What Are Recreational Towing Laws?

Most of us understand the driving laws that govern us from day to day, but when it comes to recreational towing, there are a lot more legal restrictions to consider. These laws are in place to help ensure safe and responsible towing, and penalties for noncompliance can range from a slap on the wrist to serious jail time.

Many Canadian provinces and U.S. states have towing laws in place regarding:

  • How your vehicle-in-tow is secured and lighted — for example, most regions require a draw bar and a responsive tail lamp connection.
  • Occupancy of a trailer or camper in motion — it is rarely permissible for passengers to ride in a vehicle-in-tow, but provinces like Quebec make exceptions for parades or other events that are closed to general traffic. Meanwhile, some regions put restrictions on passengers in campers, while others do not.
  • Maximum speed while towing — some regions have towing speed limits that are lower than general speed limits, while others don’t make a differentiation.
  • Maximum height and weight of your full tow system — every region places a restriction on the height and weight of your tow system, but the actual limits vary widely.
  • Whether you need separate insurance for the vehicle-in-tow — don’t assume your current insurance automatically covers your full tow system. Most regions require separate insurance to account for the worst-case scenario of your vehicle-in-tow coming uncoupled and being involved in a collision.
  • Special driver’s licensing requirements — there may be separate vehicle-in-tow licensing requirements as you pass from region to region. It’s especially important to look into licensing allowances if you are crossing an international border into the United States.
  • Special braking or breakaway switch requirements — many regions place restrictions on the type of brakes permissible for trailers of a certain weight and require electronic breakaway switches.
  • Whether triple-towing is allowed — some regions will allow you to tow a trailer and a boat at the same time, while others prohibit triple hookups. Still others opt to simply place restrictions on the total length of your tow system.
  • Safety chain requirements — some provinces require two chains, while others require just one.
  • And more! — between all the provinces and states you might travel through, there could be different towing laws governing nearly every part of your towing setup. For example, British Columbia puts a strict limit on how far your tow mirrors can extend past the sides of your trailer!

It’s Not Just Where You Are — It’s Also Where You’re Going

Unfortunately, there is no standardized set of laws or terminology that covers recreational vehicle use and towing across Canada. Because individual provinces (and U.S. states) set their own individual towing laws, it’s important to do your own research to understand how laws will change as you cross over borders.

Some drivers make the mistake of complying with all the towing laws in their home region, without accounting for all the areas through which they’ll be travelling. This can lead to tricky situations in which your trailer’s height is perfectly legal in one province and becomes illegal a mile down the road.

Penalties for Breaking Towing Laws

What happens if you’re caught with a too-tall trailer or the wrong braking system for your trailer’s weight? In the best-case scenario, a friendly officer may pull you over, explain the towing violation, and let you off with a warning. In the worst-case scenario, your noncompliance with towing laws could result in an accident, and you would be held liable for the resulting damage or injuries. Additional consequences may include license penalties, fees, and even jail time. It pays to be aware of and comply with all towing laws for every region on your itinerary!