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Towing the line

Date: 21 August 2008

Towing regulations have become tougher, but do you know how to stay legal? Tristan Young reports

Two years ago the Government introduced new legislation making it harder for businesses to tow.

From 1 May 2006 it became compulsory for cars or vans registered from that date, and with a gross vehicle and trailer weight in excess of 3500kg, to be fitted with a digital tachograph if towing on work business.

It wouldn't have been a problem if all vehicles could be easily fitted with a digital tacho, but the Government was ahead of the manufacturers, and fleets found that fitting digital tachographs to their new vehicles was technically far more difficult than with the previous generation of analogue tachos. It was a particular problem with 4x4 commercial vehicles such as pick-ups and those derived from car off-roaders.

As a solution, many fleets opted to buy vans registered before 1 May 2006 and fit analogue tachos. However, anecdotal evidence suggests many smaller businesses just tow illegally. And when quizzed by safety experts about what sort of journey they are on, they claim it's a personal rather than work-related trip - even if the item being towed, say a branded event display unit, is clearly only for business use.

Some vehicle makers solved the issue by lowering the gross vehicle and trailer weight (often called maximum authorised mass or MAM, or gross train weight) to 3500kg, but many have vehicles where digital tachographs simply cannot be fitted. For instance, Nissan's NP300 pick-up is rated above 3500kg for towing, but can't have a digital tacho fitted, whereas the Nissan Navara is rated above 3500kg and can. To keep the right side of the law see our list (table, right) of all those CVs and 4x4s that do both.

Fleet managers also have the added complication that it's not just the vehicles that must comply with the law, but also the people who drive them.

Euro-wide legislation means drivers who passed their test after 1 January 1997 are legally only allowed to tow either a vehicle up to 3500kg plus trailer up to 750kg, or a heavier, braked trailer providing the MAM does not exceed 3500kg. To tow up to 8250kg, these staff must pass an additional driving test, the first part of gaining an HGV licence. Drivers who passed their test before 1997 can tow with an MAM of up to 8250kg, although the vehicle must not weigh more than 7500kg.

Currently, the law regarding all aspects of towing is complex. However, in time and as more and more manufacturers make their vehicles compatible with digitachos, at least the legislation regarding this issue will become less of a problem.