You may have been driving for decades, perhaps over long distances, through city and country. On the back of an excellent driving safety record, you can probably justifiably describe yourself as a highly skilled driver.
However, if you have not previously towed a caravan, you need to imagine yourself as a novice.
Once you hook up a caravan to the back of your car, you are entering another driving world. And knowing the rules of caravan safety becomes paramount.
Caravan safety in Australia – do we do enough?
When I was six in 1971, my mum’s sister, along with her husband and children, visited us in Melbourne. They lived in Sydney, and were on a driving holiday.
When the family pulled up to our house in a 1968 Mark II Cortina sedan I was fascinated. Not so much by the car but by the behemoth it was towing.
Their family caravan dwarfed the Cortina, which was a relatively small car. I remember dad saying there’s no way he’d be towing a caravan with a car that small. My uncle, Gabriel, who was Irish, brushed off such concerns in his barely decipherable brogue.
It’s fair to say my dad was not a risk taker. But his concerns about caravan safety were probably justified, and, experts say, remain warranted – perhaps more so than ever.
There are a number of reasons for this. First, is the sheer number of caravans on Australia’s roads. Ken Walker, founder of Truck Friendly, a caravan-based safety program, says there are 750,000 registered caravans in Australia.
Granted, not all of them are on our roads at any one time, but that’s a huge number. “And that’s before you consider how many horse floats are registered,” says Mr Walker. And he doesn’t stop there. “How many builder’s trailers, how many boat trailers, how many car trailers and so on and so forth.”
That’s a lot of towing going on out there across our land of sweeping plains.
Which brings us to a second point – a question, actually. How many drivers of cars towing those 750,000 caravans have had appropriate training?
The unfortunate answer, according to Mr Walker, is nowhere near enough.
A national approach
Mr Walker, whose focus is to improve interactions between caravanners and truck drivers, would love to see mandatory training introduced. But he is a pragmatist.
“It’s a mammoth effort, and we’re talking millions of people who tow these large trailers. The logistics of getting them all to have to do a compulsory towing licence or towing course; it’s crazy.”
The caravan safety onus remains very much on drivers themselves, with restrictions in Australian states and territories extremely limited. Take Victoria, for example, where towing big caravans becomes legal as soon as you have a full licence.
Emily McLean, from the National Transport Research Organisation (NTRO), explains: “We essentially say to a P-plate driver that you can’t tow a trailer.”
“But the second somebody gets off their P-plates, they’re allowed to tow anything from a 6m x 4m trailer right through to an eight-metre-long caravan.”
Training courses are available, but there is no obligation for those towing to take part. Concerningly, there are no requirements in terms of accreditation for trainers either.
Accredited towing courses are available, but there’s no formal requirement for towing courses to be accredited in Victoria, or nationally.
Such requirements are a long way off, it seems. But if you are considering joining the growing number of Australians who tow, training is highly recommended.
Outside that, there are a number of basic caravan safety tips Ms McLean recommends adopting. These include:
- knowing your car’s towing weight limits (including whatever is inside the caravan)
- distributing weight evenly
- regular maintenance, not just of your car, but the caravan, too
- increasing space between vehicles – with a caravan out the back, your stopping distance rises dramatically
- adopt new, relevant technology – not all new technology is gimmickry. Rear-view cameras, for example, can provide additional safety.
If you are considering a towing holiday or lifestyle, by all means ‘jump on board’. For many, it provides great joy. And, if you take the time to learn the skills required it will likely give you that same joy, too.
Are you a regular caravanner? Or have the aspects of caravan safety put you off? Let us know via the comments section below.
Also read: Five essential road trip gadgets