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Can a Learner driver tow a trailer? As is so often the case in Australia, the answer to this depends on where you live. Generally, the answer is no, and yet there are thousands of kilometres of roads in this country where it is allowed, as long as you display an extra L-plate on the vehicle you’re towing.
All the roads in Queensland, for example, and Western Australia, and South Australia - all of which are places where it’s legal for L-platers to tow a trailer.
In NSW and Victoria however, it would be fair to say that the majority of Australians, in population terms, cannot tow a trailer, caravan, boat or camper while they’re learning to drive.
It should not come as a surprise that Australian states don’t always agree with each other about what is wise, because we live in a country that still has three different railway gauges, which is the equivalent of having three different standardised road widths, some of which are too narrow for cars from other states to drive on. Madness? Don’t get a trainspotter started on that debate.
The other way of looking at this question, of course, is whether it is a good idea for learner drivers, faced with all the complexities and stress of learning to operate a motor vehicle, to be worrying about learning to tow something at the same time.
More cautious states, like Victoria, clearly think this is not the case. And there are certainly those who would argue that towing a trailer, and, in particular, learning to reverse park one, is a skill that will remain beyond many fully licensed drivers forever.
In the absence of a set of nationalised road rules, however, young drivers with a learners’ permit in certain states do have the option to double down on their level of learning challenge.
Let’s have a look at the laws, state by state, so that you know what’s legal where you live when it comes to driving with a trailer.
The license conditions for Learners in NSW are very clear, “they must not tow a trailer or any other vehicle” and they are similarly not permitted to drive any vehicle that is being towed.
Once someone gets their P1 provisional licence, things loosen up only slightly, because they must not drive a vehicle that is towing “any other vehicle with unladen mass of 250kg”. And they must display a P plate on the back of any trailer they are towing.
It’s also important to note that, while Queensland L-platers might be able to tow things, NSW residents can’t cross the border and have a go, as the NSW Centre for Road Safety points out: “NSW learner, P1 and P2 drivers and riders must obey the same licence conditions and restrictions hat apply to them in NSW when they drive or ride in other states or territories in Australia.”
So, basically, you’re not allowed to even attempt to learn how to tow something as heavy as a caravan or camper until you are fully licensed.
The restrictions on learning to tow a trailer while on your L plates are very similar in Victoria to what they are across the border in NSW, which must makes life simpler for people in Albury-Wodonga.
Learners, and P1 provisional licence holders, must not tow a trailer, or another motor vehicle, although P2 drivers may do so.
People on their learners can, however, drive a tractor of any size, or even a tractor that is towing a trailer, and the L plates do not need to be displayed. The tractor must be being used in connection with agricultural, horticultural, dairy, pastoral or commercial-fishing pursuits.
Step outside our most populous states and into the wide open spaces of South Australia, and the rules for learners change completely, as mylicence.sa.gov.au explains.
“If your permit or licence was issued in South Australia, you may drive a vehicle of no more than 4.5 tonne and tow a trailer, caravan, boat or horse float as SA does not restrict learner's permit or provisional licence drivers from towing such vehicles.”
The ability to do so will also “in most cases” travel with you, if you are a South Australian learner towing something interstate (although you won’t be allowed to do so in Victoria).
Can an L-plater tow a trailer in WA? You bet they can, as long as someone is in the car to teach them the tricky extra skills involved.
“L drivers are not restricted from towing a trailer as long as the learner driver is driving within the conditions of their learning permit – and this includes having a supervising driver alongside them in the vehicle,” is the official word from the WA Road Safety Commission.
Police in Queensland also advise that L-platers can tow a caravan or a trailer, but they must ensure they have their L plate on the back of the caravan, or visible on the trailer they are towing.
The Queensland Police also advised that: “Towing a trailer or caravan requires extra concentration and skill. You should gain experience before trying to tow at high speed or in confined spaces.”
Uniquely, Tasmania has not just one level of learner driver, but two - L1 and L2.
Fortunately this causes little confusion with the question of towing, because neither L1 or L2 drivers are allowed to tow any other vehicle or a trailer.
Provisional P1 drivers are allowed to do so.
It should come as little surprise that things are done differently again in the Australian Capital Territory, where learner drivers can tow, but only small trailers not exceeding 750kg. Which does sound like a slightly wiser way to learn than just going open slather.
Learner drivers in the Northern Territory, where being able to tow things is possibly more of a vital life skill, are, of course, allowed to tow a trailer, as long as an L plate is displayed on the rear of said trailer.