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How to tow a trailer correctly

Compliance and regulations around towing

Driving with a trailer in tow is a big responsibility and one that motorists should take seriously.  Motorists towing a trailer on Irish public roads must ensure that it is fully compliant with national and EU safety standards.  These safety regulations provide drivers with rules as regards a trailers' weight, lights, brakes, plating, under-run, side-guards, securing of loads, etc. that must follow be adhered to.

The three main pieces of regulation that drivers should familiarize themselves with are:

Drivers towing a trailer are required to have a specific driving license in accordance with the weight of the trailer that they are towing. For guidelines on which driving license type you require, additional information is available from the RSA by clicking here. Drivers should also educate themselves on the specific driving rules in terms of trailer type and brake requirements by clicking here.

To avoid being a danger to themselves and other motorists, drivers should always do a safety inspection before getting in their car and heading off on their drive to ensure:

  • The pin securing the ball mount to the receiver is intact.
  • The hitch coupler is secured.
  • Spring bar hinges are tight with the safety clips in place (load equalizer or weight distributing hitches).
  • Safety chains are properly attached.
  • The electrical plug is properly installed.

The weight capacities of the tow vehicle and the above mentioned components must not be exceeded by the gross trailer weight (GTW). Motorists should always consult their vehicle and trailer handbooks for these weight capacities.

AA Rescue advice on driving with trailers

Every year our breakdown service attends to hundreds of broken down vehicles with a trailer in tow. In addition to the above regulatory information AA Patrol, Keith Keegan, offers the following tips to drivers towing a trailer:

  • Motorists who are new to driving with a trailer should take time to practice their maneuvers in an empty car park before driving on a public road. 
  • Drivers should consult their vehicle owner’s manual for guidance on what gears they should be in when driving with a trailer.
  • Motorists should plan their driving route to avoid any potential height obstructions such as bridges or tunnels. This is especially important if driving with a boat or other tall objects in tow. 
  • Drivers should keep their speed down and their driving smooth. The car is pulling a heavier and longer load than usual, which can be harder to maneuver. Motorists should be especially careful when driving in fog, rain, icy conditions or on bumpy roads.  A moderate driving speed will also help to avoid trailer sway.
  • Drivers should leave themselves extra driving time to get to their destination.
  • Drivers should avoid sudden steering maneuvers while driving that might cause the trailer to sway.
  • Drivers should take turns wider than normal. The trailer's wheels will be much further to the inside of a turn than the towing vehicle's. The trailer will ride up on the curb on left turns and could even sideswipe another vehicle.
  • Motorists should allow more time to bring their car to a stop. The heavy load behind the car will add momentum.  Suddenly braking the car could cause the trailer to slide or the even jack knife.  
  • Motorists should anticipate the need to slow down their driving. More time is needed to react.
  • If overtaking another vehicle or changing lanes, drivers should indicate well in advance and allow extra distance to clear the vehicle  they’re overtaking before pulling back into the inside road lane.
  • Drivers should never overtake another vehicle on a hill or if there is an uneven road surface up ahead.
  • Whenever possible motorists should ask someone to guide them when reversing or parking and take it slowly. Drivers shouldn’t be afraid to start the maneuver again if needed.  Over steering can cause the trailer to turn sharply, so gradual movements are recommended.  
  • Drivers should be conscious of the fact that they’ll be more affected by gusts of wind and wind shift caused by large trucks when driving with a trailer. They should avoid the temptation to slam on the car’s breaks when this happens. 

Motorists who breaking down while driving with a trailer in tow should:

  • Pull the car and trailer as close to the road’s left hand verge or hard shoulder as possible if they are still driveable so as not to obstruct traffic.  
  • Switch on their trailer’s hazard warning lights.
  • Inform the Gardaí if a hazard to other drivers
  • Drivers who are AA Members, should call for breakdown assistance on 01-6179104 and an AA Patrol will provide roadside assistance.
  • If it’s safe to do so, drivers should place their vehicle’s hazard triangle on the side of the road
  • Drivers shouldn’t remove any animals if present from the broken down trailer.
  • Drivers and their passengers should exit the car on the non traffic side and stay as far back from the road as possible.