Van Operators and Van Operations

It is unfortunate that many drivers (and for that matter operators) fail to appraise themselves of the fact that vehicles up to 3.5 tonnes are required to observe many of the rules and regulations that affect operators of larger vehicles. Two vital areas where drivers/operators of vans up to 3.5 tonnes fall down, concern driver’s hour’s rules, breaks and rest and speed limits. 

This section of the website has been written to assist you in getting things right and to help reduce the risk of penalty for not doing so. Remember, ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law. 

Vans up to 2,000kg MAM 

There is a small group of vans that can travel at up to the same national speed limits as cars. These are car derived vans that are goods vehicles developed from a passenger vehicle and have a MAM of no more than 2,000 kg. This means that the weight of the vehicle and the payload it is designed to be able to carry when added together do not exceed 2,000 kg. The van design must be a derivative of a car body, it is not sufficient that it looks similar to a particular car. 

A common mistake that's made is to suppose that if a van is in the same tax or registration class as a car then the speed limits are the same. This is not the case since vehicle registration and vehicle speed limits are governed by separate legislation. 

Vans from 2,000kg to 3,500kg MAM 

When driving a van that falls within this category, be aware that the national speed limits are different from those for cars, depending on the road you are on. Lower speed limits will apply in built-up areas and on many local roads. These lower limits are the same for both cars and vans. Vans within this category may be driven at up to 50 mph on single carriageways and up to 60 mph on dual carriageways. 

If you are driving a van (within this category) on a motorway, the speed limit is 70 mph (as it is for cars) unless you are towing a trailer. If you are towing a trailer the motorway speed limit is reduced to 60 mph. Also, any vehicle (within this category) towing a trailer is not permitted to use the outside lane where there are three or more lanes in use in the same direction. 

There are many stretches of road where there are lower, locally set, speed limits in place, even on dual carriageways. It is vital to keep within local speed limits and also to reduce your vehicle speed according to the weather, road and traffic conditions during your journey 

UK National speed limits for Vans from 2,000kg to 3,500kg MAM. 


No Trailer 

With Trailer 

Local roads 

As marked 

As marked 

Single carriageway 



Dual carriageway 






Remember that the speed limits quoted in the table above are national limits, a lower speed limit will apply in built up areas and on many local roads. Where a lower speed limit is signed you must comply with those lower limits. 

Drivers Hours Rules governing Vans within this category 

All drivers of vans that fall within this category are required to adhere to the GB domestic rules, as contained in the Transport Act 1968, which apply to most vehicles that are exempt from the EU rules. Please note that separate rules apply to Northern Ireland. This means that drivers (and operators) should be aware that they have an obligation under the Act and that certain criteria are laid down and mustbe adhered to. 

There are exemptions to a small group of drivers/operators, which are briefly laid out below. 


Daily driving 

In any working day the maximum amount of driving permitted is 10 hours. The daily driving limit applies to driving on and off the public road. Off-road driving for the purposes of agriculture, quarrying, forestry, building work or civil engineering counts as duty rather than driving time. 

Daily duty 

In any working day the maximum amount of duty permitted is 11 hours. A driver is exempt from the daily duty limit (11 hours) on any working day when he does not drive. A driver who does not drive for more than 4 hours on each day of the week is exempt from the daily duty limit. 

Duty: In the case of an employee driver, this means being on duty (whether driving or otherwise) for anyone who employs him as a driver. This includes all periods of work and driving but does not include rest or breaks. Employers should also remember that they have additional obligations to ensure that drivers receive adequate rest under health and safety legislation. 

For owner drivers, this means driving a vehicle connected with their business or doing any other work connected with the vehicle and its load. 

Record keeping 

You must keep written records of your hours of work on a weekly record sheet. Operators are expected to check and sign each weekly record sheet. 

Working Time Regulations (WTR)

Drivers who are subject to the UK domestic rules on drivers' hours are affected by four provisions under the UK's Working Time Regulations 1998 (as amended), which are:

  • Weekly working time, which must not exceed an average of 48 hours per week over the reference period (although individuals can 'opt-out' of this requirement if they want to) 
  • An entitlement to 5.6 weeks' paid annual leave 
  • Health checks for night workers; and 
  • An entitlement to adequate rest 

'Adequate rest' means that workers should have regular rest periods. These rest periods should be sufficiently long and continuous to ensure that workers do not harm themselves, fellow workers or others and that they do not damage their health in the short or long term. The reference period for calculating the 48-hour average week is normally a rolling 17 week period. However, this reference period can be extended to 52 weeks, if this is permitted under a collective or workforce agreement. 

The 1998 Regulations do not apply to self-employed drivers (see below). Please note that this definition is different from the one used under the 2005 Regulations. 

Definition of a self-employed driver under the 1998 Regulations 

'You are Self-employed' if you are running your own business and are free to work for different clients and customers. 

Definition of a self-employed driver under the 2005 Regulations 

'Self-employed driver' means anyone whose main occupation is to transport passengers or goods by road for hire or reward within the meaning of Community legislation under cover of a Community licence or any other professional authorisation to carry out such transport, who is entitled to work for himself and who is not tied to an employer by an employment contract or by any other type of working hierarchical relationship, who is free to organise the relevant working activities, whose income depends directly on the profits made and who has the freedom, individually or through a co-operation between self-employed drivers, to have commercial relations with several customers (Regulation 2 of SI 2005/639). 

Vans under 3.5 tonnes towing trailers 

There are changes to operator licensing rules for vehicles under 3.5 tonnes towing small trailerswhich came into force in December 2011. The rules ch\anged for users of vehicles working for Hire or Reward. NB: the following does not apply to dual-purpose vehicles when towing trailers. 

From 4 December 2011, if you are using a vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight of less than 3,500kg (3.5 tonnes) and are towing a small trailer with an unladen weight of less than 1,020kg the following will apply in respect of the requirement to obtain a Standard Operators Licence:

  • You will be exempt from operator licensing unless you are operating for hire or reward (see description below). This is referred to as operating on your own account. 
  • You will require a Standard Goods Vehicle Operators Licence where you are carrying other people's goods for hire or reward (e.g. working as a courier, removal firm or other freight transport business) when the vehicle and trailer combination exceeds 3500kgs (3.5 tonnes) Maximum Authorised Mass. The reason is that from the 4 December the weight calculation must include any trailer attached (irrespective of the trailer's weight). 

For those operating such vehicles towing heavier trailers (than 1020kg unladen weight) or goods vehicles with Maximum Authorised Mass greater than 3500kgs the scope of requirements for needing an operator's licence remains as before the 4th December 2011 – see further reading for a link to this. 

3.5-tonne Vans towing trailers 

Section 2 Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) Act 1995 states that Goods hauling or carrying vehicles or goods vehicle combinations Require An Operator’s Licence where:

  • Gross plated weight exceeds 3.5 tonnes; or 
  • Unladen weight exceeds 1525 kgs - where no plate is fitted; or 
  • Where a trailer is being pulled, the unladen trailer weight exceeds 1020 kgs 

Offences relating to operating without a licence, display of identity disc and production of the licence are only committed by the operator. 

The provisions of this act came into force on 1st January 1996 

The following should assist in giving guidance and further information, please use the links below. 

Vans & Trailers Licensing Requirement - DVSA 
Licensing Requirements for small vans towing trailers  

Weights Explained 

GB Domestic Hours Rules (DVSA)  

Towing a trailer with a car or van - DFT - Published: October 2016