New York State Towing Laws

By James Rutter - Updated February 09, 2018
Pickup Truck towing a boat

New York State offers tourists and residents a plethora of recreational waterways and state and national parks to enjoy, so bring your boat or camper. But remember, if you want to tow a boat, trailer or camper in the State of New York, you must observe specific rules about what you can tow, how fast you can go while towing, and the brakes and lights your vehicle must be equipped with.

Tip

New York State prescribes a maximum weight and height for towed vehicles and technical requirements for the tow connection, brakes and lights. If you tow negligently, you're potentially liable for any harm you cause.

Trailers Defined

The state of New York defines a semitrailer and trailer for all towed vehicles driven in the state. A semitrailer consist of any trailer whose front end rests on the body or chassis of the towing vehicle when being towed, such as the box container pulled by a truck. A trailer consists of any vehicle pulled or drawn forward by a motor vehicle such as a car being towed by another car, or a vehicle designed for non-highway use that must be occasionally towed by a car such as a camper or boat.

Working Brakes and Lights are Essential

By the New York State Vehicle code, every vehicle towing a trailer and the unit being towed must be equipped with working brakes and lights. Also, New York requires that a towed trailer must be connected so that while driving, the wheels of trailer cannot swing out of the towing vehicle’s path by more than six inches. Also, the towed trailer must display a license plate and lights to illuminate it as well as proper brake lights, turn signal lights and rear lights.

Towing Length and Speed Regulations

Like every other state, New York specifically regulates the dimensions of what a driver can tow, how fast a car can go while towing, etc. In New York, a towed unit cannot exceed 13.5’ height, 8.5’ width, the two vehicles cannot exceed a combined length of 65 feet and the trailer cannot exceed a length of 48 feet. In addition to the whatever mechanism holds the trailer in place, safety chains must also connect the trailer to the towing vehicle. The trailer’s weight cannot exceed 22,400 lbs, and a driver must possess a commercial towing license or CDL-C in order to tow a trailer weighing in excess of 10,000 lbs. Also, New York prohibits the practice of “Triple-towing,” that is, the connecting of more than one trailed unit to a motor vehicle.

If You're Negligent, You're Liable

Improper towing is a misdemeanor, punishable by fines. However, by the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law, the driver of a towed vehicle or trailer is liable and responsible for any deaths or injuries caused by negligence while towing. The penalty depends on the circumstances of the accident but you could be looking at incarceration if you tow negligently, for example, the trailer comes loose and causes a serious crash.

About the Author

Since 2005, James Rutter has worked as a freelance journalist for print and Internet publications, including the “News of Delaware County,” “Main Line Times” and Broad Street Review. As a former chemist, college professor and competitive weightlifter, he writes about science, education and exercise. Rutter earned a B.A. in philosophy and biology from Albright College and studied philosophy and cognitive science at Temple University.

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