Domestic holidays have never been more popular; the National Caravan Council (NCC) estimates there are around 555,000 touring caravans on the UK roads today. This is largely thanks to hardcore fans who made caravan holidays a way of life, but recent events have also led to an upsurge in the so-called staycations.
A newspaper report from 2015 found that the caravan holiday industry had risen to a value of £6 million, and that caravan production was up by approximately 12.5%. This trend has shown no signs of stopping and proved to be a lucrative source of income to local tourism. However, it has also led to an upsurge in towing malpractice.
What you need to know about caravan towing
Towing a small trailer or caravan may not seem like a huge deal, but with an average of 11 trailer and caravan accidents per day in the UK, it remains somewhat of an overlooked issue. First and foremost, drivers must make sure their licence actually allows them to tow a caravan or trailer, and since there exists no specific licence for trailer or caravan towing, it all comes down to weight.
If you passed your test after the 19th of January 2013, your category B licence allows you to tow small trailers with a weight of 750kg or less, or a trailer over 750kg so long as the combined weight of the car and trailer does not exceed 3.5 tonnes. Anything above this weight will require you to take an additional category B+E driving test to upgrade your towing capabilities.
Once you are legally allowed to tow a caravan or a large trailer, there are some basic things you can do to stay safe as you adjust to the new experience. If you are feeling particularly nervous, look into one day courses or lessons. There are many camping and caravanning clubs that provide these at a reasonable price, which can make all the difference for towing rookies.
The rules of caravan towing
Whether you are towing a small trailer or a large caravan, these basic safety precautions will help you stay safe on the most winding of country roads. Before you set off, however, make sure you can see the back of your unit. Consider investing in extension mirrors for caravan towing, which may seem impractical at first, but are actually fairly easy to fit. Don’t argue, just do it; these towing mirrors could literally save your skin.
Loading your unit
Trailer weight distribution is crucial when it comes to towing; suboptimal load arrangements, such as back-heavy loads, could cause caravan snaking, pitching, and even flipping. The heaviest items in a load should always be over the axle, the medium weight items should be along the floor, and the lightest items should be placed at the top.
Performing safety checks
You should complete basic safety checks on your trailer as well as the usual checks on your car before you start the journey. Make sure the load is secure, the lights are working properly, the gross weight of the vehicle is within the maximum towing limit, the gross weight of the trailer is in line with your vehicle’s towing capacity, and the wheel nuts and bolts are properly tightened.
Also, it would be wise to double-check whether your unit is equipped with the appropriate trailer or caravan tyres, the tyres themselves have the correct pressure, and their tread depth satisfies the legal minimum requirements for a trailer tyre.
Practice, practice, (reverse) practice
Reversing with a caravan or trailer is undoubtedly one of the most feared manoeuvres for beginners. This is why we strongly recommend you practice beforehand, regardless if you think it will be needed or not. It is in fact harder to reverse with small trailers, because they turn quickly and can be hard to see in your mirrors. Find an empty space or car park and practice a little for both peace of mind and applied knowledge. Bring a (trusted) friend along for some help!
Respecting the caravan safe space
When you are in the process of driving with your trailer or caravan, you should always remember that it will take more time to brake. In fact, even an empty caravan or trailer can increase your braking distance by up to 20%. Leaving a little more space between your car and the vehicle in front is a simple yet effective way to protect yourself and others while towing.
Obeying the towing speed limits
Much like it takes more time to stop while towing, it can take more time to speed up. Make sure you account for this when merging with motorways, and be prepared to drive at a lower speed than you are normally used to. Taking corners and turning at high speeds is never a great idea, but it can be even more catastrophic as you are towing. Remember that slow and steady wins the race, especially when it comes to keeping control of a trailer.
As for the actual speed limit when towing a trailer, the maximum speed on a dual-carriageway is 60mph. For single-carriageways that number is reduced by 10mph.
No more cutting corners
Cornering will be difficult to get used to, at first, so take a wider path to ensure you avoid bumping up on curbs. Try not to focus too much on the cars around you, either; they are well aware of your unit and will act accordingly. So long as you are obeying the law and taking the appropriate measures to maximise safety for yourself and others, the situation is manageable.
And finally, remember to add a little extra throttle on hill starts when towing. All of this will become second-nature in time; respect the learning curve, be patient, don’t force yourself into unfavourable situations, and you will get there in the end!