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The world of towing is intimidating, and the prospect of having to understand and adhere to a comprehensive set of rules, as well as having to control heavy vehicle-and-load combinations and forced to contend with ever-changing traffic conditions, road surfaces and weather, is daunting, to say the very least.
But all of those factors – and more – have to happen in order for people to be safe on our roads.
So why is it that anyone with a driver’s licence is allowed to tow when it requires a specialised set of skills that you won’t encounter without a head load hanging off the rear of your vehicle?
That should be rectified as soon as humanly possible, and here’s a few of the more noteworthy reasons why we need towing licences.
Towing is dangerous
An open Class C (car) driving licence allows an individual to legally drive a vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) of 4.5 tonnes or less.
Anyone with an open Class C (car) driving licence is legally allowed to tow. So, someone without specific training, someone whose skills have not been formally tested, can be put in control of a vehicle-and-trailer combination that has a Gross Combined Mass (GCM) of 6000kg (using an auto 3.2-litre Ford Ranger Wildtrak as an example) or more, depending on the vehicle. (Note: I’m pretending this driver has loaded the vehicle and trailer/caravan/horse float within the legal capacities, which is not always the case.)
That’s six tonnes of vehicle and trailer, moving along the highway at 110km/h, subject to ever-changing traffic, surface and wind variations – some minor, some severe – with a driver whose responsibility it is to have packed the vehicle and trailer within weight limits, to have thoroughly checked all vehicle and trailer components to ensure everything is in safe, working order and then, while actually driving, to remain at all times alert and in control, or have the comprehensive skill-set to deal with any towing-related strife as it occurs.
That’s a huge ask for someone with no formal training or officially assessed experience.
Think about it.
Those who drive anything with a GVM of more than 4.5 tonnes require a licence, so why not someone in control of a moving vehicle-and-trailer combination with a GCM of 6000kg?
Go watch one of the many videos online which showcases a towing mishap – a horrific crash during an ill-advised over-taking move, instances of severe trailer sway, minor or major reversing accidents – and the list goes on. It makes for entertaining, but very sobering, viewing and further proof that we need towing licences.
Towing demands in-depth knowledge of your vehicle and trailer capacities
People are easily dazzled by a vehicle manufacturer’s claimed maximum towing capacity figures, but it’s absolutely crucial for a driver to always keep in mind their vehicle’s real-world weight capacities, including its payload, GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass; the maximum your vehicle can legally weigh, fully laden) and GCM (Gross Combined Mass; the maximum your vehicle and trailer combination can legally weigh).
You’ll be surprised/appalled at how little you can actually pack into your vehicle before it exceeds its legal weight limits, especially when you factor in the weight of aftermarket add-ons and the like.
If, for example, you tow your ute’s maximum 3500kg – which you should avoid doing – you won’t be able to load much more of anything in your vehicle before you’re well and truly illegal. Remember to factor into your equation that your vehicle will be fully loaded with driver, passengers, camping gear and more.
Here's a tip: use a weigh bridge before heading off anywhere with a caravan, boat or trailer load.
Towing requires special skills
Towing is an art and a science.
And because of that it’s incredibly tiring – it's situational awareness dialled up to 11, your head always has to be on a swivel, you need to be aware of everything that's going on with the vehicle and whatever you're towing behind, whether that's a trailer or a boat or a caravan or a horse float.
Getting comfortable and set for the long haul is an absolute necessity – you must get your driving position right, be ready, be comfortable and then you’ll be better placed to do some safe towing.
A towing driver needs to know how to cope with the extra weight behind their vehicle and know precisely what to do if that weight is suddenly affected by traffic (for example, a swerving driver), a big gust of wind or a dramatic change in the road surface.
The driver must have the skills and experience to be able to control the vehicle and load at all times and know what to do if control is compromised – and that’s a big ask for the inexperienced.
Towing puts a lot of stress and strain on a vehicle. A vehicle's powertrain and brakes work much harder when towing, so the driver must know how to maintain a consistent schedule of checks, maintenance and repairs before, during and after a big towing trip.
Stand by in a caravan park or boat ramp and pretty soon you’ll be witness to a majestic event: a seasoned tower backing their caravan or camper-trailer expertly onto their camp-site, or their boat down the ramp towards the water, all the while avoiding children, pets, other vehicles and trailers and more.
But you’ll also likely witness a very awkward event: a driver trying and failing to reverse a caravan or boat, whether by lack of skill, experience or stressful circumstances (their partner yelling directions at them while a crowd of onlookers gather to film the incident with their phones).
Reversing a caravan is a tough ask, especially if you haven’t been formally trained or practised it a lot in a non-stressful environment.
But if you tow, chances are you’ll have to do a lot of reversing – and that’d be so much easier for everyone if you’re formally trained and assessed.
What I reckon
Well, if you've been paying attention, you should already know what I reckon, shouldn’t you?
You drive a vehicle, you need a licence, so if you tow anything you should have to pass a test and get a licence to do that.
Training, assessment, licence acquired.
Think about it.