The vehicle loading section of the driving theory test contains questions about how to load your vehicle, towing trailers and caravans, the use of roof racks etc. The questions in this section are all to do with the safety of yourself and other road users, minimising environmental impact and costs of fuel, as well as staying within the law.

Carrying loads safely

Before attempting to load your vehicles with people or goods, you should ensure that you know how to do so safely and the effects that carrying loads may have.

There may be a tendency to think that as long as you have space in your car, it is safe to fill it. However, this would be incorrect and unsafe as you’d be putting yourself at risk of overloading your car. Overloading can seriously affect the vehicle’s handling, especially the steering and braking and therefore makes it much harder to drive smoothly, and respond to road conditions and hazards in a safe and timely manner.

Once you have ensured that you have a suitable amount to load into your vehicle without overloading, you need to make sure that you load your vehicle carefully to avoid upsetting its stability. You can do this by:

  • Distributing the weight evenly
  • Making sure that the load is securely fastened, with rope, bungee cord or a seatbelt, so that it can’t move when you’re cornering or braking
  • Ensuring that your load doesn’t obstruct your view when you’re driving, or stick out where it could be dangerous or obstructive to other road users.

Carrying a load may affect how your car handles, even if it’s not overloaded. For example, carrying goods on a roof rack will increase wind resistance which may make your vehicle less stable. If you are using a roof rack, you need to be aware of the fact that the load is exposed to the elements, and you may therefore need to protect it from rain, sleet or snow by covering it. Specially-designed roof boxes are available, which cut down the wind resistance and help to ensure that loads are kept secure and dry.

The effect of carrying goods on your car’s handling and suspension means that, when you’re carrying or towing a heavy load, you may need to make adjustments to your vehicle, such as:

  • Increasing the air pressure of your tires
  • Adjusting the aim of your headlights.

Carrying passengers safely

Carrying goods can be tricky, but ensuring the safety of passengers is vital.  All passengers MUST wear seat belts, provided they are fitted. This is the responsibility of you as the driver, regardless of the passenger’s age. If the passenger is under 14 years of age, they must wear a suitable restraint when travelling in your vehicle. The type of restraint varies with the age of the child and may be a baby carrier, child seat or booster seat (and can be front or rear-facing) but it MUST be suitable for the child’s weight and size.

Carrying animals safely

Much like children, animals should be restrained to ensure that they don’t interfere with the driver or obstruct their view. This can be in a special cage or behind a dog guard which may strap a dog in using a harness for added security. Smaller animals such as cats and rabbits should travel in cages, or in pet carriers which can be secured with a seat belt.

Whether travelling with pets or children, it is important to remain calm and focused in the face of barking, squabbling or crying. ALWAYS keep your focus on the road.

How to tow safely

Towing trailers or caravans is something that can be a daunting prospect and require a little planning. You should have a stabiliser fitted to your tow bar if you’re preparing to tow a caravan. This will help the handling of your vehicle, particularly if you’re driving in high side-winds. You should also be aware of the maximum amount that your vehicle can safely tow.

The maximum weight that can be put on your vehicle’s tow bar (also called the ‘noseweight’) can normally be found in your vehicle handbook.

Some caravans and trailers are fitted with a braking system. If yours is in this category, it must be fitted with a device that automatically stops the trailer in the event of a separation of the main coupling. A breakaway cable is the normal way to achieve this. It is attached to the parking-brake mechanism, which applies the brakes if the trailer becomes detached from the towing vehicle.

You must keep a keen eye on your trailer or caravan, trying to spot and avert a problem before it becomes too severe.  Your trailer swerving or snaking as you’re driving along can be one of the signs that your load could become detached. If you notice this happening, you must ease off of the accelerator and reduce your speed gradually in order to regain control.

Because of the loss of stability at higher speeds, limits are lower when you are towing trailers and caravans.

When travelling on a dual carriageway or motorway, the maximum speed limit is 60 mph (96 km/h). You should also be aware that a vehicle towing a trailer on a motorway that has more than two lanes MUST NOT be driven in the right-hand lane unless directed to by police or road traffic agencies.

When travelling on a single carriageway. the maximum speed limit is 50 mph (80 km/h).

Effects of vehicle loading on fuel consumption

It is important to note that the extra weight you’re carrying will increase your vehicle’s fuel consumption. This will increase even more if you’re carrying a load on a roof rack due to the increased wind resistance and drag this creates.

This is why it’s a good idea to remove your roof rack or box from the vehicle when you’ve finished using it. Having one attached to your vehicle will increase the fuel consumption because of the drag it creates, even if it’s empty.

Regardless of what you’re carrying or loading in your vehicle, remember to be well-prepared, give yourself lots of time for your journey and remain calm. Doing so helps ensure the safety of all road users.