UK & European Tow Car Legislation
Our 'Tow Car A Frames' and braking systems meet all the current UK and European Legislation. We have gone to great lengths to ensure that the investment you make in your tow car is safe and legal. There are a lot of rumours and conflicting personal views on what the rules are towing an A frame.
This page will give you the information to help you understand the true legal position.
Our Towmaster A-Frames are NOT to be confused with 'Towing Dollies' or 'Recovery A-Frames'. These are known as towing implements and are for breakdown and recovery use ONLY. Under The Road Traffic Act 1984 these devices are restricted to 20mph on A roads and 40mph on motorways. So are not suitable for distance or regular towing.
The Towmaster A-Frame System combined with Invisibrake and lighting adaptions form a conversion of your car into a Trailer.
Am I legal in UK?
The UK department for transport recognise a towcar on an A-frame as a trailer.
Therefore a towcar is a trailer and must comply with European trailer legislation.
- UNECE Regulation 55 for couplings,
- UNECE Regulation 13 for braking and
- Statutory Instruments Road Vehicle Lighting Regulation 1989 No.1796 and its amending directives for lighting requirements.
UNECE Regulation 13 was effective from November 2014, and is the legislation that most traditional A-Frame systems struggle to meet. There is also many small technicalities, of which can cause many systems to be non compliant.
The biggest two requirements are:
- You must achieve a minimum of 50% braking efficiency across all four wheels.
- If the trailer has power/vacuum-assisted brakes then the system must be operable.
If your A-frame system complies with the current trailer legislation, then you are legal in the UK.
Am I legal in Europe?
Some European countries have local laws that state you may not tow a motor vehicle
with another motor vehicle unless an authorised break down recovery vehicle.
1. You will not be towing a motor vehicle. You will be towing a car that is converted to a trailer.
That complies with all European trailer legislation. That is identified as a trailer by the
reflective triangles, the towing vehicles numberplate, the brakes operated solely by braking
in the towing vehicle, and the lights duplicating that of the towing vehicle.
2. Their local laws (Not European Laws) Apply if you are a resident and have lived there
greater than 6 months, or if your vehicle is registered in that country. In which case A-frame
towing would be illegal.
3. If you are travelling/holidaying for less than 6 months in that country then: No state has the
power to reclassify a vehicle travelling from another state. As a visitor from another state
you are legal under the powers of international traffic as defined in the Vienna convention,
as long as your combination of vehicles are legal in your home country.
4. Your local police officer may not be familiar with international traffic and far more familiar
with their local laws, and as such it is possible you may get stopped. This is why we provide
translated documents explaining what you are towing and its legality, to produce if needed.
The reality is that far fewer people are stopped than is made of by gossip and internet posts.
And often these people that are stopped are either, not compliant and therefore rightly
stopped, or stopped for some other reason.
5. Despite installing hundreds of A-frames each year, we have only a couple of our
customers being stopped abroad. One was because they had a brake light out on
their towcar. After the light was sorted and the police officer was shown the braking system
working, they were permitted to continue without a problem.
Another was the Mont Blanc Tunnel, which upon presentation of their provided international
traffic documentation, were permitted to continue. The truth is we get far more reports of
successful trips passing numerous authorities without being stopped. The law is on your
side if you do things properly.
As a holidaymaker staying less than six months in a European country YOU ARE
LEGAL provided your A-frame system complies with the required trailer legislation
to be legal in UK.
The 10 Key Points of current legislation for trailers with axles greater than 1 metre apart (All Towcars).
- A minimum braking efficiency of 50% across all four wheels must be achieved.
- The braking efficiency must be met for any deceleration of greater than 2 metres per second.
- If the trailer (towed car) has vacuum/electronic or assisted brakes then the system must be operable.
- The towcar must have a means of applying the brakes across all wheels if the towcar becomes detached from the motorhome to achieve a deceleration of 2 metres per second.
- The towcar must have legal lights displayed at the rear to match the towing vehicle.
- The towcar must be identified as a trailer by displaying reflective triangles and the towing vehiles number plate.
- There should be no movement of the coupling or A frame.
- Powered braking systems must have a sustainable power supply from the tow vehicle.
- The towcar must be able to reverse without brake drag.
- The motorhome must have no manual controls or adjustment in the cab for the tow car braking system other than normal brake pedal application.
Inertia couplings are fine for and often used with single or multi axle trailers or caravans with axles closer than 1m apart. They are not suitable for a Tow Car that has axles greater than 1m apart and will not meet the legislation criteria highlighted in points 1,3,4,7, and 9.
Portable Braking Systems
These systems can often provide a great deal more pedal pressure than perhaps a human foot. The portability and cheaper cost of these systems may seem apealing. However these systems would not normally meet point 3, 4, 8 and sometimes 10 listed above.
Legislation Criteria Missed by some competitor systems:
1. No means to apply the brakes if the vehicle detaches from the towing vehicle
2. Adjustment or control over the trailers braking from the cabin of the towing vehicle
3. Movement in the towing frame whilst towing (Inertia system)
4. Power assisted brakes on trailer not operable (vacuum servo not working)
5. Power supply (towcars battery) for braking system not maintained by towing vehicle
6. The towcar must NOT have brake drag when reversing (a common problem with inertia
7. 50%+ Braking efficiency not being achieved across all 4 wheels
European Type Approval
The Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) is an Executive Agency of the United Kingdom Department for Transport, charged with operating the system of automotive type approval in the UK.
Put simply, type approval is the confirmation that production samples of a design will meet specified performance standards. The specification of the product is recorded and only that specification is approved.
We asked the VCA about obtaining European Type Approval for A Frames and received the following answer: "It is not possible to Type Approve A frames for towing a car behind another vehicle. Only the vehicle categories listed in 2007-46 can be approved (cars, buses, goods vehicles and trailers)."
Whilst type approval is not applicable on A Frames, it does not mean that tow cars on A Frames are not safe or legal, nor that they are exempt from European legislation.
However Towmaster has been FEA safety tested and destruction tested on a jig, very similar to the required testing that type approval would require.
Fantastic new news from 2019!
The most challenged point of towing a car on an a-frame abroad is recognition that it is a trailer. In UK the DFT recognise its status as a trailer. Once accepted as a trailer all the legalities are in place for use both here and in Europe. So the only arguement could be that it's not a trailer.
Great news: all commercial trailers or trailers over 3500Kgs now have to be registered for use abroad (including and accepted by Spain). This is an unquestionable recognition of it's trailer status. The registered trailer is issued registration number on a white 9"x7" number plate to be displayed at the rear, or if not possible then both sides of the rear of the vehicle.
Your towed car is not a commercial trailer, nor is it over 3500Kg, so you are not required to register it. However, you can voluntarily register it for just £26 on the direct gov website.
No more questioning whether or not you are a trailer!
The information provided on this website is to the best of our knowledge correct as of December 2019. Information is provided to help customers with their queries and should not be relied upon for legal representation. We recommend that anyone needing accurate and up to date legal information, contact the relevant governing bodies directly.