A tow dolly, also known as a tow-dolly, is a piece of towing equipment that has two wheels, an axle and a tongue. The tongue is the portion of the equipment that attaches to the trailer and keeps the trailer a safe distance from the tow vehicle. The Illinois Secretary of State (ILSOS) considers a tow dolly to be legal because it fits within the definition of a trailer.
ILSOS's towing laws provide that a trailer is a vehicle that is not powered itself, other than a pole trailer, but is designed to carry people or property and is drawn by a motor vehicle. A trailer must be constructed so that no part of its weight rests upon the towing vehicle.
License Plates for Trailers
A trailer is required to have a special license plate that is not the same type of license plate as a vehicle, such as a car or truck. ILSOS issues one license plate for each trailer. A trailer license plate has either all numerals or numerals with a two alpha suffix, like “000000TA.”
A tow dolly can typically be used to carry a towed vehicle with a gross vehicle weight of 5,000 pounds or less. The appropriate license plate for a tow dolly that is 3,000 pounds or less is a TA trailer plate. This type of license plate ends with the letters TA and may not be a vanity or personalized plate.
The price for a first-time trailer license plate ranges between $164 and $191, depending on the weight of the trailer. A driver must renew the fee annually.
License Plates for Trailers over 3,000 Pounds
The appropriate license plate for a trailer that is over 3,000 pounds is a Flat Weight Trailer plate. A Flat Weight Trailer plate also may not be a vanity or personalized plate. There is a plate for a tow dolly that is between 3,001 pounds and 5,000 pounds.
This type of license plate ends with the letters TB, as in "000000TB." A driver towing less than 10,000 pounds can operate with a Class D license, the most common type of driver’s license in Illinois.
Regulations for Towing Vehicles
The Illinois vehicle code has a number of rules that apply to a vehicle towing another vehicle. The tow bar, also known as the draw bar, must be strong enough to pull all of the weight of the motor vehicle being towed. The draw bar or other connection may not be more than 15 feet from one vehicle to the other, not including the connection between two vehicles that are carrying poles, pipes, machinery or other objects that cannot be taken apart easily.
A driver must use a draw bar to tow a vehicle on any controlled-access highway or on a roadway outside a business, residential or suburban district. A driver must couple a towed vehicle with two safety chains or cables to the towing vehicle. The chains and cables must be large and strong enough to prevent the towed vehicle from parting with the towing vehicle. This is important in the event that the draw bar breaks.
Passengers in Trailers
Passengers are not allowed to occupy a trailer or a semitrailer, farm wagon or other vehicle while the trailer is being towed on public highways. This is partly because of the state’s seat belt requirement. Illinois requires every passenger of a motor vehicle operated on a street or highway in the state to wear a properly adjusted and fastened seat safety belt. Since trailers do not have safety belts, passengers of a tow dolly cannot comply with the seat belt requirement.
There are exceptions to the no passengers in a trailer rule when the trailer does not exceed 15 mph and is used in connection with a parade or farming activity. Another exception to the rule is passengers 18 or older may ride in a trailer. In addition, a passenger may ride in a towed vehicle like a trailer during an emergency. For example, Illinois state law provides that a passenger may ride in a trailer to avoid an imminent threat to their safety due to extreme weather conditions or other emergency situation.
Slow-moving Vehicle Emblems
If a driver is using a tow dolly with certain slow-moving vehicles, they must put a red and orange slow-moving vehicle emblem on the rear of the tow dolly. This requirement applies to certain slow-moving farm vehicles, construction equipment and vehicles, and trailers drawn by animals. Combinations of farm tractors and towed farm implements must also have slow-moving emblems.
If the towed unit blocks the towing vehicle, the driver must place the emblem on the rear of the towed unit. There are exemptions for special mobile equipment when such equipment is operated in construction or maintenance areas where traffic control devices warn motorists.
Regulations for Trailer Braking Systems
If the gross weight of a trailer or semitrailer is over 3,000 pounds, Illinois state law requires the trailer to have a braking system. The braking system must be adequate to control the movement of the vehicle when the vehicle is operated on a highway and sufficient to stop and hold the vehicle.
If the towed vehicle is over 5,000 pounds, the brakes must be designed so they automatically take effect if the trailer disconnects. If the trailer is between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds, it must have brakes on one wheel on each side. If the trailer is over 5,000 pounds, it must have brakes on all wheels.
A driver must maintain all brakes in good working order. They must be adjusted so they operate equally, as much as is possible, on the wheels on opposite sides of the trailer.
Taillights for Trailers
A trailer or semitrailer must be equipped with taillights or an electric turn signal device that indicates the intention of the driver to turn to the right or left. The form of the device must be flashing red or amber lights located at the rear of the vehicle on the side toward which the turn is to be made. The lights must be mounted at the same level and as widely spaced laterally as practicable. The turn signal lamps must be visible from a distance of not less than 300 feet in normal sunlight.
Length of Vehicles
The maximum length of a single vehicle on an Illinois highway may not exceed 42 feet. A tow dolly that serves as substitute wheels for another legally licensed vehicle is considered part of the licensed vehicle, not a separate vehicle.
- Illinois Secretary of State: TA Trailer (3,000 pounds or less) License Plates Guide
- 2021 Illinois Compiled Statutes: Section 12-603.1 Driver and Passenger Required to Use Safety Belts, Exceptions and Penalty
- Illinois Rules of the Road: Non CDL-Vehicles
- Illinois General Assembly: Public Act 093-0344
- 2021 Illinois Compiled Statutes: Section 12-208 Signal Lamps and Signal Devices
- Illinois Secretary of State: Flat Weight Trailers (3,001 pounds and over)
- 2021 Illinois Compiled Statutes: Section 15-107 Length of Vehicles
- 2021 Illinois Compiled Statutes: Section 12-301, Brakes
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.