DRIVERS who tow caravans or trailers are being urged to put safety first as changes to the regulations come into force.
The new rules mean it will no longer be a requirement for drivers who passed their test after January 1, 1997 to take an additional test to have certain towing categories added to their licence.
All drivers with full licences will be entitled to tow trailers until their licence expires. However, the combination of vehicle and trailer must not exceed a maximum authorised mass of 8.25 tonnes.
Road safety organisation GEM Motoring Assist chief executive Neil Worth said motorists must put safety first on every towing journey.
"Doing away with the test raises safety concerns, but we take the view that individual responsibility must be even more of a priority for every driver who's towing. We all need to ensure we know what we're doing before setting off with a trailer," he said.
"For example, what if we are on a narrow lane and we have to reverse? What if we encounter strong crosswinds? What if the trailer becomes unstable and starts snaking behind us?
"Additionally, as many owners of trailers and caravans use them infrequently, it's important to ensure the trailer is in a fit state for the road, as well as checking load distribution, lights, tyres, brakes and couplings."
GEM has compiled a list of basic tips relevant for anyone planning to tow a trailer, horse box or caravan.
1. Check your insurance:Most policies do cover you for third party when towing. However, assume nothing. It is your responsibility to make sure that you have the appropriate cover.
2. Check your breakdown cover:Most recovery companies won't cover a trailer unless it is specified in your contract. GEM Motoring Assist's award-winning breakdown recovery service does cover trailers and caravans.
3. Don't rush:Moving off needs more effort, slowing down and stopping takes a lot longer and bends need to be approached slowly and carefully. Many trailers, caravans and horseboxes, for example, are wider and taller than the towing vehicle, so take extra care with road positioning, especially when pulling over alongside kerbs, entering toll booths or refueling at petrol stations.
4. Leave extra room on bends: Trailers cut corners when you're turning, so always leave yourself extra room on corners and bends.
6. Know the rules:Be aware of the lower speed restrictions for trailers, and remember that when towing, you are not permitted in the right-hand lane of a motorway with three lanes or more.
7. Reverse with confidence:The first and foremost rule is slow and steady, as the faster you do it, the faster you can get into trouble. Find a big empty field or car park so you can quietly practice and make your own mistakes. To steer the trailer, remember that you need to move the wheel in the opposite direction to that if you were reversing the car with no trailer. This can be really tricky but practice makes perfect - the more you do it the more natural it becomes.