The Gun at 50 (Motor Vehicles (Variations of Speed Limits) Regulations 1973)

As I was planing down the final run to the finishing flag at the London end of the M3 recently, I overtook several boats which seemed to be in irons on the slow lane. Some of them had “50” on their transoms so I vaguely assumed they had committed some misdemeanour such as being on starboard whilst entering a roundabout, and were being punished by having a miserable 50 imposed upon them.

An official from the race committee in the form of a not very friendly gentleman in blue uniform has since wised me up. I have since asked all sorts of people about the law concerning the trailing of boats, and as a result have acquired various bits of paper purporting to be extracts of the Motor Vehicles (Variations of Speed Limits) Regulations 1973, written in normal government language full of if’s and but’s and conditions and exceptions. From this welter of prolixity I have made a basic translation of the law as it appears to affect the simple Mirrorman who tows his boat.

Apparently one was always restricted to a maximum speed of 40 mph in a de-restricted area when towing a trailer, until May of this year (unless one was a goods vehicle in which case it was only 30 mph). But now they have introduced this new law, presumably in deference to the boss (though surely he doesn’t actually tow Morning Cloud?) which says that if you comply with certain conditions you may now tow at 50. Briefly this is that the weight ratio between towing vehicle and towed trailer must be a safe one, and these weights must be marked in a conspicuous place (remind me to tell you the one about the Admiral’s tatoo sometime).

The actual conditions are that the maximum gross weight of the trailer (that is, the weight it is designed not to exceed when laden and in normal use on a road) must not exceed 60% of the kerbside weight of the towing vehicle. Okay, not to advertise the fact. The tossing vehicle must be marked with its kerbside weight  clearly visible from the port side. It would seem that the trailer doesn’t have to he so marked unless it is a trailer carrying fixed equipment which a boat trailer isn’t, but just to be sure I’ve marked mine on the port side with the maker’s recommended gross weight. Oh yes don’t antagonise them by having one in Imperial and the other in Metric. That’s breaking Rule 49 and you’ll be disqualified. Finally one of those magical “50” plates must be attached in a vertical position facing squarely aft. Mine cost 12p from the local motor accessory shop, but if you really want to make one it must have the following minimum dimensions: 4in. diameter (if circular) or 3in., high and 41/2in. wide (if elliptical). Each digit 13/4in. high by 11/4in. wide. Width of every part of the figures 5/16in. and space between figures 1/4in. (I thought they were trying to plug metric dimensions nowadays?). Colour black with number 50 in white, silver or light grey. Question: would someone with a big “50” plate be allowed to go faster than someone with a small one?

from John Reeve, M35336, Watford

Editor's note - This article is from Reflections No. 11 Autumn 1973, page 7 and has been captured by OCR, so typos & errors are possible.

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