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Rules that apply to UK van drivers

We outline the different rules and regulations to follow when you’re driving a van; knowing them could stop you from getting a fine and points on your licence...

Volkswagen Transporter 6.1 2020 RHD dashboard

If you drive a van in the UK – whether it’s for private or business use – the rules of the road are different to those that apply when you’re driving your car.

Moreover, failing to follow those rules could result in a fine – sometimes a considerable one – and penalty points on your licence.

These rules exist because vans tend to be larger and heavier than most cars, and as a result, they need to be driven with more care and, sometimes, at slower speeds to remain safe.

These rules are many and varied, so it’s no wonder that they can be confusing if you’re a van-driving novice. That’s why we’ve put together this simple guide, to help you make sense of it all.

Driving licence

Driving licence

To help you understand what you’re able to drive, it’s important first to understand how vans are classified according to their weight.

The Government uses a measurement called the gross vehicle weight, or GVW; you might alternatively see it referred to as the maximum allowed mass (MAM), maximum gross weight (MGW), or gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR).

Whichever way you refer to it, this figure refers to the maximum a van has been designed by its manufacturer to weigh when it’s fully loaded, including the weight of the van itself, its occupants, its fuel, and all of its cargo. 

Driving a van that’s loaded up above its GVW is illegal. So if your van weighs more than this when it’s laden, you’ll have to take out some of your cargo – or leave some of your passengers behind – until it falls below this limit. The GVW is usually listed on the van’s VIN plate. 

You can drive any van up to 3500kg GVW on a standard driving licence. For anything more than that, you may need to pass additional tests to have higher categories added to your licence if you got it after 1 January 1997 – and for anything above 7500kg, you’ll need an HGV category added to your licence, regardless of when you got it.

If you’re caught driving a van without the right licence, you could be fined up to £1000, and get hit with anywhere between three and six penalty points.

Total weight isn’t the only thing that matters, however. It’s also important that any weight in the payload area is spread evenly throughout, with the heaviest items kept as low as possible. And you should make sure everything in the back is strapped down tightly, to stop it moving around while you’re driving.

If you’re found to be in breach of these rules, you could end up with a £300 fine, or even a court summons.

Van interior

Towing with a van

How much you’re able to tow with a van on a standard car licence varies, depending on when you got your licence.

If you got it before 1 January 1997, you should be allowed to drive a van and trailer combination up to 8250kg GVW. 

If you passed your driving test after 1 January 1997, you can drive a van that’s up to 3500kg GVW, towing a trailer of up to 750kg GVW – so up to 4250kg in total. 

Alternatively, if you passed your test before 18 January 2013, you can tow a trailer of more than 750kg GVW, as long as it is no more than the unladen weight of the towing vehicle, up to a maximum of 3500kg in total. 

And if you passed your test after 18 January 2013, you’re instead allowed to tow a trailer that’s more than 750kg GVW, as long as the combined GVW of the trailer and towing vehicle is no more than 3500kg.

If you want to tow anything that takes you over the above weight limits – for example, a fully loaded 3500kg van with a trailer that’s more than 750kg – you’ll have to upgrade your licence. And don’t forget that if your van and trailer combination does take you over 3500kg GVW, and you’re driving for hire or reward (i.e. for work), you’ll be required by law to fit and use a tachograph

Renault Master ZE interior

Van driving restrictions

If you’re driving a van for work, you’ll be subject to working time and drivers’ hours regulations. 

For vans rated at less than 3500kg GVW, domestic rules apply. They state that you must not drive for more than 10 hours over a 24-hour period. You also can’t exceed the maximum of 11 hours’ duty in a single day: this is the total time you spend driving and working, but it doesn’t include your designated rest periods or breaks. 

In short, you’re allowed to work for up to 11 hours in one 24-hour period, but you’re not allowed to drive for more than 10 of those hours. There are some exemptions to duty rules for certain professionals, such as doctors, midwives and vets, among others.

If you drive a van for work for less than four hours in any 24-hour period, duty rules don’t apply. But here’s where it gets a bit confusing: if you drive for more than four hours in one day, the duty rules discussed above then apply for the entire week. 

For vehicles exceeding 3500kg (and it’s worth noting that this includes vans that are towing trailers that take them over that limit), EU rules still apply – even post-Brexit. 

These state that you may only drive for nine hours in any 24-hour period, although you are permitted to push this up to ten hours on no more than two days in any week. You’re also limited to driving a maximum of 56 hours in a week, or 90 hours in a fortnight.

Breaks are mandated, too. You have to rest for a minimum of 45 minutes for every four-and-a-half hours of driving. This can be split into two stops, as long as the first is at least 15 minutes long. 

You also have to take 11 consecutive hours of rest between shifts, though this can be reduced to as little as nine hours, as long as it’s no more than three times per week. You also have to get at least 45 hours of continuous ‘weekly rest’, no more than six days after your previous 45-hour weekly rest period.

Again, this isn’t the full extent of the rules, and there are quite a few caveats we haven’t the space to go into here. For that reason, we’d recommend reading the official guidance in full so that you’re aware of the small print before you start driving. 

Ford E-Transit

Speed limits

If you’re driving a van, you’ll be subject to different speed limits to those that apply when you’re in your car. On single carriageways, for example, vans are not allowed to exceed 50mph, while on dual carriageways the figure is 60mph. In built up areas and on motorways, the standard limits of 30mph and 70mph apply respectively.

Having said that, any car-derived van (or CDV; essentially a car with the rear seats removed and replaced with a load bay, for example the Toyota Corolla Commercial) can stick to the same limits as an ordinary car.


If you’re stopping to take on or drop off cargo, keep an eye out for vertical double yellow lines on street kerbs: these indicate that you’re not allowed to load or unload there at any time. Single vertical yellow lines, on the other hand, show that loading and unloading is permitted, but only at set times – and these are usually displayed on nearby signs.

Some roads have designated loading areas which are marked up as such and usually take the form of a painted white line on the road.

Renault Kangoo E-Tech 2022 side view

Tax, insurance and maintenance

As with any vehicle, a van must be taxed to be used on the road, as well as being MOT’d every year, once it’s reached three years old. You also need insurance. Don’t forget that if you’re driving for hire or reward, you’ll need to be insured for business use, and you’ll also want to make sure your insurance policy covers any goods or equipment you might leave in your van.

Even if it’s provided by your company, you as the driver are responsible for ensuring that your van is safe to drive and fit for the road. That’s why it’s recommended that you check your vehicle over daily for any deficiencies. 

The police and the DVSA do sometimes carry out spot checks at the side of the road, and if they find a safety-related problem, they’ll stop you from driving until it’s fixed. You also run the risk of being slapped with three penalty points and a fine of up to £2500.

Electric van grants

If you’re interested in driving a low- or zero-emissions commercial vehicle, the Government’s plug-in vehicle grant will cover 35% of the purchase price of a plug-in hybrid or electric van, up to £2500 if it’s a small van (up to 2500kg GVW), or £5000 if it’s a large one (between 2500 and 5000kg GVW).

To be eligible, vans must emit less than 50g/km CO2, and be able to travel at least 60 miles without any emissions. The grant is therefore available on a host of different models, including the Ford E-Transit, Renault Master E-Tech and Vauxhall Combo Cargo Electric.

Read more: Best and worst small vans >>

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