MANY people are driving around towing trailers without realising they could be breaking the law.

Until January 1, 1997, when someone passed their driving test they could automatically drive a vehicle weighing up to 7.5 tons - including vehicles with trailers attached, mini buses and small wagons.

But from that date the limit was reduced to 3.5 tons - including the combined weight of a vehicle and trailer - above which the person must take a separate driving test.

Graeme Gill, of Deepdale Off Road Centre, Barnard Castle, arranges training lessons and said: "There are an awful lot of people who are towing trailers illegally. We had two people recently who had been stopped by the police and charged with driving without a licence and having no insurance because they had not passed the separate test."

The test requires the person to attach a trailer in the recommended way, perform a reversing manoeuvre and drive for 50 minutes under the watchful eye of a Driving Standards Agency (DSA) examiner . There is no theory paper but the person needs to have previously passed their driving test.

Mr Gill provides the vehicle, trailer and instructor who through a series of lessons prepares the driver to take the test.

"The trailer is balanced with a weight of 600kgs and is always wider and higher than the towing vehicle so the driver has to use their mirrors, it is the same test an HGV driver takes," he said.

Farmer's daughter Rachel Anderson, tele-sales executive with the D&S Times and The Northern Farmer, recently passed her trailer towing test first time with Mr Gill's help. She wanted to be able to drive her horses to competitions instead of having to depend on friends.

She said: "I must recommend Andrew to anyone considering taking their test as I was very apprehensive and nervous, and had picked up a lot of bad habits over the years. I found reversing in an ‘S’ shape very difficult to master. Andrew had a very calming influence, and was very patient with me. I had five three hour lessons, then took my test in the sixth week.

"I am now looking forward to next season's shows as I am now able to transport my own horses."

Mr Gill also reminded drivers to ensure they are towing within the manufacturers approved limits. "Many drivers happily load up the trailer with two big horses, a couple of cows, or a mini digger etc without even considering the total weight of the trailer and the load.

"All vehicles are given a maximum towing weight by the manufacturer and if you exceed this you are risking your own safety and all around you, plus risking being charged with overloading. Your insurance is also invalid if the vehicle is overloaded.

"It is not the size or power of the engine that determines what you can tow, it is the manufacturers weight plate attached to the vehicle."