Training and Testing
change to the licensing and testing system on 1st
January 1997 saw the introduction of one completely
new test, the B+E car and trailer test. The other
tests for "new categories" were simply extensions
of the existing LGV and PCV tests. Although the
licence and test have been in for around 8 years
now, a huge number of people including, regrettably,
some instructors, are completely unaware of it.
This has led to numerous incidents of people driving
unlicensed and uninsured through ignorance of the
The regulations concerning towing trailers were
not designed to be straightforward and easy to understand.
They were originally prepared by a European Committee
but were then dragged through the political
process during which various groups succeeded in obtaining
concessions to reduce the impact of the regulations. The
resulting rules are extremely confusing and are a minefield
for the unwary. This article is intended to give a summary
only and should not be taken as a full explanation of
A B+E driving licence is required to tow large trailers
behind a motor car. A motor car is defined as a vehicle
with no more than 8 passenger seats, and with a maximum
permitted weight not exceeding 3500 Kgs - in effect this
means most vehicles up to the size of a Transit, apart
from a minibus.
A trailer is anything towed by a vehicle. So caravans,
horse boxes, car transporters etc. are all trailers. So
is a broken down car towed by another vehicle, and the
driver of the towing car usually needs to hold a B+E licence.
Trailers with a gross weight of less than 750 kgs
are ignored by the regulations and can be towed
by all car licence holders. Trailers under 750 kgs
are easy to identify because they usually do not
have brakes as they are not required to by the Construction
and Use Regulations. Trailers over 750 kgs have
to have brakes, usually "over run" brakes worked
from the tow ball, but some heavy trailers have
highly sophisticated brake systems worked electrically
or by compressed air.
There is one major exemption which needs to be properly
understood: A driver without a B+E licence can tow heavy
trailers providing the gross weight of the trailer is
less than the unladen weight of the towing vehicle and
the whole combination weighs less than 3500 kgs. This
means that a post 97 licence holder can tow a trailer
with a gross weight of around 1.5 tonnes, providing the
towing vehicle and trailer are carefully matched. The
combination needs to be very carefully matched however,
because if the driver gets it wrong and the exemption
is not fully complied with, it will fail, and the driver
is then unlicensed, and uninsured.
To know what licence is required, it is essential to identify
the precise maximum permitted weight of the trailer -
often a difficult task on older or home made trailers
- and then find the precise kerb weight of the towing
vehicle to ensure the gross trailer weight is less than
the car's unladen weight. It is then essential to ensure
the combination is less than 3500 kgs, so the maximum
permitted weight of the trailer must be added to the weight
of the towing vehicle. The final check is look in the
vehicle handbook to find out what the maximum permitted
towing weight for the car is. This can be quite a frightener
because many modern cars have very low towing limits and
some are not type approved to tow anything.
If the combination does not clearly come within the exemption,
the only safe course is for the driver to take a B+E test.
It is clear that this message has not got to most employers
or the general public because the numbers taking B+E tests
are extremely low. It was not surprising that candidate
numbers were low to start with but they were lower than
anyone expected: In 1997, DSA only conducted 20 B+E tests.
However, as the numbers of post 97 licence holders increases,
the demand for B+E training and tests would be expected
to rise dramatically.
Working on the assumption that DSA conduct around 1.2
million car tests a year, with a pass rate nationally
of around 45% -50%, then each year 540,000 new drivers
qualify. As 8 years have passed since 1997, there are
now going to be around 4.3 million drivers out there without
a B+E licence, and a few of them will need to tow a heavy
trailer. If only 1% actually need the licence, that would
be 43,000 people, and assuming a 50% pass rate, one could
expect DSA to have done around 85,000 B+E tests by now.
A recent DSA consultation document admitted that DSA had
"averaged 250 B+E tests a year for the last 2 years (2002
and 2003)." This figure can be compared with the number
done by the Ministry of Defence, who do their own testing,
and who average over 4000 per annum!
The only conclusion that can be drawn is that a lot of
people are towing trailers illegally, unlicensed and uninsured.
Although they are officially car tests, and come under
the car test regulations, B+E tests are conducted at the
DSA LGV Test centres by the LGV examiners. They occupy
vocational driving test slots and cost the same as LGV
and PCV tests, currently £85.00 on weekdays.
Vehicles and trailers used for B+E tests have to meet
the DSA minimum test vehicle standards. These are in the
process of changing so are a bit confusing at the moment.
If the towing vehicle was registered before October 2003,
any trailer can be used that has a maximum permitted weight
of at least 1 tonne but on newer vehicles the trailer
must be a closed box trailer, as wide as or slightly narrower
than the towing vehicle so the driver can only see to
the rear by using the mirrors. From July 2007, all B+E
test must be conducted with closed box trailers of at
least 1 tonne.
As B+E tests are car tests, the towing vehicle must meet
the usual car test requirements - L plates, seat belts
and head restraints for the driver and examiner, etc.
including an internal mirror for the examiner, which is
a little odd when tests are taken towing a large box trailer
which is legally required to completely block the candidate's,
and the examiner's view! The other amusing anomaly is
that the vehicle must be capable of 63 mph (100 kph) while
the maximum permitted speed for a vehicle towing a trailer
in the UK is 60 mph.
The B+E test follows the vocational test format with the
reversing and braking exercises conducted "off street"
in the test centre. These exercises are the same as the
LGV ones and details of the layout can be found in the
DSA publications and on their web site so there is little
point in repeating them here, but there is one difference
in the reversing exercise: On LGV tests, the extreme rear
of the trailer has to be above the 0.5 metre black and
yellow stopping area but candidates for B+E tests can
be anywhere in the larger, 3 foot, yellow area.
The road drive is round an LGV test route, usually around
15 miles long, and takes up to one hour. The test does
not include the downhill start or gear changing exercise
which are only included in vocational tests. The test
marking is the same as other tests with up to 15 driving
faults allowed, but with double the time in which to make
At the end of the test the candidate returns to the test
centre and has to uncouple the trailer, park the towing
vehicle alongside it, and then re-couple. This does cause
some difficulty as lining up the tow hitch and trailer
can be tricky. If the trailer is light enough, the candidate
can move it onto the coupling by hand but with heavy trailers
it is a case of learning to position the vehicle precisely.
Candidates are expected to know, and demonstrate, the
essential safety procedures and checks when coupling and
un-coupling and will fail if they miss a safety related
As the market for B+E training increases, and eventually
it must, many instructors will want to get involved and
may consider getting a trailer so they can offer the additional
qualification. There are a number of pitfalls which can
catch the unwary:
The car must be suitable to tow a large trailer.
Many popular driving school cars cannot tow a tonne,
and some that can will not do it easily. Frequently
a bigger and more powerful car is required which may
be less suitable for the instructor's core category
B tuition. It may therefore be better to have a different
car for B+E training which is difficult to justify unless
you have a reasonable volume of work for it.
Teaching a candidate to reverse a trailer can
be a long slow process and can be very hard on the clutch.
Constant reversing can heat the clutch up quite rapidly
and this will cause premature clutch wear. It is important
to take the vehicle for a drive frequently during reversing
sessions so a reasonable air flow passes over the transmission
and the heat is dissipated.
You cannot teach a candidate to reverse a trailer
on the road or in your local supermarket car park. You
have to have a safe, off street, reversing area and
in parts of the country, these can be hard, and expensive,
to get access to.
If you buy a trailer, you need somewhere very
safe to keep it. Trailers do not have registration numbers
or MoT certificates and if some low life steals your
trailer, you are very unlikely to get it back. Trailers
are expensive and easy to sell so are well worth stealing
and thousands go missing every year. If you decide to
buy a second hand training trailer, you must take great
care to avoid buying a stolen one. A recent study found
that 50% of second hand horse trailers advertised for
sale had been stolen!
At the present time no specific qualification is required
to conduct B+E training apart from having held the full
licence for 3 years, so most ADIs can dive straight in
if they wish. This may change in the future as DSA plan
to revamp the instructors registers so keep an eye on
the pages of this magazine.
Trailer training can make a nice change from an instructor's
normal work and can be profitable, but it can be a nightmare
if not organised properly.
2005 Chairman of AIRSO
Managing Director of Big Wheelers Ltd