A road safety organisation says it has “serious safety concerns” after the government suggested it might scrap towing licences for UK motorists. IAM Roadsmart, the trading name for the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), says it fears lowering standards will “exacerbate an existing safety situation”.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) is currently consulting on whether to can tests for drivers who want to tow heavy loads. It’s hoped doing so would relieve the pressure on heavy goods vehicle (HGV) examiners who are desperately needed amid a national shortage of HGV drivers.

But IAM Roadsmart says it is “concerned” about the proposal, which it says could impact road safety. The organisation claims the DVSA has found up to one in every six caravans they stopped had a serious safety issue, while four in 10 small trailers were also found with serious safety issues.

Volkswagen ID.4 towing

At present, the rules say drivers who passed their car driving test after January 1, 1997, can only drive a vehicle up to 3,500 kg maximum authorised mass (MAM), towing a trailer of up to 750 kg MAM. To drive a car with a heavier trailer, such as a caravan, these drivers would need to pass a further test.

However, those who passed their tests before January 1, 1997, are allowed to tow a car and trailer combination of up to 8,250 kg MAM. These so-called ‘grandfather rights’ mean these drivers don’t have to pass an extra test before towing.

If the DVSA’s proposals are introduced, though, grandfather rights could be granted to all UK motorists regardless of when they passed their tests. The DVSA itself says it would mean 30,000 fewer tests being taken every year – a number that has swollen as the public turns to caravanning rather than holidaying abroad.

Hooking up the caravan ready for towing

“If a test is no longer a requirement, this raises some serious safety concerns, especially at this busy holiday time,” said Neil Greig, the director of policy and research at IAM Roadsmart. “We are very concerned the decision will exacerbate an existing safety situation as currently, as per DVSA’s own safety checks, up to one in six caravans they stopped had a serious safety issue, while four in 10 small trailers were also found with serious safety issues. Many of these could have been avoided by better training and awareness of towing safety best practice.

“The DSA had a clear safety reason for introducing the test in 1997, and these reasons are still valid. People need proper training to be able to drive an articulated vehicle, particularly when they are doing so for the first time.”

In its proposal, the DVSA said it would continue to encourage drivers to receive professional training before towing, but it admitted it could not make such action mandatory.

“If the test requirement were to be removed, we would continue to encourage drivers to obtain professional training before first towing a car and trailer combination,” said the organisation. “However, we recognise we would not be able to mandate that requirement so it would not necessarily ensure road safety standards were maintained or that there would be an economically viable level of work for some trainers.

This option would offer savings for individuals who would not need to take a test. There may also be some benefits for some businesses who use a car or van and trailer combination – such as gardening services or horse transportation.”