If you want to drive a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) with a trailer, you’ll need a trailer entitlement (+E) on your driving licence. To add this, you’ll need to hold the full entitlement for the vehicle before you take the trailer test.
Remember to check the vehicle’s insurance policy: not all policies cover towing a trailer. You should also check the vehicle handbook: most manufacturers make recommendations about the maximum size of trailer that the vehicle can safely tow and how they should be attached. Make sure you follow these recommendations.
Not all rescue services will include recovering a trailer so make sure you check this before you ask for assistance.
Driving with a trailer
Towing a trailer may increase the number of blind spots around the vehicle, which you must be aware of when you’re driving and manoeuvring. You may be able to fit wide-angle mirrors to reduce the blind spots.
If you’re towing a trailer or driving an articulated lorry on a motorway, the speed limit is 60 mph (96 kph). All other speed limits are the same as for ordinary HGVs.
If there are three or more lanes on a motorway, you must not drive a vehicle towing a trailer in the right-hand lane.
Towing a trailer will change the way a vehicle handles. You’ll need to
- allow more time for braking
- give yourself three times the normal distance and time to overtake safely
- allow for the extra vehicle length, particularly when turning or emerging at junctions – you might need to take a different position on the road to give you enough space to turn.
If you use your brakes too heavily, eg when going downhill, your vehicle may suffer brake fade – a loss of braking power caused by the brakes getting too hot. To help avoid brake fade
- change to a lower gear
- use engine braking to slow the vehicle
- do not allow the vehicle to coast.
‘Snaking’ is when the trailer begins to swerve from side to side while you’re driving. If this happens,
- ease off the accelerator slowly
- reduce your speed gradually until the snaking stops.
Reversing with a trailer takes particular care because the trailer can move in a different direction to the one you’d expect.
Remember to check the height and width of the trailer and to bear these in mind when you’re planning your route: look out for any restrictions.
Coupling and uncoupling a trailer
Make sure the vehicle is aligned to the trailer before you begin coupling or uncoupling.
Before you begin coupling the trailer, you’ll need to make sure it’s ready.
- The trailer brake should be on so it cannot move independently.
- The height of the trailer must be correct so it will receive the unit safely.
Reverse slowly up to the trailer until you hear the kingpin mechanism lock into place. Take a look to make sure the fifth wheel jaws have correctly engaged, that the release mechanism is in the locked position and that the kingpin is located correctly in the jaws.
If there’s a dog clip, connect it to secure the kingpin release handle. When this is safely connected, select a low gear and try to move forward to test that the locking mechanism is engaged: do this twice to make sure it’s secure. This will avoid any risk of the trailer coming loose while you’re driving.
Make sure the vehicle parking brake is on, then connect the air and electric lines.
Before uncoupling a trailer, you must make sure your vehicle is parked on level ground and in a place where it’s safe to uncouple, eg away from pedestrians or passing traffic, and where the ground is clear from obstructions.
Make sure the brakes are applied on the trailer and the vehicle before you begin uncoupling, so neither part can move unexpectedly.
When you’ve disconnected the air lines and the electric connections, stow them safely so they cannot become tangled or damaged.