Top tips for safe towing this summer


New Zealanders are expected to hit the road in droves over the summer holidays this year and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency reminds you it’s important to make a few checks to ensure you’re towing your trailer or boat safely.

There are several factors that come into play to create a safe towing situation. Towing changes how your vehicle handles on the road and the heavy load means your vehicle will take longer to speed up and slow down. 

“Before you head away, check the trailer’s towing connections for any signs of wear and cracks,” Neil Adams, Senior Manager Safer Vehicles, says. 

“If you have any doubts or want to be sure about the safety of your trailer, please take it to a professional for a check-up. 

“When you’re preparing for your trip, firstly check the Warrant of Fitness and registration are current. Take careful note that the tyres are inflated correctly, have sufficient tread and are in good condition.” 

Connecting the trailer to the towing vehicle involves several steps and these are outlined in the bullet points below. 

Please load your trailer correctly and use the appropriate restraints. Be careful not to exceed the loading limits for your trailer and towing vehicle. Refer to your vehicle’s manufacturer specifications as these limits vary between vehicles. 

“A good rule of thumb is 10 percent of the weight of the trailer and its load should be transferred through the tow ball onto your towing vehicle for safety and stability,” Neil Adams says. 

“When you’re on the road, please remember the top legal speed when towing a trailer is 90 km/h (in a 100 km/h zone). 

“You’ll need more space between you and other vehicles, so you have more time to stop when you need to. Use the four-second rule to ensure safe following distances.” 

There have been nine deaths and 35 serious injuries from crashes involving a trailer or a load detaching from the towing vehicle between 2014 and this year to date. Ten of those deaths or serious injuries have occurred this year, including two deaths in October, and that’s why it’s so important to complete these checks. 

“Waka Kotahi wants you and your family to get to your holiday destination safety, and we want everyone else using the roads to be safe as well. Take the time to do a trailer check-up before you hit the road because your safety is worth it,” Neil Adams says. 

Connecting your trailer:

  • Make sure you lock the trailer onto the vehicle’s tow bar and make sure the coupling on the trailer has a manufacturer's rating appropriate for the gross laden weight of the trailer and is compatible with the tow ball size.
  • There are two sizes of tow balls in use – the older 1-7/8 inch diameter ball and the newer 50mm diameter tow ball. The trailer coupling must match the tow ball, or you can put your towing load, your passengers and other road users at risk.
  • Make sure both the tow ball and coupling are in good condition, correctly adjusted to avoid excessive play or movement when attached, and securely attach to the tow bar and trailer draw bar respectively before embarking on your journey.
  • Once you have connected the trailer to the appropriately sized tow ball, attach the safety chain correctly and hook up the electrical connection properly. Once the electrical connection is hooked up, check the lights are working properly and are in good condition before you take the trailer on the road.


For more information on safe towing, check out our safe towing guide: Guide to safe loading and towing for light vehicles and Towing a Trailer (external link)on the Drive website.

For information on likely holiday congestion spots:
Summer holidays 2020(external link)

The Waka Kotahi Journey Planner website is a great tool to help plan your trip with real time travel information, traffic cameras, and updates on delays, roadworks and road closures:
Journey Planner(external link) 

For more info on safe holiday driving see: 

Editors’ notes:

Improving safety on New Zealand roads is a top priority for Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency. Waka Kotahi is committed to Vision Zero, which aspires to a New Zealand where no-one is killed or seriously injured on our roads.  Waka Kotahi and Police are working together with local government and others to deliver Road to Zero(external link), the government’s road safety strategy for 2020-2030. Road to Zero aims to reduce deaths and serious injuries on our roads by 40 percent over the next 10 years.  

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