Check out the latest Life on Cars column!

Check out the latest Life on Cars column!

by Danielle Thompson (September 2021)

MILKSHAKES have shaken up driving tests. 

Specifically, McDonald’s milkshakes, Ikea furniture, Nando’s chicken and a whole host of other things you’d normally expect to find on the shelves at this time of year. While a motoring column in The Champion isn’t the place to delve into the politics of why a lot of your regular treats are hard to get hold of right now, the government’s solution so far has been to stem the shortage of lorry drivers by freeing up more driving test slots for them. So it’s decided to bin another motoring examination – the one you do for towing a car with a trailer – altogether. 

Naturally the decision, courtesy of the Driver Vehicle and Standards Agency, hasn’t gone unnoticed. The Institute of Advanced Motorists is on record as saying it’s “very disappointed” with the move, pointing out the DVSA’s own roadside checks showed that one in six caravans it stopped had serious safety defects, while it deemed four in ten small trailers to be dangerous. The towing test was brought in back in 1997 for safety reasons – and those reasons are still entirely valid today, the IAM reckons. 

What this means is that any drivers under the age of 41 – as that’s the age the 17-year-olds who spent 1997 trying to avoid Barbie Girl are now – will have their driving records updated to allow them to tow heavier trailers, although photocard licences won’t be manually updated until they’re renewed. Previously, the post-1997 cohort of new motorists, including me, could only tow a trailer up to 750kg unless they took a separate test. 

You know what? Let them. I’ve long looked into doing the towing test and concluded that, while I probably could pass it, it’s simply too expensive for the every-so-often moments that I want to rent a trailer (most likely for transporting other cars) anyway. But people of my parents’ generation, with no more or less driver training, can hitch up without a second thought. 

Yes, I know I’m the bloke who argued against scrapping MoTs for classic cars, but this about the people, not the metal. People who, on the basis of age rather than experience, are subject to different legislation. You tell me that the drivers who passed in 1996 are any safer towing a big trailer than the ones who did a year later. Remember I said that four in ten small trailers had serious defects? Well, you don’t need to do a second test to tow one. 

What we need, I reckon, is more education available to everyone, and tougher penalties for those who don’t brush up. Make the legal towing weights, speed limits and so on an intrinsic part of the theory test. Perhaps, if the government’s being generous, the practical test could incorporate a towing element in years to come. Certainly, it should be supporting – and ideally subsidising – courses to teach drivers how to tow trailers safely. I’d do it. Equally, the DVSA and the police should come down hard on trailers, caravans and horseboxes that are clearly unroadworthy or being driven dangerously. 

If the vocal opposition to scrapping MoTs for classic cars was anything to go by, the government’s already made its mind up on binning tests for trailers, but that doesn’t mean we have to put up with rickety caravans snaking along the M6 behind dim-witted drivers. 

David Simister is the editor of Classic Car Weekly 

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