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Can you legally tow a trailer? It's not that simple in SA

2016-06-15 08:51

DID YOU KNOW? To legally tow a heavier trailer, caravan or boat, a code EB licence is required. Image: iStock

Cape Town - As school terms in South Africa come to an end later in June, many South African families will take to our roads resulting in increased traffic.

Many road users will be towing trailers, boats or caravans on SA's roads.

Many road users might not be aware that their current driving licence may not be legal to tow these trailers.

Reality check

It is assumed by many drivers in South Africa that by passing their driver’s test, they are automatically qualified to tow, and while this was once the case, it has not been for a long time, reports the Automobile Association.

In 2000, SA switched to the current credit card type driving licences. When this occurred, code 08 licences were automatically converted to EB code licences. Since then, new standard driving licences issued are code B. What this means is that a Code B licence allows a road user to tow a light luggage trailer weighing less than 750kg (fully laden). To tow a heavier trailer, caravan or boat, a code EB licence is required, reports the AA.

The AA said: "This change has led to some confusion with many people still assuming that a driving licence automatically allows them to tow any sort of trailer. But this is no longer the case, and code B drivers who are towing trailers heavier than 750kgs are doing so illegally."

Safe driving and towing a trailer safely in SA

Johan Jonck, Arrive Alive editor, said: "The first question before loading and connecting the trailer should be 'is itlegal?'. The obligation is on the driver to ensure that the trailer is towed in a manner that does not breach road traffic legislation and which makes both the vehicle and the trailer roadworthy. 

Road traffic Legislation may have stipulations with regards to the following:

1 A registration certificate / licence disk.
2 The speed limit when towing.
3 Towing capacity of a specific vehicle.
4 Required stopping distances/brake requirements.
5 Height and width/overhang restrictions.
6 Flags and warning panels required where there is overhang of the trailer towed.
7 Restrictions with regards to specific unique loads carried.
8 Whether towing more than one trailer is allowed.
9 Whether carrying of passengers is prohibited or allowed.
10 Requirement of extra mirrors for towing large trailers.

Jonck adds: "Legislation might not be the same if you are crossing the border - enquire to ensure you comply with the law in the relevant jurisdiction. Some European countries require spare bulbs, a warning triangle, a fire extinguisher and a first-aid kit as legal requirements."

Survey results

The AA contacted 20 testing stations in South Africa asking whether they believed "motorists are allowed to tow caravans with their code B licences.

"We also wanted to establish what happens when asked about allowing code B licences to be upgraded to code EB, or where code EB licences are being specifically requested by new applicants.

"Of the 20 stations contacted, 17 did not answer their telephones. Of the remaining three, the Bloemfontein Testing Station indicated (incorrectly) that motorists are allowed to tow their caravans with code B licences. The Tzaneen Testing Station and the Ladysmith Testing Station provided the most accurate information."

What if you want to upgrade your licence?

The law, the AA says, does not make provision for a simple upgrade from the code B to the code EB licence. Road users who want to obtain a code EB licence must retake the learner’s licence test and repeat their driver tests with a trailer weighing more than 750kg.

Read: Safe towing on SA's roads

The AA said: "While all testing stations should be able to accommodate these tests, with such limited response, it is unclear how many actually do. Both the Tzaneen and Ladysmith Testing Stations did confirm that they have the facilities to conduct code EB tests.

“Of concern is that many people simply don’t realise that they are towing illegally. Besides the legal implications, motorists will falsely believe they are covered by their insurance in the event of a crash while the reality is that these claims may be declined. This could lead to major negative financial implications, especially if other vehicles are involved. We urge everyone to check their licences before setting off this holiday to make sure they are legally allowed to tow and, if they aren’t, to make arrangements to ensure they comply with the regulations.” 

Towing tips

1 Always be vigilant and adjust your driving style to meet road conditions.
2 Beware of your engine overheating on long climbs.
3 Use a lower gear when travelling downhill to increase vehicle control and reduce strain on brakes.
4 Avoid sudden steering inputs while driving as this might cause the trailer to sway.
5 Accelerate, brake and steer smoothly to avoid sway, especially in wet or slippery conditions.
6 Slow down well before entering corners and bends
7 Your vehicle and the trailer will be more affected by gusts of wind and wind shift caused by large trucks.
8 Observe the road further ahead than normal in order to have more time to react to changes in traffic or road conditions.



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