Am I insured to pull a trailer if I don't have a trailer licence?
Q: I have been driving a jeep for many years both for my personal use and also for towing a cattle trailer to and from the mart, and also around the farm. I have heard recently of farmers being stopped by gardaí while towing trailers as they did not hold the correct licence. I am worried that I will potentially have to face into another driving test and whether or not my insurance will cover me in the case of an accident if I do not have the correct licence.
A. This question has come up many times recently as it seems the number of drivers being stopped while towing trailers without the correct licence is increasing.
The majority of drivers in Ireland who have passed a driving test or hold a 'full driving licence' have a B license.
This type of licence allows the driver to tow a trailer (a) where the MAM (maximum authorised mass) of the trailer is not greater than 750kg or (b) where the MAM of the trailer exceeds 750kg (0.75 tonne), the combined MAM of the towing vehicle and the trailer is not greater than 3,500kg (3.5 tonnes).
The MAM is the weight of a trailer including the maximum load it can carry in accordance with the manufacturer's design specifications.
To establish the MAM of your trailer, you should check the manufacturer's statutory plate affixed to it. If there is no plate affixed to the trailer and the authorised distributor for the trailer cannot give you this information, you should get a suitably qualified individual to rate the trailer for you and affix a plate to it.
Bearing in mind that a typical Isuzu Trooper weighs almost two tonnes - by adding even a small cattle trailer, most farmer drivers will find themselves exceeding the maximum authorised mass allowed on the B license while towing.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) has stated that as a general rule, a category B licence would not entitle the holder to tow a horsebox or a livestock trailer because the DGCW/MAM would exceed 3,500kg.
Getting a BE licence
For many farmers, towing a livestock trailer is essential to their job. If this is the case then you will need a category BE licence. In order to get a BE licence you must first get a BE learner permit.
Once you have your BE learner permit, the RSA recommends that you get tuition in towing a trailer from a qualified Approved Driving Instructor.
Once you hold a BE learner permit, you are entitled to drive a car, van or 4x4 with a MAM not exceeding 3,500kg and you can draw a trailer, provided the laden weight of the trailer being towed does not exceed the manufacturer's specified towing capacity for your towing vehicle.
The heaviest trailer that can be towed with a BE learner permit is one with a MAM not more than 3,500kg.
Therefore, the MAM of the towing vehicle and trailer must not exceed 7,000kg. BE learner permit holders must be accompanied by a qualified driver who holds a full BE, C1E, CE, D1E or DE licence for at least two years. In order to get a full category BE licence you will need to pass a practical driving test.
If you have never passed a theory test, you will need to pass one before you can apply for your BE learner permit. This will effect many drivers who got their driving licence before 2001.
Towing another vehicle
If you need to tow another vehicle with your vehicle using a rope or strap - for example, a broken down vehicle - you should only do so to the nearest convenient safe place of repair, and the driver of the towing vehicle must be the holder of a BE driving licence.
Theresa Murphy is a barrister based in Ardrahan, Co. Galway
Compliance doesn't guarantee cover
Complying with the licence requirements and being fully insured are not necessarily the same thing.
The policy on trailers varies significantly between insurance companies. You should check whether your policy definitely covers you to tow a trailer because some policies do not actually cover this even where you hold the correct licence.
FBD say that they encourage all farmers to comply with the new regulation to ensure they hold the appropriate licence to tow a trailer in connection with their farm business.
Anything which enhances safety and reduces the risk of catastrophic incidents is supported by FBD.
FBD have also stated that "when we issue a policy of insurance which provides Third Party Liability, we are obliged to pay claims to any injured third party arising in connection with the use of the insured vehicle…. this obligation rests with insurers regardless of the driver's adherence to RTA (road traffic act) provisions whether they be in connection with the testing of vehicles or licence category of a driver, wearing of a seatbelt and so on".
This effectively means that even if you are breaking the law in not holding the correct licence for the trailer you are towing, under their policy, third parties will still be insured.
In addition, FBD state that insurers can, under contract, "seek to recover the costs of such claims from drivers who are in breach of contract conditions, however, this issue rarely arises with our farming customers."
The obligation to pay claims does not apply in the same way in relation to damage to the insured person's vehicles, so you may have difficulty in making a claim to cover damage to your own vehicle, even where you hold a comprehensive insurance policy, if you have an accident while driving without the correct licence.
Insurance companies vary in their terms and conditions and what is covered under their policies.
All farmers and drivers generally who tow trailers, should clarify the position with their insurers to prevent a situation where they are driving without a valid policy of insurance.
This is a very serious road traffic offence carrying very severe penalties.
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