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1st February 2023

The complete guide to towing laws

When towing a trailer there are legal requirements you need to abide by. That’s why we’ve put together a guide on how to tow a trailer safely and legally.

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A good trailer allows you to get all sorts of jobs done, from moving home and disposing of garden rubbish, to packing up the family luggage for a holiday and hauling hobby equipment such as boats and bikes. You can do all sorts of things with the right trailer.

But towing a trailer takes quite a bit of getting used to and is fraught with extra risk, especially for the novice. According to Highways England, they have to deal with around 4,000 trailer and caravan related incidents every year, that’s 11 every day. This involves trailers of every description, from horsebox and builders’ trailers to teardrop caravan trailers.

To help reduce that extra risk, there are a lot of things you need to know before you hitch up and take to the road.

Who can tow a trailer in the UK and do I need a special licence to tow one?

luggage trailer

Those with a standard car driving licence will usually be able to tow a trailer. However, the maximum authorised mass (MAM) of the trailer or caravan you’re allowed to tow will depend on when you passed your driving test. The rules around this changed on 16th December 2021.

If you passed your test before 1st January 1997, you’re usually allowed to drive a vehicle and trailer combination up to 8,250kg MAM.  You’re also allowed to drive a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM.

You can check your driving licence to make sure these restrictions apply to you.

If you passed on or after the 1st January 1997, you can tow trailers up to 3,500 MAM.

You will have to pass the lorry theory and C1+E driving test if you want to tow anything heavier. This will allow you to drive vehicles and trailers with a combined weight of up to 12,000kg MAM.

How do I work out my car’s towing capacity?

You should be able to find your car’s maximum towing capacity in the car’s handbook. Alternatively, you can check the car’s vehicle identification number (VIN), which is normally displayed under the bonnet or inside the driver’s door.

If the vehicle is able to tow a trailer safely, it will display the vehicle’s gross vehicle weight on the first line, and the gross train weight on the second line. The gross train weight is the combined MAM of the car and trailer, while the car’s gross vehicle weight is the MAM of the vehicle, including passengers and fuel.

To find out your car’s maximum towing capacity, subtract the gross vehicle weight on line one from the gross train weight on line two.

The weight of your trailer and contents must be within the vehicle’s towing ability and, as a general rule, should not exceed 85% of the car’s kerbside weight if the trailer has brakes – 50% if it hasn’t.

If your car doesn’t include a gross train weight, you should not use the vehicle for towing.

What other restrictions apply when towing?

  • The maximum trailer width in the UK and EU is 2.55m
  • The maximum length for a trailer towed by a vehicle weighing up to 3,500kg is 7m. Note that this doesn’t include the A-frame
  • Indicators, lights and brakes (where fitted) must work
  • The trailer must display the same number plate as the towing vehicle
  • You are prohibited from towing a trailer in the outside lane of a motorway, unless directed by emergency services to do so

What are the speed limits while towing a trailer?

Trailer speed limits are:

  • 30mph in built-up areas
  • 50mph on single carriageway roads
  • 60mph on motorways and dual carriageways

Tips for towing a trailer or caravan


The following tips can help you remain safe on the roads.

  • Make sure the trailer or caravan is packed correctly. Poorly loaded vehicles can lead to manoeuvring problems and accidents. Make sure your heaviest items are stowed on the floor in the middle of the trailer.
  • Don’t overload your trailer or caravan. Adhere to guidelines over kerbside weight.
  • Make sure you have sufficient weight at the front end of your trailer. If you don’t, it can cause the trailer to sway and may get out of control if not addressed.
  • Make sure the caravan or trailer isn’t too heavy for the towcar’s capability to control it.
  • Remain cautious and don’t drive too fast for the road conditions.
  • Reduce speed or take a break if crosswinds are causing stability problems.
  • Choose a car and caravan or trailer with stability aids, but don’t rely on them to correct an unstable combination. A towing stabiliser is a sway control device that restricts the lateral and vertical articulation between the towing vehicle and caravan or trailer.
  • If stability issues arise, do not brake. Instead, ease off the accelerator and allow the speed to drop. Do not try to steer against the motion of the car. Do not try to accelerate, to pull the trailer straight. This is likely to result in the return of instability at an even greater speed.

Are there any other safety or security measures I should consider for my car or trailer?

There are a number of safety and security measures that you should consider when towing a trailer. 

Trailers can be vulnerable to theft so make sure you fit good-security devices. They may even pay for themselves as extra security systems can qualify for up to 17.5% discount on a trailer insurance policy from Sterling.

You will need to fit good towing mirrors. The law states you must have side mirrors that allow you to clearly see an area that is 4 metres wide from the side of your caravan at a distance 20 metres behind the driver. 

Your trailer must have two red sidelights, two red stoplights, two red reflective triangles, and amber indicators that flash 60–120 times per minute. Trailers built after 30 September 1990 also need white front reflectors while trailers fitted with brakes and built from October 2012 will also need reverse lights.

You can get some training to improve your trailer towing skills. The Caravan Club offers specialised courses for towing caravans or you can go to a specialist trailer towing training school.

Do I need to alter my driving style when towing a trailer or caravan?


You will need to alter your driving style. The added weight and the extra space your combined vehicle and trailer will take up makes even relatively simple motoring tasks such as turning right across oncoming traffic more difficult. Here’s how to perform key manoeuvres.


It will take more time to build up speed, which you’ll have to allow for when pulling out at junctions or overtaking an obstacle. When overtaking you will have to remain in the overtaking lane longer than you would normally to ensure you have cleared the obstruction you are driving past.

Changing gear

In a manual car you will need to stay in lower gears for a little longer before shifting up. If you are driving an automatic, you may need to engage the manual selector to control gear changes, especially when going uphill.


Generally you should moderate your speed. Trailer speed limits on UK roads are 60mph for motorways and dual carriageways and 50mph on single carriageway roads – but you don’t have to go that fast! Slow down to a speed that you, your car and your trailer are comfortable with.


The added weight of towing a trailer will affect your braking distance. You must leave far more space between you and the car in front so you have plenty of time to react.  


The length your trailer adds to your vehicle means you will have to take corners wider than you would normally to prevent trailer wheels mounting the kerb. 


Reversing a trailer or caravan is by far the trickiest manoeuvre to master because the trailer turns in the opposite direction to the direction in which you’re steering. Try reversing in an empty car park, yard or other open space. It can be frustrating, but practice makes perfect.


It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway, you will need far more room to park if you are towing a caravan and, depending on your trailer, you may stick out more if you are parking by the kerb. You are better off going to a car park where there are often dedicated areas for longer vehicles and vehicle/trailer combinations.

Take plenty of breaks

Towing a trailer for long distances, for long periods of time, or in heavy traffic, can be very tiring, especially if you are new to towning. You will need to make regular rest stops. 

Do I need to insure my trailer separately from my car insurance? 

It is not a legal requirement to take out separate insurance for your trailer, but if you tow a trailer to transport goods either commercially or domestically, you should seriously think about it. 

Most comprehensive car and van policies cover trailers, but usually only for third party liability. This means you would be covered for any injury to another person or damage to their property, but not if your trailer was damaged in an accident that was your fault. Third party cover also excludes theft and fire damage. 

Trailer insurance will solve these problems and provide complete peace of mind, whatever you need to transport. 

Sterling’s trailer insurance starts at £90 a year but discounts are available for trailers fitted with data tag security. 

Cover is available for commercial and domestic use of trailers up to the value of £40,000. It includes up to £1 million public liability cover and European cover for up to 30 days is included. 

Sterling has specialist policies for boat trailers, builders’ trailers, flatbed trailers, garden trailers, horse trailers, luggage trailers, teardrop trailers and trailer tents

Check it before towing it’

Highways England’s Strategic Road Safety Lead Stuart Lovatt said: “Thankfully incidents are very rare but now is the time to remind motorists of the need to make sure you have carried out proper checks and have loaded the trailer or vehicle correctly.

“We have all sorts of travelling on our network including horse boxes, trailer tents and leisure vehicles such as boats and caravans. Our message is really simple, check it before towing it. So everyone gets home, safe and well.”

Get quality trailer insurance 

Sterling offers specialist policies for all sorts of trailers, including boat trailer insurance, builders trailer insurance, flatbed trailer insurance, flatbed trailer insurance, garden trailer insurance, horse trailer insurance, luggage trailer insurance, teardrop trailer insurance and trailer tent insurance. Policies start from £90. Call us on 0344 381 9990 for a quote, or book a callback at a time that suits you.

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