Licensed to Tow

Words by Jess Fogarty. Words by Jess Fogarty. Pictures by Jess Fogarty and Alexandra Dunsford-White.

If you were born after 1981, have a South African driver’s licence, and are towing a large trailer or caravan, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re breaking the law. Why? Because your standard-issue B licence doesn’t allow you to tow anything with a GVM (gross vehicle mass) greater than 750 kilograms – which pretty much rules out most caravans and big off-road trailers. In 2000, when SA changed over to the card licence system (the earlier licence had been printed or stuck on a page in your ID book), all Code 08 driver’s licences were automatically converted to the new EB licences. The Code 8 and the EB licence allow you to drive a rig with a gross combination mass (the combined tare weights of tow vehicle and caravan/trailer) not exceeding 3 500 kg. Bottom line: if you want to tow big loads, you’ve got to get yourself an EB. In this article we aim to show you how!

Can’t I get by with my B licence?
If you get stopped at a roadblock and the traffic official can see that you’re clearly towing a big load, he’s going to expect you to produce an EB licence. And when you don’t, well... that’s when your problems begin. You’ll be asked to check in at the nearest weighbridge. They’ll check the trailer/caravan’s GVM and you’ll be fined about R150 for every 150 kg that you’re over the 750 kg allowed for a B licence.

And then you’ll be told to empty your trailer/caravan until the weight is under 750 kg. If you can’t get the weight down, your holiday will end right there. You won’t be allowed to proceed with your caravan/trailer in tow.

Another way the illegal route will bite you is on the insurance side. If you’re in an accident and your insurance company discovers that you don’t have the right licence, they have every right to refuse your claim (and they will) which will leave you responsible for the entire cost of repairs / replacement / repatriation, etc.

Towing Lessons
Now, it may be that you have only a B licence, but you’ve been towing since you were kneehigh to a grasshopper, so you reckon, ‘No problem, I’ll just go write my EB licence’. Trust me; you need to go for towing lessons. Remember, with the new system, it’s not about your driving skills, reaction time or style of driving. It’s all about driving the way that they want you to drive. This is why driving instructors often find it very difficult to teach someone who has been driving for a few years – they’ve already developed their own driving habits and style. It seems that riding the clutch is one of my bad habits. So don’t be macho or proud, go for lessons. You need the practise.

The Learner’s Test
Feeling like I was 18 again, I had to rewrite the learner’s licence test. Yip, to get an EB if you’ve got a B means that you have to start at the very beginning. Writing the learner’s proved relatively easy; most of the questions are common driving knowledge. Not much departure from the B licence here, except that there were more questions on maximum bridge height, weight restrictions and the like.

In order to book your learner’s licence test, you’ll have to produce a valid form of identification, R68 for a booking fee and two ID photos. You can book and complete the test at any traffic department in the country; all you need is the blue (LL1) Learner’s Application Form. And on this is where you choose to do either your Code 2 or Code 3 learner’s test.

Code 2 applies to light motor vehicles, which includes all vehicles (except motorcycles) with a tare weight of 3 500 kilograms or less. This includes minibuses, buses, goods vehicles and articulated vehicles. The Code 3 licence applies to heavy motor vehicles, trucks and the like, but includes all vehicles except motorcycles. When applying, you will also be asked to complete an eye test. So take your specs.

Once you’ve passed your test, you pay R33 to be issued your learner’s permit, after which you can immediately make an appointment for your driver’s test – which I suggest you do there and then. In the major centres you can wait months for a slot to become available.

Booking the Driver’s Test
To book your driver’s test, you need to complete the green Application For Driving Licence form, provide one ID photo, and pay R135. They will then require you to do ANOTHER eye test, just to make sure that you haven’t gone blind in the interim. Once they give you a date, that’s it. Postponements need to be arranged at least three days prior to your test, but you may then have to wait another few months for the next slot to open up.

TIP: If you’re the impatient type, you can phone the traffic department as often as you like to enquire about cancellations. These aren’t too rare – so do this only if you’re ready for your test there and then, as a cancellation can mean doing your test within a few days!

Driver’s test structure
Like the B licence that most of us youngsters got when we turned 18, the EB licence test consists of a yard test and a road test. Each takes 20 minutes. And, bear in mind that your EB licence test can be done only at certain traffic departments, as many have smaller yards that can’t accommodate a vehicle and trailer. You need to find a yard that does code 10 (truck) licences.

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