I have in the past discussed transportation, but a couple of recent incidents have made me to put finger to keyboard yet again on the subject of trailers and towing. The first was witnessing the aftermath of an incident in which a vehicle towing a trailer with a mini digger had lost control, resulting in severe traffic delays whilst the tangled wreckage was removed – fortunately nobody was hurt. The second which I read about was considerably more tragic and involved the death of a child who was hit by a portable work cabin which became detached from its towing vehicle. Both of these incidents have again prompted calls for trailer MOTs to be introduced in an effort to ensure that trailers and towed plant undergo a mandatory annual roadworthiness test. However in both of these cases if the drivers had follow the basic rules of towing the accidents could have been avoided.

Whilst I don’t know all the facts behind the first incident, I do know that the towing vehicle had a towing limit of 2250kg, the trailer weighed around 500kg and the mini digger weighed 2900kg – you do the maths. The second incident I understand was down to a worn tow hitch and a lack of a breakaway cable, basic failures which should have been addressed in the walk round check before the cabin was moved.

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So what’s missing?

A mandatory MOT for trailers and towed plant may seem over the top but when you travel around the country the number of trailers being operated in poor condition is frightening. A missing or damaged jockey wheel may not seem a big issue, but it could be for the driver who has to wrestle it off the vehicle and runs the risk of damaging their back in the process. £30 for a jockey wheel verses £30k for a compensation payout, again – you do the maths. Missing or damaged lights, cardboard number plate tied on with strimmer cord, poorly inflated or damaged tyres… all are illegal and will result in points and possibly a fine for the driver, who should have addressed these issues in the daily check before taking the trailer out. Is the job ever so urgent that safety and legality takes second place?

But what of the things you can’t see? Wheel bearings – how often do you check these? Brake cables – too late to check when you’re in an emergency stop situation! What about axles and chassis, how many times have you seen a twin axle trailer whose wheels are running at different angles as a result of bent stub axles – it may not be illegal but it will certainly reduce the life of your tyres and bearings.

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Not exactly professional let alone legal!

An MOT may well raise standards and improve how the equipment we tow behind our vehicles is maintained and operated, but a lot of this is common sense and should be part of the driver’s daily routine. There are no excuses for operating an unroadworthy trailer.

As far as loading and towing limits are concerned things can be a little more complicated, especially when it comes positioning and securing a load, but again it’s down to a bit of common sense and using the information available to you. All commercial vehicles are fitted with a manufacturer’s plate which gives the relevant weight limits and trailers have their limits on a similar plate (although you may need weigh the trailer to get its weight). Plant and machinery almost always comes with an operator’s manual which gives details of the machine’s weight, so think about it – a couple of minutes with a calculator could avoid a humiliating and costly excursion into a central reservation or worse!

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Impressive, but is it legal?

Angus Lindsay

Group Head of Assets and Fleet

Angus Lindsay

Angus writes a monthly column in Pro Landscaper Magazine