Considering towing a trailer, boat or caravan? Ensure you stay on the right side of the law...

Check your driving licence now – if you have a code B licence, you are not allowed to go big when towing. In 2000, South Africa changed to the credit card format for driving licence and the codes changed, too. Code 08 was converted to an EB licence, which entitles the bearer to tow a medium to large caravan.

Individuals who passed their driving licence test after 2000, however, received a code B licence and aren't allowed to pull a medium to large caravan. In this first instalment of a two-part series, we look at the legal aspects involved in towing.

But first: GVM vs. tare
Gross vehicle mass (GVM) is the maximum operating mass of a vehicle (or trailer) as stipulated by the manufacturer. This is the fully laden state. The tare mass is that of an empty vehicle (or trailer). Deducting the tare mass from the GVM determines the maximum mass that can be carried by the vehicle (or trailer).

Licence codes explained
Ignoring the tow vehicle's mass for the moment, the following maximum trailer mass (GVM) may be towed:
Code B: 750 kg | 750 kg
Code EB: 750 kg | 3 500 kg
Max. unbraked trailer mass (GVM) Max. braked trailer mass (GVM)

Light luggage trailers weigh less than 750 kg, while most caravans and even off-road trailers exceed that threshold.

Limits on the tow vehicle
It's important that the tow vehicle can control the trailer or caravan and ensure safe operation of the train. The National Traffic Act governs the trailer's maximum-allowed GVM as a function of the tow vehicle's tare mass. An unbraked trailer's maximum GVM may not exceed half the tow vehicle's tare mass up to a maximum of 750 kg. Confused? Have a look here:
• 1 000 kg | 500 kg
1 500 kg | 750 kg
2 000 kg | 750 kg
Tow vehicle's tare mass Max. unbraked trailer mass (GVM)

The maximum GVM of a braked trailer may not exceed the tow vehicle's tare mass up to a maximum of 3 500 kg, as follows:
• 750 kg | 750 kg
1 500 kg | 1 500 kg
3 500 kg* | 3 500 kg
Tow vehicle's tare mass Max. unbraked trailer mass (GVM)
*B (or EB) licences do not allow driving of a vehicle heavier than 3 500 kg.

Licensing and reflective tape
Trailers (and caravans) must undergo a roadworthiness test when ownership is changed, with an annual road tax payable. Since 1 January 2006, all trailers and caravans must sport strips of reflective tape of SABS ECE R104 specification on the sides and rear.

How to get an EB licence
Upgrading a B licence to EB isn't an easy exercise. Firstly, you have to rewrite the learner's licence exam and then make an appointment for the driving test at an appropriate testing station. This assessment is conducted using a tow vehicle and trailer, and involves a pre-drive safety inspection, yard section and on-road evaluation. During the yard section, the applicant has to: execute a turn; reverse in a straight line; alley dock; parallel park (with the trailer unhitched); and start on an incline without rolling back.

What about a caravan AND a trailer?
It's legal to simultaneously tow a caravan and a trailer if you adhere to the regulations governing one tow vehicle and two trailers. There are additional requirements stipulating the coupling and distances between the trailer and tow vehicle, but they do not impact a standard caravan-and-trailer combination.

Read part two for some tips on towing...

*From the September 2016 issue of CAR magazine
Author: Nicol Louw