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