serve us all well to check, and check again, that what we are hitching up to is safe and sound and not a lot of potential trouble out the back (www.rsa.ie).

*Almost 90pc of vans weighed last year by the UK's Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) were overloaded - up from 84pc in 2014.

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