A major change in driving licence law which will affect millions of motorists comes into effect next week.
From Monday, 15 November, the rules around towing trailers and caravans are changing to make it easier for drivers to use their own vehicle for towing.
The change means that anyone who passed their test after 1 January 1997 will be permitted to tow a trailer up to 3,500kg without having to pass any additional driving test.
Previously, drivers who obtained their licence after December 1996 have had to sit a separate “Class B +E” car and trailer test in order to tow anything heavier than 750kg.
However, as part of efforts to tackle the HGV driver shortage, the Government has scrapped the requirement for private drivers.
By removing the test, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency says it will free up examiners to carry out more tests for lorry drivers to help address the shortages affecting the UK’s haulage industry.
As part of this plan, the DVSA cancelled all B+E tests from September but initially didn’t issue any guidance on when the law would change, leaving drivers without the right qualification in limbo.
Now it has confirmed that from next Monday anyone with a licence issued since 1997 will be able to tow a trailer with a maximum allowed mass (MAM) of 3,500kg and their licences will automatically be updated with the new category.
Drivers who passed their test before 1997 are unaffected by the changes.
Motorists have been warned that until the change takes effect they could still be fined £1,000 and given six penalty points if they are caught towing without the correct licence categories.
The change has prompted concerns that road safety could be put at risk as more untrained drivers attempt to tow heavy trailers and caravans.
Neil Greig, director of research at road safety charity IAM Roadsmart warned that removing the test also removed a vital element of training that helped keep road users safe.
He said: “The DSA [now DVSA] 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.
“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.”