Blog by DVSA Chief Driving Examiner

I’m Mark Winn, Britain’s Chief Driving Examiner at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA).
DVSA is responsible for road safety standards for vehicles and drivers, and this includes people who tow trailers and caravans. We want to ensure motorists have the right driving skills and know how to make sure their vehicles and trailers are safe to use on the road.
I’m in a fortunate position because as well as having a professional interest in towing safety, I have a personal interest too. Until recently I regularly towed a horse trailer which contains a precious cargo. I also tow a large box trailer for the local scouts, which has its own responsibilities.
The personal side of towing safety is very important to me. Since the tragic death of Freddie Hussey, a little boy who died when a trailer became uncoupled from a towing vehicle, I’ve been involved with the #towsafe4freddie campaign.
This year, as travel restrictions lift and many people are holidaying at home, our ask is ‘whatever you’re towing, make it SAFE’ and support the #towsafe4freddie campaign.
Just by taking a bit of time to carry out some basic checks you can help ensure your journey is safe and goes to plan.
Whatever you’re towing, make it SAFE
I’m a great believer in having little ways to remember things – so the SAFE advice we are offering to motorists - to make the checks easier to remember is:
In my mind, prevention is better than cure. This year, many caravans and trailers have been unused for many months. Brakes can bind if a vehicle has been parked up for a while. A tyre that has been outside in all weathers will deteriorate.
So, as well as carrying out walk around checks yourself, get your trailer or caravan professionally serviced at the beginning of the towing season. The Approved Workshop Scheme includes over 500 mobile and fixed workshops.
Alongside a service, you can often get a free safety check at your local garage or trailer dealer. Lots of workshops offer free inspections as well - look for a local National Trailer and Towing Association site.
Air in tyres - check pressure, tread depth, condition, and age
Carry out a visual inspection of the tyres. With trailer tyres it’s important to look for signs of cracking – if there’s cracks or if the tyre shows signs of ageing - it’s time to replace it.
Keep an eye on the tread depth and condition – trailer tyres tend to age rather than wear out.
It’s important that your trailer or caravan tyres are at the right pressure, so check with a gauge. Consider the weight and the load that you’ve got in your trailer and car.
Don’t forget to check your car tyres, too.
Fit the breakaway cable or safety chain and check electrical connections and cables
Make sure the breakaway cable is in good condition and is securely attached to the car and the trailer.
If the trailer becomes unhitched from the car this will pull the trailer brakes on. So, if the worst happens, the trailer should come to a stop.
If you’re towing an unbraked trailer (under 750kg gross weight), you are likely to have a breakaway chain. If the hitch fails, this will support the weight of the trailer until you can come to a safe stop.
Check the condition of the electrical cable. Make sure it is securely fixed and can’t drag on the floor and wear out. If the cable is in good condition this will help to ensure all the lights are working.
Examine lights, load and weight limit, mirrors and do the jockey wheel test
Before each journey get used to checking lights on the trailer or caravan work - particularly brake lights and indicators. Get someone to help you or use the reflection of lights against a garage door.
The way you load the vehicle is important. Make sure your load is spread out and try to pack the heaviest stuff in the middle of the vehicle, over the wheels.
The nose weight – that’s how heavy the front of the trailer is – must be right. You need to make sure have the right amount of downward pressure onto the towbar of the car.
Different vehicles and trailers have a different nose weight, so look in your car handbook or the notes that come with your trailer.
On smaller trailers you might be able to be able to check the nose weight by lifting and feeling the weight of the trailer. If the trailer is heavier, you are better off using a gauge – they’re not expensive and widely available.
Your car handbook will also tell you maximum weight you can carry in the car and the maximum you can tow. You also need to check what your driving licence allows you to tow.
The load and weight limit for a trailer can be quite complicated, but your vehicle handbook is the best source of advice.
If you’re not sure, talk to experts at the National Trailer and Towing Association, the Approved Workshop Scheme, the Camping and Caravanning Club, one of the horse societies or your local trailer centre.
When you are sitting in the driving seat it’s important to have a clear view down both sides of the trailer. So, you might need extended towing mirrors depending on the size of your caravan or trailer.
You need to make sure your trailer is safely coupled to the car and that means checking the towing hitch is securely locked onto the towing ball.
There’s a short video on GOV.UK that shows how to check that your vehicle and trailer are safely coupled. DVSA’s official manual on towing also includes helpful advice.
Before you set off, I’m suggesting you use the jockey wheel test - where you try to lift the hitch off the tow ball using the jockey wheel.
You should see the back of the car raise slightly. Do this twice to double check it stays secure - and check that any warning marker indicates the hitch is correctly locked to the tow ball.
Where can I go for further help?
With a bit of forward planning, you can make sure your vehicle and trailer, or caravan are safe to use and that you enjoy towing safety.
Find a trailer specialist through the National Trailer and Towing Association or the Approved Workshop Scheme or the Camping and Caravanning Club.
Visit GOV.UK for advice on the checks to do before towing and watch the short video about how safely couple your vehicle and trailer.
DVSA’s official manual on towing contains a wealth of advice.
The Camping and Caravanning Club has a basic guide on how to tow a caravan.
Follow this advice and check you are #towsafe4freddie to enjoy happy and SAFE towing this summer.