What is the law for towing trailers in Ireland?

Over the past few years, the RSA have done sterling work in regulating trailer use, below are some highlights.

Trailer Road Traffic Regulations

All trailers must meet with Irish Road Traffic Regulations when in use in a public place. These regulations set out the law in relation to weights, lights, brakes, plating, under-run, side-guards, securing of loads, etc.

In-use Regulations

There are three main legal instruments regulating trailers in Ireland currently:
· the Road Traffic (Construction and Use of Vehicles) Regulations (or C&U Regulations) outline the maximum weights and dimensions for trailers
· the Road Traffic (Construction, Equipment and Use of Vehicles) Regulations (or CE&U Regulations) outline the braking and other requirements for trailers
· the Road Traffic (Lighting of Vehicles) Regulations (or Lighting Regulations) outline the lighting requirements for trailers

****See rsa.ie for full legal breakdown. (Please be aware the law is fluid presently and should be regularly checked****

Regulations for Vehicles & Trailers in Service

It is a key basic road safety requirement that all vehicles and trailers on our roads, and all components of those vehicles, conform to a minimum standard of construction. It is the legal responsibility of the owner and driver of a vehicle or combination of vehicles to ensure that, when it is used in a public place, it is in such a condition that it is not liable to endanger other road users.

Advice and Checks for Trailers

When pulling a trailer, you should carry out some extra vehicle checks before each journey and take certain precautions during travel.

Before using a Trailer

There are added risks to pulling a trailer. Before you begin driving with a new trailer, review the following three pointers:

1. You must ensure that:

  • your vehicle is large enough to tow the trailer and the load
  • the brakes are powerful enough to stop the vehicle and trailer safely
  • the trailer’s Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) i.e. the weight of the trailer plus the load being carried, does not exceed the towing capacity of your towing vehicle
  • you hold the correct driving licence to drive the vehicle-trailer combination

2. It is your responsibility to know the capacity and the limits of your vehicle, tow hitch and trailer, and to make sure that you never operate beyond these:

  • Consult your owner’s handbook for all the details on your vehicle’s towing limits. Many vehicles will have a higher towing capacity/limit for a trailer fitted with brakes and a far lower capacity/limit if towing a trailer without brakes
  • As a driver you are legally required to adhere to the manufacturers’ design specifications for your vehicle, the tow hitch and the trailer

Further information is available in the Load Security Information Sheet (PDF 321KB), produced together by the RSA, the Health & Safety Authority and An Garda Síochána.

3. Journey Check List

The trailer operator or the driver of the towing vehicle, if different, has the responsibility for the safe operation of the trailer and needs to carry out the following checks before a journey:

  • If the trailer is laden is the load correctly distributed i.e. not too much or too little nose weight?
  • Is the load within the trailer’s official payload? i.e. not overloaded
  • Is the actual gross weight being towed within the manufacturer’s recommended maximum towing limit for the towing vehicle (i.e. whether the trailer is braked or unbraked)?
  • Is the load correctly secured?
  • Are all the lights undamaged and working correctly?
  • Are the 7 or 13 core cables and plug undamaged?
  • Do your mirrors afford you with an adequate view to the rear? If not you should fit towing mirrors?
  • Is the correct number plate fitted (i.e. both registration number and style)?
  • Is the breakaway cable or secondary coupling undamaged and correctly connected, to a suitable point on the tow bar or towing vehicle?
  • Are the tyre pressures correct and all tyres free from cuts, bulges and with adequate tread, i.e. 1.6mm and this includes spare tyres?
  • Are you satisfied that the wheel nuts are tightened to the correct torque?
  • If required are the mudguards in satisfactory condition and secure?
  • Is the trailer correctly coupled to the towball or pin?
  • Is the coupling height correct (i.e. not excessively nose down or nose up)?

Follow the golden rules of towing:

  • Make sure the trailer is level when coupled to the towing vehicle
  • Make sure the nose weight is between 50 and 100kg (unless trailer is very light)
  • Make sure the tyre pressures are correct
  • Is the jockey wheel and any corner steadies or prop stands fully wound up and secure?

NB: Where fitted, check the correct operation of the brakes as soon as possible after commencement of your journey.

General advice for driving with a trailer attached

  • Drive at the right speed—i.e., a speed that is well within your capabilities, and to the road and weather conditions prevailing at the time. Remember that the maximum legal speed limit for a vehicle towing a trailer is 80km/hr. However, if the road speed limit is lower, for example in a built up area where the speed limit is 40km/hr, you must obey the lower of the two
  • Remember that if you are towing a trailer that you are not entitled to drive in the traffic lane nearest the median of the motorway (i.e. the outside lane). An exception to this prohibition applies at any location where the speed limit is 80km/hr or less
  • If your trailer begins to snake or swerve, ease off the accelerator and reduce speed gently. (This can happen if you are driving too fast or the load in the trailer is wrongly positioned)
  • Avoid braking sharply on a bend as this could possibly cause a jack-knife situation. Instead, reduce your speed before the bend and take the appropriate gear for the speed you are doing. Then gently accelerate out of the bend
  • Leave more distance than usual between you and the vehicle in frontand allow plenty of extra time and space if entering traffic
  • Allow extra time and distance when overtaking other road users and make sure you are well past them before moving back to the left-hand side of the road again
  • Exercise extreme care when driving in wet, foggy or extremely bright conditions or in high winds
  • Where possible, pull over regularly to allow vehicles behind you to overtake
  • Never let passengers travel in the caravan or trailer when you are towing it. All passengers should always travel in the towing vehicle
  • Before reversing, get out of the vehicle and check that all is clear to the rear before making the manoeuvre. Be on the look out for children and pedestrians and if possible, get someone to watch while the manoeuvre is made
  • If more than 1.5 metres separates the vehicles, use some warning device such as a white flag of at least 300 millimetres square to draw attention to the draw bar
  • A combination of vehicles or an articulated vehicle that exceeds 13 metres in overall length must display a ‘LONG VEHICLE’ sign or signs on the back of the rearmost trailer
  • Make sure you mark any loads projecting more than 1 metre to the rear of your trailer with a red flag or marker board during the day. If you are towing this type of load when it is dark, mark it with a red reflector and a red light
  • If the load that you are carrying projects more than 16 inches to the side of your trailer; make sure you mark it with a light showing a white light to the front and a red light to the rear if travelling when it is dark

Frequently Asked Questions

I've heard rumours that, in the near future, trailers will require a roadworthiness test. Is this true?

Currently there is no legal requirement for trailers to have a roadworthiness test. However all trailers on the road must comply with certain technical requirements. Trailers are broken down into subcategories depending on the design gross vehicle weight (DGVW).

O1 trailers have a DGVW not exceeding 750kg.
O2 trailers have a DGVW exceeding 750kg and not exceeding 3500kg.

O1 Trailers

If you have an ordinary Category B licence, you may:

Tow a trailer of up to 750kg DGVW, with a vehicle with a DGVW not exceeding 3500kg and seating for up to 8 passengers (apart from the driver).

Tow a trailer over 750kg DGVW, with a vehicle with a DGVW not exceeding 3500kg provided the combination weight does not exceed 3500kg.

O1 trailers are not obliged to have brakes fitted unless they have a DGVW which is more than half the DGVW of the towing vehicle to which they are attached.

If the trailer’s DGVW is more than half the DGVW of the towing vehicle, then the trailer must be fitted with a service brake, a parking brake and a device capable of automatically stopping the trailer if it becomes detached while in motion—i.e., a breakaway cable. As an alternative to a breakaway cable, a secondary coupling may be fitted.

O2 Trailers

If you have an ordinary Category B licence, you may:

Tow an O2 trailer, provided that the total DGVW of the combination does not exceed a total of 3500kg.

If you have a Category BE licence, you may:

Tow an O2 trailer, with a vehicle with a DGVW of up to 3500kg and seating for up to 8 passengers (apart from the driver), provided that the DGVW of the trailer does not exceed the manufacturer’s rated towing capacity for the towing vehicle.

All O2 trailers must have brakes fitted. They must also be fitted with a service brake, a parking brake and a device capable of automatically stopping the trailer if it becomes detached while in motion—i.e., a breakaway cable. As an alternative to a breakaway cable, a secondary coupling may be fitted.

If the trailer has more than one axle and does not have an automatic breakaway device that activates its brakes should it become detached from the towing vehicle while in motion, then it must be fitted with brakes and a secondary coupling consisting of a chain or wire rope.

Changes from June 1st 2011

O2 trailers manufactured from June 1st 2011 onwards must have brakes on all wheels and the brakes fitted must disengage automatically to allow the trailer to be reversed with minimum drag and must re-engage automatically in the forward direction.

O2 trailers with a DGVW exceeding 1500kg must be fitted with breakaway cable capable of automatically stopping the trailer if it becomes detached while in motion; however those with a DGVW not exceeding 1500kg may be fitted with secondary coupling as an alternative.

How do I connect my trailer to my towing vehicle?

1. First of all ensure the ball on your towing vehicle is well greased.
2. Position the ball of your vehicle under the coupling head of your trailer.
3. Turn the jockey wheel handle anti-clockwise to lower the coupling head close to the towing vehicle ball.
4. Pull back the catch or knuckle on the coupling head to open
5. Continue to lower the coupling head onto the ball till it engages and is connected. (To check it is correctly connected look under the coupling head to ensure the ball is fully enclosed in the coupling head and the tongue of the coupling head is tight to the bottom of the ball.
6. Ensure to turn the key in the lock at the top of the coupling head if a lock is fitted. Giving you extra peace of mind against theft.
7. Continue to turn the jockey wheel handle anti-clockwise till the bottom part of the jockey wheel is retracted fully and is tight to turn. Engage the R Pin at the top of the jockey wheel to stop the jockey wheel from opening.
8. Turn the locking handle holding the jockey wheel anti-clockwise and lift the jockey wheel up. Turn the wheel around to face the trailer clear of the underside of the coupling itself. Lift the jockey wheel high enough to ensure the wheel is above the bottom of the drawbar and tucked in beside the drawbar itself. Then tighten the locking handle clock-wise and ensure it is good and tight. This will always ensure the jockey wheel is high enough and it is safe from getting damage by road ramps.
9. Securely attach the safety cable to your towing vehicle . If putting around your ball,ensure it is pull tight.
10. Connect your lights by plugging in the black plug on your trailer into the socket of your towing vehicle. Ensure the little slot in the plug is inline with your socket or it will not plug in correctly.
11. Get a second person to check all your lights are working before you depart.
12. Ensure all fasteners for doors, ramps ,dropsides etc are closed properly and are tight.
13. Ensure all loads are loaded properly and are tightened down safely before departure.
14. Periodically check your load and animals during your journey.

I passed my driving test after 1st January 1989/1997 can I still tow a trailer?

If you sat your driving test after the 1st Janurary 1997/1989 you will not automatically have a B + E license to pull a trailer up to 3500Kg Gross capacity. However with your B license you can pull a trailer up to 750Kg Gross Capacity. It is a requirement to set a separate test for pulling a trailer to get an E + B license to pull a trailer up to 3500Kg Gross.

Where can I find the weight of my trailer and what weight I can tow with my vehicle?

You can find the weight of your Ifor Williams trailer under the specification section of the new trailers on this website. We recommend contacting your local vehicle distributor to find the weight of your towing vehicle.

My trailer has a maximum towing weight of 1500Kg and my trailer has a maximum gross weight of 2000kg. Can I pull this trailer?

The answer is yes provided the unladen weight (Actual weight of the trailer) and the weight of the load does not exceed 1500Kg.

There is no legal requirement to downgrade your plate to 1500Kg.

Drivers do not need a trailer license to pull a trailer up to 750Kg Gross Capacity (B Licence). However drivers need an (B + E Trailer License) to pull a trailer over 750kg up to 3500Kg Gross.

What do I need to know when pulling a trailer?

If you have never towed a trailer before it is important to know that you will need to modify your driving behaviour while pulling a trailer.

  • The overall length of your towing vehicle and trailer will be longer and therefore you need to widen your turns to avoid hitting the kerb as the trailer will always turn tighter than the towing vehicle
  • When you are reversing a trailer it is important to remember to turn your steering wheel in the opposite direction that you want the trailer to turn
  • It is very important to remember to gradually turn your steering wheel as there is a delay between the time you turn your steering wheel and when the trailer will start to turn
  • A common mistake is to overturn your steering wheel causing the trailer to over-lock which is very difficult to correct without having to drive forward and start again. Slow short gradual turns to start are best until you can see the direction and pace the trailer is turning for you
  • When you are towing a trailer, whether it has brakes are not, you have more weight behind therefore your stopping distance will be greater. It is very important to remember to leave more time for braking so always keep a greater distance between you and the vehicle in front of you
  • Never exceed the speed limit for pulling a trailer which is 80kph

Trailers and the law