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Towbar laws in New South Wales: Doing it the right way

Posted by Bob Newman on Aug 25, 2014 - 0 Comments

tow bar laws new south wales

Towbar laws in New South Wales vary to the rest of Australia. Make sure you’re towing right by following our handy guide.


When it comes to your trusty towbar, there are laws and guidelines in place by the New South Wales government to ensure safety across the state. We’ve put together a handy guide so that you can tow the right way every time.

The guide includes information on maximum trailer mass, registration, speed limits while towing, braking systems, towing couplings, safety chains and trailer loading requirements.


Maximum trailer mass

In Australia, the allowable maximum mass for a trailer is either:

a) The capacity of the tow vehicle’s towing attachment or the towing limit specified by the vehicle manufacturer for the towing vehicle, whichever is the least, or

b) If the vehicle’s manufacturer has not made a recommendation as to the towing mass, then the following rules apply:

  1. A vehicle may tow a laden trailer of up to 1.5 times the unladen mass of the tow vehicle, provided that the towbar is rated accordingly and the trailer is fitted with brakes that comply with the requirements stipulated in the Australian Design Rule ADR38
  2. If the trailer is not fitted with brakes, then the maximum mass must not exceed the unladen mass of the motor vehicle. The unladen mass of the vehicle can be found in the vehicle’s handbook, or check with your car dealer.

All trailers with a gross trailer mass (GTM) that exceeds 750 kg must have brakes.


Trailer registration

When it comes to trailer and vehicle registration, the following rules should be observed:

  • All towing vehicles must comply with the relevant standards for registration and be roadworthy at all times.
  • Rear number plates and lights must not be obscured by the towbar when there is no trailer connected.
  • Towing vehicles must be properly equipped with,
    • Towbars and couplings of a suitable type and capacity
    • Electrical sockets for lightning
    • Brake connections, if the trailer is fitted with power or electric brakes.


  • Extra mirrors may be required for the towing vehicle if you are towing a large trailer.
  • Extra transmission oil cooler may be needed for vehicles with automatic transmission.
  • Some vehicles need structural reinforcement and/or special suspension and transmission options and load-distributing devices to be able to tow heavier trailers.


Speed limits while towing

For a motor vehicle and trailer combination that has a gross combination mass (GCM) of less than 4.5 tonnes, the signposted speed limited will apply, unless the manufacturer of the towing vehicle has stipulated a lower towing speed limit in the manual.

When the motor vehicle and trailer GCM exceeds 4.5 tonnes and there is no signposted speed limit and you are not driving in a built up area, the speed limit is 100km per hour. A safe speed, satisfactory stopping distance and any other requirement that has been imposed by the manufacturer of the towing vehicle also applies.

For certain road conditions – that is, sharp bends, steep descent and winding roads – special speed limit signs may be posted for larger vehicles like trucks, road trains and buses. For motor vehicles towing a trailer, you must not drive at a speed greater than the speed shown on the sign.


Trailer braking systems

The minimum braking system for a trailer depends on:

  • The type of trailer
  • The trailer’s weight
  • The weight of the towing vehicle


Loaded weights:

0 – 750kg: no brakes required

751 – 2000kg: braking on both wheels on at least one axle.

2001 – 4500kg: braking on all wheels, and an automatic breakaway system in the event of the trailer becoming detached from the vehicle during travel.

All brakes must be fully operable from the driver’s seating position.


Towing couplings

All couplings:

  • Must be strong enough to take the weight of a fully loaded trailer.
  • Should be marked with the manufacturer’s name or trademark and rated capacity.
  • Must be equipped with a positive locking mechanism. The locking mechanism must be able to be released, regardless of the angle of the trailer to the towing vehicle.


Towing safety chains

All safety chains must comply with Australian Standards.

  • If a trailer weighs less than 2500kg when loaded, it must be fitted with at least one safety chain.
  • If the trailer weighs more than 2500 when loaded, it must be fitted with two safety chains.

To prevent the front end of the drawbar from hitting the ground if the coupling is disconnected, safety chains must be:

  • As short as practicable and connected to the towing vehicle.
  • Crossed over if two chains are fitted.


Trailer loading requirements

It is of utmost importance that trailers are not overloaded, and that each load is properly secured to or contained within the trailer.

Other things to note:

  • A load must not project more than 15cm beyond the trailer’s width, or be more than 2.5 wide overall – whichever is less.
  • Trailer loads that project more than 1.2m behind a trailer must have a red flag attached to the end of the load. This flag must be at least 30cm square and be clearly visible to other road users.
  • To avoid having an overhanging load, you should use a trailer that suitably contains the load being transported.
  • When driving in between sunset and sunrise, or any other instance of insufficient daylight, a clear red light (or at least two red reflectors) must be fixed to the end of any projecting load.
  • The overall length of the vehicle and trailer(s) combination, including its load, must not be more than 19m.
  • To reduce the possibility of swaying or fishtailing, heavy loads should be concentrated towards the centre of the trailer
  • Loads should be kept at low and as close as possible to the axle(s), with about 60 per cent of the total load weight forward of the centre of the axle(s).
  • As a general rule, about 5 to 10 per cent of the GTM should be supported by the vehicle through the coupling.
  • The trailer drawbar should be level or slightly ‘nose down’ to the tow bar.


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