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Negotiating the load towing legislative minefield

Towing vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, but the recent surge in interest in double cab pickup trucks - partly due to their commercial vehicle tax status combined with four-door practicality - has resulted in them being commonplace throughout agriculture.


But none can come close to a Land Rover Defender’s 3,500kg capability when it comes to towing capacity.


Nissan’s popular Navara is capable of towing a trailer with a MAM (Maximum Authorised Mass) of 2,600kg. Mitsubishi’s L200 can handle 2,700kg, while those with a Toyota Hilux will probably be limited to just 2,250kg.


The best of the bunch are Isuzu’s Rodeo, Ford’s Ranger and Mazda’s BT50 double cab pickup, which are rated for a 3,000kg towing capacity.


And Nissan’s 3.0-litre V6 diesel Navara has also joined the three-tonne class, but with a seven-speed auto’ box and 230hp, you will need that towing capacity just to pull its own fuel bowser.


It is the driver’s responsibility to inspect the VIN plate and establish a maximum towing figure, but the only way to be absolutely sure is to visit a weighbridge, when laden, to check weights.


Remember that these ‘one-tonne’ pickups and 4x4s are likely to carry significant amounts of weight in the back too, therefore reducing the towing capacity under the gross train weight part of the regulations.


If the vehicle and trailer combination has the capacity to exceed 3.5 tonnes MAM and the outfit is used for commercial purposes - and that covers just about anything other than private use with no payment involved - then it falls within scope of the EU Regulation EC561 covering the recording of drivers hours and the use of tachographs.


There are, however, a number of exemptions and these are detailed in the VOSA publication ‘Rules on Driver’s Hours and Tachographs’ (GV262-02, revised 2009).


The main ones involve: “Vehicles used or hired without a driver by agricultural, horticultural, forestry, farming or fishery undertakings for carrying goods as part of their own entrepreneurial activity within a radius of 100km from the base of the undertaking.”


Similarly, “Vehicles that are used to carry live animals between a farm and a market, or from a market to a slaughterhouse where the distance between the farm and the market or between the market and the slaughterhouse does not exceed 50km,” are also exempt.


The VOSA men will be carrying laptops, and a quick postcode check to determine the start and finish point of your journey will quickly reveal your working radius. So, exceed these boundaries at your peril.


Those who fall within the scope of the EU drivers’ hours regulations will need a digital tachograph fitted to vehicles used for towing. These are not simple electronic speedos, but sealed and calibrated devices that are operated from the driveline of the vehicle.


The smart way is to specify a tacho compatible vehicle when ordering it from a dealer, which should only cost a few hundred pounds extra.


Converting some vehicles to take a tachograph can prove to be a nightmare, requiring axles or gearboxes to be taken out, stripped and modified.


Instrument manufacturer VDO has recently introduced a new scheme where one of its tachographs can be supplied, installed and calibrated for around £1,400.


One of the best investments a small business can make is to seek specialist legal advice to find a way to avoid the use of tachographs.


Not just because of the cost of the actual units itself, but because of the significant administrative burden of managing a tacho-equipped fleet.


Each driver will need their own digital driver card, with someone in the office equipped with the necessary software to extract, store and analyse drivers’ hours data.


But this is just the start of the nightmare, as the regulations were written with truck drivers in mind, who have a fairly simple working routine.


The agricultural industry is different, with driving a vehicle and trailer being a secondary activity to normal daily duties, and this in itself, could be open to interpretation as an exemption from the rules on drivers hours.


For machinery firms with sales reps who spend their time on the road in large 4x4s, their ‘out of scope’ driving time will need to be recorded in some form for that week where they have perhaps, hitched up to a trailer and fallen within the scope of the drivers hours regulations - even if that ‘in scope’ work is just for a few minutes.


And this is to prove to authorities that the individual has had EU-sanctioned rest periods.


If this is not depressing enough, there is a further twist: Any entity, for example a sole proprietor, partnership or company, that wishes to carry goods in connection with a trade or business, or for hire or reward, needs to have an operator’s licence (O-licence) where the

vehicle or vehicle and trailer combination exceeds a MAM of 3.5 tonnes.


Any trailer which has an unladen weight of less than 1,020kg, however, is excluded from the O-licence regulations, and this could come as a huge sigh of relief for many.


The rules on towing for business are so complex we suspect the Police and VOSA do not really understand them fully.


But because this law is so complex, with no joined-up thinking between licensing, towing capacity and tachographs, the chances are a roadside tug might lead to the authorities finding something wrong.


Our advice is to try avoid problems by seeking specialist legal advice, keeping an information pack in every vehicle equipped with a towbar, and brief every driver on what to do and say if they are stopped.


Glossary of towing terms

  • GTW - Gross Train Weight Not to be mistaken for Gross Trailer Weight
  • MAM - Maximum Authorised Mass (also see below) Relates to the GTW as the maximum permitted weight of vehicle plus any trailer being towed, including a load carried in the vehicle and trailer
  • MAM/GVW - Maximum Authorised Mass/Gross Vehicle Weight This is the maximum gross weight of a vehicle or a trailer (not both) including the load being carried and includes the weight of the driver, load and any passengers.
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