Driving safely with a trailer requires attention in addition to that associated with driving a standard vehicle.
Firstly, it’s worth making sure that you are familiar with a few points before you actually start to move:
- Make sure that you know how to couple and uncouple the trailer correctly.
- Be aware that towing a trailer may affect the blind spots so position your mirrors for maximum visibility.
- Know the tow speed limits of your vehicle and the trailer’s dimensions are so that you can avoid any height or width restrictions en route.
- If you are travelling on the motorway, remember that you cannot use the outside lane when there are three or more.
When driving, the extra weight of the trailer will have an impact on acceleration and braking. Both will take longer so accelerate gradually and coast to slow down and come to a gradual stop in good time where possible rather than sit on the brakes brake and risk jerking or lurching.
Remember that towing a trailer will change the way a vehicle usually steers and handles. It’s likely to be much more ponderous so be aware that you may have to modify your driving and also take a different position on the road or at junctions and roundabouts.
Try to allow for much longer distances when overtaking and more room when turning corners by using wider arcs to ensure the trailer’s wheels don’t clip the kerb on the way round.
Good drivers use their mirrors regularly and this is even more important when towing a trailer. Be particularly careful with regard to unexpected debris on the road or low branches.
Reversing a trailer can be tricky to start with so if you can, practice on a wide open space until you can manoeuvre smoothly. Small trailers can often be reversed by looking over your left shoulder and through the back window but with large ones, rear vision through your central mirror is likely to be blocked, in which case you may have to rely entirely on your door mirrors.
When reversing, to turn the rear of the trailer left, turn the steering wheel to the right. If you want the rear of the trailer to turn right, turn the steering wheel to the left. It may feel counter-intuitive to start with, but with practice the technique will become more familiar.
A swaying trailer is potentially dangerous and can be very unnerving. Whether through unexpected gusts of wind, excessive speed, or a poorly distributed load, try to mitigate the sway by easing off the accelerator and then gradually applying enough brake pedal pressure to slowly bring the swaying back under control.
Always remember that vehicles towing a trailer have a lot of inertia and are inherently unstable which makes it more difficult to swerve suddenly. Obviously then, the faster you drive, the greater the risk of losing control. Good advice is to start slowly and increase your speed in line with your experience and confidence.
Nevertheless, it’s a good idea generally to drive just below the speed limit regardless of your experience to provide an extra safety margin should you need to react quickly.