Driving a medium sized lorry and towing a trailer – are you legal?

There is so much confusion regarding when a driver needs to upgrade or ‘stage up’ to a new category or sub-category of driving licence.  In this article I will clarify the licence category required for driving a medium sized goods vehicle (Category C1), explain the requirements of the Driver Certificate of Professional Competence (Driver CPC) and discuss towing a trailer with a category C1 vehicle.

Category C1 on a driving licence is classed as a vehicle with a Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) of between 3500kg and 7500kg.  If you were lucky enough, or old enough, to have pass your car test before 3rd January 1997 and on reaching the grand age of 18 years old, you automatically were issued category C1 entitlement through acquired rights, which was previously known as ‘Grandfather Rights’.  If you missed the deadline to pass your car driving test before 3rd January 1997, then unfortunately you need to take the C1 driving test to be able to drive a lorry weighing between 3500kg and 7500kg.  

The minimum age for driving a category C1 lorry is 18 years old unless in the armed forces and a few other exemptions.

Driver CPC

To complicate matters a little bit more, anyone who drives a category C1 lorry for commercial use now also has to take training to gain a Driver CPC.  If you passed your category C1 driving test before 10th September 2009 you ‘acquired rights’ that allow you to continue to drive a lorry, you then had five years to complete the periodic Driver CPC training required.  All drivers with acquired rights must complete 35 hours of Driver CPC by 9th September 2014 if they need category C1 for commercial use, whether they passed their driving test before 3rd January 1997 or passed the C1 test since 3rd January 1997 but before 9th September 2009.  To be able to continue driving category C1 for commercial use, 35 hours of Driver CPC must be completed every five years.

It is alleged that Driver CPC will:

  • improve your knowledge and skills before you start driving
  • develop your knowledge and skills throughout your working life
  • improve road safety through better qualified drivers

Thankfully periodic Driver CPC has no tests to pass, the training can be either practical or classroom based and can be tailored to be specific to industry requirements.

Periodic training is designed to:

  • complement your work
  • be relevant to your everyday job
  • keep you up to date with changes in regulations

Common course subjects may include:

The 35 hours training must be recorded, this will be logged on to the Driver CPC database by the approved training body.  On completion of the required training, the driver will then be issued a Drivers Qualification Card (DQC) if they have a photocard licence.  It will be sent to the address on the driving licence.

If the driver has an old style paper licence they will need to swap it for a photocard licence in order to get the DQC. This is because the DQC needs a photograph and signature, which are taken from the photocard record. 

Drivers must always carry the DQC while driving professionally as proof of their Driver CPC.  If driving professionally for commercial purposes and the driver does not have their DQC they will be liable for penalties.  If the driver has ‘acquired rights’ the proof of the Driver CPC is their driving licence.  However, it is not a legal requirement to carry a driving licence with in the UK.  If the driver is asked to show a DQC, they must produce their driving licence at a later date (normally within 7 days) as proof of ‘acquired rights’.  Driver CPC is enforced in all European Union (EU) member states. If driving professionally in another EU country, they must still have a valid Driver CPC, and carry their DQC.

Since 10th September 2009 drivers taking the category C1 test must pass the Driver CPC as well as the practical test before being issued the driving licence and DQC, until then the driver is not allowed to drive for commercial purposes.  They must then complete 35 hours of periodic Driver CPC every five years.

Towing a Trailer with a medium sized lorry

Category C1 allows the driver to tow a trailer up to 750kg only; if the driver needs to tow a larger trailer they must have category C1+E entitlement.  Again, if the driver passed their driving test before January 1997, C1+E entitlement will be issued under ‘acquired rights’.  However, if the driving licence is inspected, there will be a code next to the Category C1+E that will state ‘107’

Code 107 – Not more than 8250kg

If the driver passed their car driving test before 3rd of January 1997, the driver may only drive a combination of lorry and trailer up to a MAM of 8250kg.  The MAM is the gross capable weight including payload of the vehicle/trailer.  These weights will be found on the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate and the A-frame of the trailer.

Lorry MAM of 5000kg + Trailer MAM of 3250kg = 8250kg

Lorry MAM of 6000kg + Trailer MAM of 2250kg = 8250kg

If a driver with ‘acquired rights’ needs to tow a combination over 8250kg they must pass a C1+E driving test in order to tow a combination up to 12000kg.  For those drivers who have passed their C1+E test since 1997, they are allowed to tow a combination of vehicle and trailer up to a combined MAM of 12000kg as long as they are at least 21 years old.

            Lorry MAM 7000kg + Trailer MAM 5000kg = 12000kg

            Lorry MAM 6000kg + Trailer MAM 3500kg = 9000kg

The trailer MAM must never exceed the unladen weight of the towing vehicle for stability and handling purposes. 

Drivers under 21

If the driver with C1+E entitlement is over 18 years old but under 21 years old, under EC regulations, they are limited to drive a combination with a MAM that does not exceed 7500kg.  Once they reach 21 the limit is automatically increased to 12000kg.

Lorry MAM 4500kg + Trailer MAM 3000kg = 7500kg

Lorry MAM 6000kg + Trailer MAM 1500kg = 7500kg

To conclude

  • If you passed your test before 1997, you can only tow a combination up to 8250kg
  • If you passed your C1 test since 10th September 2009 or you have acquired rights since before 1997 you must complete 35 hour of Driver CPC before 9th September 2014. 
  • All drivers whilst driving for commercial purposes must carry a DQC at all times
  • If you have C1+E entitlement and are under 21, you are limited to 7500kg MAM

If you need further clarification, you can contact Patrick at the Trailer Towing Training Centre on                                           0203 326 1595                     or email info@trailertowingtrainingcentre.co.uk.

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B+E, need clarity? When is B+E entitlement required?

B+E flow diagram (open)  The Trailer Towing Training Centre

As well having to deal with generating revenue, marketing, the health and safety involved with your business, paperwork and possible staffing issues, it is nice to know that at the end of the day, all you need to do is attached your trailer and head back home to relax.

Well, that is if you are legally allowed to tow? 

For many years, as drivers, we just climbed in out cars, vans or small lorries and drove to jobs, then drove home again and did not really think too much about it; why should we?  We have all passed the driving test so driving is not much of an issue.

Unfortunately if driving is part of your duties, or you ask someone to drive on behalf of the company, even if driving is not a direct activity of the business, there are a number of ‘issues’ that must be addressed. 

Driving Licence requirements

Until the 2nd January 1997, anyone who passed their car driving test was also issued acquired rights or ‘grandfather rights’.  This allowed the holder of the car licence to tow a trailer over 750kg as well as allowing the driver to drive a small lorry.  The driver could also tow a trailer over 750kg behind the lorry as well.

On the 3rd January 1997 things changed due to EU Directives.  From then on when the driver passed their car driving test they were issued a car licence, classed as a category B licence.  This only allows the driver to drive a vehicle up to a maximum weight of 3500kg.  If they need to tow a trailer over 750kg they must pass a separate category B+E test.  If they need to drive a small lorry between 3500kg and 7500kg they must pass a separate category C1 test and if the need to tow a trailer with the C1 vehicle, another test is needed, C1+E.  That would be simple enough…but matters had to become complicated.

Towing on a category B licence since 1997

First of all we need to establish the jargon that is used when talking about towing and vehicle weights.  As far as VOSA and the DVLA are concerned the term used is Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM) which is the total ‘capable’ weight of the vehicle/combination including passengers and load.  This has superseded the older terms Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) – the maximum weight of the vehicle plus the payload – and Gross Train Weight (GTW) – the maximum combined weight of the vehicle and trailer plus payload.

The basic rule is that if the trailer MAM is over 750kg, a driver will need to upgrade their driving licence to B+E, however, if the combined MAM of the vehicle and trailer is less the 3500kg and the trailer weighs less than the kerbside weight of the towing vehicle – the weight of the vehicle, with driver and fuel – then this combination can be driven on a category B licence and no upgrade of the driving licence is required.

An example will be a Ford Transit Connect Van LBW, which has a vehicle MAM (previous GVW) of 2340kg and the combined MAM (previous GTW) is 3140kg*.  This vehicle can tow a chipper/shredder up to 800kg in weight and it is perfectly legal to drive this as a combination on a category B driving licence.

A Ford Transit van SWB has a vehicle MAM of 3500kg and a combined MAM of 6300kg*.  To drive this vehicle the driver MUST have B+E entitlement to hitch up a trailer over 750kg.  Even though the weight of the trailer may only be 800kg, because the MAM of the vehicle is 3500kg, the trailer would take the combined MAM to 4300kg (Vehicle MAM + trailer weight).

*Figures source: ford.co.uk/commercialvehicles

VIN platex (open)

To work out the Maximum Permissible Towing Weight (MPTW) for the vehicle deduct B from C.                 

B – C = MPTW (Trailer MAM)

The MAM of the trailer must not exceed the MPTW of the towing vehicle, failure to comply with this may lead to an offence being committed, an unsafe and unstable combination being driven on the highway as well leading to unnecessary wear and tear to the clutch and braking system as well as increasing fuel consumption.

Finally, if the licence was issued before 3rd January 1997 B+E entitlement will be in place as long as the driver has not been disqualified from driving since 1997.  If they have, then normally all acquired rights are withdrawn including B+E.  Therefore that driver will now need to successfully pass the B+E test if they wish to continue to tow a trailer if the combined MAM is over 3500kg

The most important consideration is to always ensure that staff are correctly trained to conduct their duties safely, which includes driving for work. Just because someone owns a driving licence or has B+E entitlement on their licence does not mean that they are correctly trained to conduct that duty.  Due diligence and duty of care relating to driving for work must be always be addressed.  This will be discussed later.

To follow: the legal requirements for C1 and C1+E, when a Tachgraph is required in a car, van or pick-up and the legal obligations relating to driving for work.

The Trailer Towing Training Centre conduct training in Surrey, Sussex, Essex, London, Kent and the whole south east of England soon to be expanding nationwide

Towing a trailer and my driving licence: It all seems so confusing :s

Do I need to upgrade my driving licence to be able to tow a trailer?

Since 1997, anyone who has passed their car driving test (Category B) is not legally allowed to tow a trailer over 750kg (Cat B+E), drive a minibus with more than 8 seats (Cat D1) or drive a van if the gross vehicle weight (or Gross Laden Weight) is more than 3500kg but not more than 7500kg (Cat C1)…  Got that so far? Shame is doesn’t stay that simple!!

The towing vehicle:

Cat B is a vehicle with 2 axles and a maximum gross vehicle weight of 3500kg.  Gross vehicle weight is the weight of the vehicle plus any load it is CAPABLE of carrying (Payload).  CAPABLE is the key word, it doesn’t necessarily need to carry that weight – put that aside for later please.

Each vehicle will also have a Maximum Authorised Mass (MAM).  This is the GVW of the car plus the gross weight of the trailer (weight of trailer plus load it is CAPABLE of carrying, even if it is not going to be carried)  This was previously known as the Gross Train Weight (GTW)  To work out the permissible towing weight a vehicle can tow, subtract the GVW from the MAM.  Example:

  •   Cat B MAM = 5300kg
  •   Cat B GVW  = 3300kg.

In this example the permissible towing weight must NOT exceed 2000kg (remember that this will be the actual weight of the trailer plus the load (payload) it is capable of carrying.

With the example above if the trailer’s unladen weight is 800kg, the load it is capable of carrying will be 1200kgHopefully so far so good?

The trailer:

A trailer over 750kg is any item that has an axle, or axles (the more axles the more weight it is capable of carrying – normally!) and is braked (the wheels have a means of a force that can be applied to slow the rotation of the wheels when attached to a vehicle, such as drum brakes, disc brakes.  They normally have  handbrake too).  A trailer could be a horse-box trailer, a caravan, a boat trailer, jet ski trailer, a car transporter, a  box van trailer, a flat-bed or caged trailer to carry stock or plant equipment.  Plant equipment such as a generators or water bowsers may also be trailers too, or any other type that I haven’t mention. (side note – a litre of water is equivalent to 1kg, important if you have a shower unit trailer or 100o litre water bowser)

Time to recap:  If a Cat B GVW is 3500kg and has an unladen weight of 2500kg, it could carry 1000kg of payload.  Furthermore, it may have a MAM of 6600kg so it also could tow a loaded trailer, such as a horse-box or a flatbed with a digger up to the weight of 3100kg. Happy so far?

The combination or outfit

It is important to identify the weight plate of a vehicle and the trailer to ensure that you do not end up towing an unsuitable combination.  For instance:

  •  A Land Rover Freelander 2 has a MAM of 4505kg and the GVW is 2505kg.  The maximum permissible towing weight for this vehicle is 2000kg.*
  • A Land Rover Discover 4 has a MAM of 6740kg and a GVW of 3240kg.  The maximum permissible towing weight for this vehicle is 3500kg*

 The Ifor Williams HB506 horse-box trailer’s unladen weight is 920kg and the Gross Weight is 2600kg.**

Quick quiz:

  1. Can the Land Rover Freelander 2 tow the HB506 with horses in transit?
  2. Can the Land Rover Freelander 2 tow the HB506 with the horse-box empty?

Hopefully you have answered NO! to both.

Q1 is NO! because the gross weight of the HB506 is heavier than the permissible towing weight of the Land Rover Freelander 2.  Towing a trailer that has a Gross Weight heavier than the towing vehicles GVW is very unsafe as it could make the handling characteristics of the towing vehicle unpredictable such as braking.  (a trailer heavier than the car with only trailer overrun brakes!!!!)  It will also cause unnecessary wear and premature failure to the clutch mechanism.

Q2 is NO! because the gross weight of the HB506 is heavier than the permissible towing weight of the Land Rover Freelander 2.  It makes no difference whether the trailer is empty or laden, it is always based on the CAPABILITY it can carry (Remember that from earlier… you put it aside, remember)  Although the unladen weight of the trailer is 920kg, it is the Gross Weight that must be taken into account, even it the trailer is empty.

To conclude:

Hopefully that clarifies when a B+E licence is needed.  So if a car has a GVW of 2100kg with a MAM of 3490kg and the trailer weight is 1300kg, the driver needs to have Cat B+E on their licence?

  • Answer: NO! NO! NO!

Here lies the confusion: If the combined Gross Weight of the trailer and the vehicle MAM is less than 3500kg (in the above example 3300kg) and it is a suitable combination or outfit, then that combination can be driven on a Cat B licence without the need for Cat +E. (The gross weight of the trailer must not exceed the unladen weight of the vehicle)

Hopefully that clears the confusion.  So if the car has an unladen weight of 1250kg and a GVW of 1950kg with a MAM of 3490kg and the trailer weight is 1300kg, the driver does not need to have Cat B+E on their licence?

  • Answer: NO! NO! NO!

Although the combined Gross Weight of this example is 3250kg, because the Gross Weight of the trailer (1300kg) is more than the unladen weight of the car (1250kg) a B+E licence is required.

As a general rule, when towing a caravan, the Gross Weight of the caravan should not normally exceed 85% of the unladen weight of the towing vehicle.


If a the Gross Weight of a trailer is 800kg and the towing vehicle’s GVW is 2650kg, this combination can be towed with a Cat B licence.  Put the same trailer on a vehicle with a GVW of 2750kg, the driver of this combination will need Cat B+E on his licence.  How simple is that???

Towing a car that has broken down also counts as a trailer.  Cat B+E will be needed to tow a broken down car, the only exception is to move a broken down vehicle from a dangerous position to a safe position and is not to be towed longer than necessary unless the driver holds Cat B+E.

For more information, email us info@trailertowingtrainingcentre.co.uk and we will see if we can help with the confusion.

Coming up…. Trailer towing training… The need for tachographs when towing trailers… Clarifying when Cat D1 is needed… Section 19 for D1… Clarifying when Cat C1 is needed… More on trailer weights and loads.

Footnotes: * source: Land Rover official website.  **source Ifor Williams official website