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Can I drive a van?

Attempting to move house or want to enjoy the mother of all booze cruises? Ben Griffin answers whether you can drive a van on a standard driving licence and the laws surrounding trailers and minibuses.

There will inevitably be a time when your car just isn’t up for the job of carrying the sheer volume of things you need it to. Maybe you are planning to take a group of people somewhere for a family day out.

At this point, you have the option of hiring (or maybe buy) a van or making use of a trailer. But what are the rules and can anyone do it? We investigated.

What van can I drive?

A standard category B driving licence allows you to drive any vehicle up to 3,500kg maximum authorised mass (MAM for short) and it doesn’t matter if it is an eight-seater car or van with a trailer up to 750kg.

Heavier trailers can also be towed as long as the maximum authorised mass of the car and trailer is kept below 3,500kg.

Those who passed their test before the 1st of January 1997 are usually allowed to do drive a vehicle and trailer combination of up to 8,250kg and a minibus with a trailer over 750kg MAM. Use the Gov UK tool to check your driving licence before you do anything, of course.

The same rules apply for those with a Category B automatic licence, except obviously you are limited to an automatic vehicle only.

Is there an age limit to drive a van?

There is no age restriction. All you need to have done is pass your driving test and be allowed to drive, which means you could, in theory, be as young as 17. But some hire companies tend to require a minimum age of 21 and some charge extra if younger than 25.

What sort of van does that include?

Your typical transit van, so that includes a Ford Transit, Mercedes Vito, Volkswagen Transporter and Mercedes Sprinter. Vans are bigger so extra care should be taken when driving them as a gap you could fit through in your car may be too thin.

Be wary of height limits, too, as damage to a vehicle may land you a big bill and the fun of getting stuck. If in doubt, ask when hiring the vehicle. It could be worth taking someone along to help with parking and other trickier moves.

What is the maximum authorised mass (MAM)?

It is another way of saying the permissable maximum weight and can sometimes be referred to as the gross vehicle weight. A case of simple addition of the trailer, car and other items should help you find out if you are within the legal limit.

The chances of being pulled by the police are small, but this is no point breaking the law for financial and safety reasons. Obviously an overladen vehicle or a ridiculous car and trailer combination will attract attention.

What if I need a bigger van?

The category BE driving licence allows you to drive a vehicle with a MAM of up to 3,500kg and a trailer. The size of the trailer you can use depends on the date you got your licence.

Before the 19th of January, 2013, and you can tow a trailer of any size. Your driving licence will say ‘B+E’ or you can use the Gov UK tool above to find out what you have. After the 19th of January, 2013, and your trailer is limited to a MAM of up to 3,500kg.

What if I need even more space?

To drive a medium-sized vehicle you will need to look into adding the higher category C1 to your licence for a van weighing from 3,500kg to 7,500kg with a trailer up to 750kg in weight.

C1E gives you the option of a trailer over 750kg, with the restriction being the fact the vehicle and trailer MAM must stay within a 12,000kg limit.

For what the government classes as a large vehicle, you need a category C licence (not to be confused with C1 or C1E). This allows you to drive a vehicle over 3,500kg in weight with a trailer up to 750kg. For a trailer over 750kg, you need category CE.

Typically, category B will suffice for most people, especially if you passed your test before the cut-off date of the 1st of January, 1997.

So how do I add to my driving licence?

First, you need to apply for a ‘provisional entitlement‘ and then take a test for the category you want to apply for. Then pass it.

Any more trailer details I should know?

The combined weight of the van and trailer must be below 3.5 tonnes if you wish to avoid the need for a goods vehicle operator’s licence, but there are two catches. The trailer without the load must weigh less than 1.020 tonnes and you can only carry your own goods.

If you need to carry more than 3.5 tonnes overall or the weight of the trailer without you and your load is heavier than 1.525 tonnes, you will need to apply for a good’s vehicle operator’s licence.

How do I know the gross vehicle weight of a van?

All vans will have a ‘design gross weight’, which can be found on the vehicle identification plate (VIN). This is the maximum it can carry and is also known as the gross vehicle weight or laden weight.

The design gross weight includes the vehicle, driver and any passengers, fuel and whatever is being carried. A hire company should guide you to the appropriately sized vehicle.

Can I use weighing scales?

The easiest way to check would be to drive to one of those truck weighing areas you get in the UK, but that is not very effective if you arrive and find you are way over what you are allowed to drive.

You are best off checking the manual for the weight of your car, the weight of the trailer and overestimate for passengers and cargo to stay on the right side of the law.

What about driving a minibus?

Virtually the same rules apply. Category B lets you drive a minibus of similar size to a van. But there are a few catches.

You can only ferry people around in a non-profit capacity, you must be 21 years old or more and the minibus must be less than 3,500kg in MAM (4,250kg with disabled vehicle equipment). The minibus must also have 16 or fewer seats and you must have driven for a minimum for two years.

Anyone aged over 70 must meet a Group 2 medical standard, which can be verified by your doctor. Under no circumstance can a category B licence holder tow a trailer behind a minibus.

What about driving a van abroad?

You will need to check with the hire company as an unplanned trip to the continent could void your insurance and get you into a world of trouble. You will also need to check the laws in each country you will visit as ignorance is no excuse.

What if I ignore the law?

You can be fined up to £1,000 and receive three to six penalty points for having the incorrect licence, which may see your insurance premium increase. Cause harm to anyone and things could get more serious.

How fast can I go?

In a van, you can go up to 50mph on a single carriageway, 60mph on a dual carriageway and 70mph on a motorway.

In a car-type van, you can do 60mph on a single carriageway, 70mph on a dual carriageway and 70mph on a motorway.

With a trailer and van, the single carriageway limit is 50mph, the dual carriageway is 60mph and, unlike the other two limits, you can only do 60mph on a motorway. If you’ve ever seen a trailer start to snake, you will know why this makes sense.


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