In our earlier article; The Layman’s Guide To Towing In The UK, one of the items covered was that of the legal requirement (or not) of fitting extended mirrors, when towing, however, towing mirrors, as a topic, is, along with licences and towing weights, possibly, one of the most heavily debated topics on the internet, and it is clear that a significant percentage of those commenting, actually, have no idea as to what the law, really, is. In view of this, I thought it was worth looking at the topic of mirrors, as an issue, in its own right, to clarify exactly where we stand on them, when towing.
The Big Myth
By far the most common myth we are, currently, hearing, is; “The law has changed now. You must always fit extended mirrors when towing. They are now a legal requirement”. This is, in actual fact, not true. The law, simply states that we must have the prescribed rear view. This view is defined as an area that is 4 metres out from the side of the vehicle, at a distance of 20 metres back, as shown on the diagram below. Indeed, if we already have that required field of vision, then, in all likelihood, fitting extended mirrors will, actually, render us illegal.
The wording on the Government Web Site seems to change with the wind, however, at the time of writing, it, currently states;
“You must have an adequate view of the road behind you. Fit suitable towing mirrors if your trailer or caravan is wider than the rear of your car”.
Anyone familiar with the likes of the Highway Code will know that use of the word ‘must’, in this context, means a statement is law, as opposed to recommendation. As the site, clearly, states; “you must have an adequate view”, that is the legal requirement, not the fitting of towing mirrors. The site then goes on to say that you should fit suitable mirrors, if your trailer or caravan is wider than the rear of your car. In most cases, if the caravan or trailer is wider, then towing mirrors will be required, in order to achieve the legally required rear view.
Another worrying thing we hear, on an, almost daily basis, is; “You may as well fit them, even if you don’t need them, just to be safe”. This is extremely poor advice. Whilst the vast majority of us will, indeed, need mirrors when towing, as mentioned above, fitting them when not required will, actually, render us illegal. OK, so why is that?
It is all to do with not allowing the mirrors to protrude too far beyond the side of the vehicle / trailer combination.
The Road Vehicles (Construction And Use) Regulations 1986 state;
“Where the bottom edge of an exterior mirror is less than 2 m above the road surface when the vehicle is laden, that mirror shall not project more than 20 cm beyond the overall width of the vehicle or, in a case where the vehicle is drawing a trailer which has an overall width greater than that of the drawing vehicle, more than 20 cm beyond the overall width of the trailer”
Ok, so, in layman’s terms; if a mirror is less than 2 metres above the ground, it is not allowed to protrude more than 20cm* beyond the side of the trailer / caravan, so as not to provide a further obstruction, and cause damage or injury to persons or property. This is, also, the reason why we are not allowed to use towing mirrors, when we aren’t, actually, towing, as this would mean the mirrors were, automatically, extending beyond the allowed limit.
Also just worth mentioning that, if the car was registered after 26th January 2010, extendable mirrors must be E-marked to show that they comply with EU safety regulations.
Failure to comply with the law, on towing mirrors, is not cheap. Whilst fines can be as little as £50, the maximum allowed penalty for non compliance is £1,000, and three points PER MIRROR. This is why many advocate ‘caution’ and suggest fitting them, when they aren’t required, however, as already stated, that, too, can be an offence, if they aren’t necessary.
OK, so the vast majority of us will need towing mirrors, if what we are towing is wider than the rear of our car. For some, however, especially those towing with larger, commercial vehicles, or towing smaller trailers, such as some of the smaller 4 berth folding campers, towing mirrors will not be required, as we will, already, have the required rear view, and fitting them will, actually, render us illegal. As with many aspects of the law, it is not a case of ‘one size fits all’. We need to understand the basic principles of the legislation, so we can best apply it to our own, individual, towing situation.
* – For cars manufactured after 26 January 2007, this distance has been increased to 25cm