Tow the line
Roadworthiness and towing a trailer safely
Here's what the law says
The first question before loading and connecting the trailer should be “Is it legal?” The obligation is on the driver to ensure that the trailer is towed in a manner that does not breach road traffic legislation and which makes both the vehicle and the trailer roadworthy. Legislation might not be the same if you are crossing the border - enquire to ensure you comply with the law in the relevant jurisdiction.
The Law: Road Traffic Legislation may have stipulations with regards to:
• A registration certificate / licence disk.
• The speed limit when towing.
• Towing capacity of a specific vehicle.
• Required stopping distances / Brake requirements.
• Height and width / overhang restrictions.
• Flags and warning panels required where there is overhang of the trailer towed.
• Restrictions with regards to specific unique loads carried.
• Whether towing more than one trailer is allowed.
• Whether carrying of passengers is prohibited or allowed.
• Requirement of extra mirrors for towing large trailers.
• Some European countries require spare bulbs, a warning triangle, a fire extinguisher and a first-aid kit as legal requirements.
Some modern vehicles have advanced technology to assist with towing of trailers. These include TSP or the Trailer Stability Program, helping to correct the ‘snaking’ action of a trailer. Your average vehicle may not have this and requires attention to specific vehicle components.
To tow a trailer that is roadworthy, we recommend several safety checks:
• Check tyres by looking for cracks or bulges on the sidewalls. Check for minimum tread depth, flat spots, uneven wear, and objects caught in the tread.
• Be even more cautious inspecting the small tyres on light-duty trailers.
• Check trailer brake and light connections.
• Be sure the lights on your trailer work - Have another person stand behind the vehicle to check the brake lights and turn signals for proper operation.
• Check to ensure the tow coupling and brake mechanisms are well lubricated.
• Jack the trailer up and spin the wheels, listening for rumbling noises which indicate worn wheel bearings.
• Ensure that tyres are inflated to the manufacturer's recommended level.
• Check that wheel-bearings, suspension and brakes are in good working condition.
• Check oil, water, brake fluid, battery.
• Tow bars and tow couplings - Ensure the coupling socket and ball are matching size.
• Coupling must be securely fastened and latched or screwed down when the trailer is connected to the towing vehicle.
• Safety chains must be properly connected with attachments capable of withstanding the specified breaking load of each chain.
• Trailer brakes (on a braked trailer)
• Red rear reflectors
• Rear number plate & number plate lamp visible / not obscured
• Direction indicators
• Temporary lights
• Ensure all doors, hatches, covers and any load or equipment are properly secured