The Australia wide National Day Of Action on Tuesday 27th August by our Police force targeting speeding, drink and drug driving, distracted drivers and seat belts must also serve as a wake-up call to caravanners.
Not many weeks have gone past this year without reports about a caravan involved in an accident or a roll over and some drivers towing caravans have lost their lives this year. There is a common theme right across Australia that the majority of fatalities are occurring on regional roads.
In NSW there have been 240 deaths on the road this year already. Acting Assistant Commissioner Julie Middlemiss, NSW Police, acknowledges that speed is a major factor in NSW road facilities along with drink and drug driving.
South Australia Police Deputy Commissioner Linda Williams acknowledges that the majority of deaths on SA roads this year have been from local drivers becoming complacent on the road.
Acting Commodore Dom Wood, Western Australia Police acknowledges that speed, distracted drivers using phones and not wearing seatbelts are contributing to these fatalities. 3 in 4 crashes in WA are from people making mistakes and being complacent on the road.
Unfortunately we don’t have statistics on how many of the drivers towing caravans involved in accidents are local to the accident site.
From watching comments in various caravanning Facebook groups and speaking directly with hundreds of caravan owners each year, there is a segment of the caravanning community with a complete disregard for both the road rules and rules relating to weights and towing capacities of their caravans. I believe this is also adding to our road fatality statistics.
It is all too common to hear “she’ll be right”, “It doesn’t matter if I’m overweight”, “I don’t need brakes – my car will pull it (the caravan) up” and “no one will know” or the most concerning one “The dealer said it can handle this amount of weight”.
There are caravan owners pushing themselves through fatigue just to reach a destination because they only have a few days off work. They underestimate how far they are travelling, or drive faster than their rig can handle safely to get to their destination. Add in unfamiliar roads and road conditions and it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
There is also a problem with overweight caravans being towed behind cars that in many cases can’t tow the weight of the owners caravan. Overweight caravans are at a greater risk overheating of brakes, bearing collapse and suspension failure – all of which can contribute to an accident and road fatalities. There are many caravan owners with a story to tell of seeing one of their caravan wheels fly past them while driving and they are the lucky ones – they lived to tell the tale.
Caravans being towed at speed are at a higher risk of developing an uncontrolled sway leading to a roll over. The inability of the driver to bring the caravan under control never ends well. Inexperienced and unfamiliar drivers can often slam on the cars brakes which doesn’t actually pull up the caravan. Once it’s out of control with sway there is very little that can be done to bring it back under control by the average driver.
Sway and rollovers can also be caused by the “wind tunnel” effect. A large passing truck can create a drag and suction effect that can cause caravan sway.
Electronic Stability Control on a caravan like the AL-KO ESC and the Dexter DSC detect increasing sway in its early stages and gently apply the brakes to the caravan while the sway can still be brought under control. This can be added to a caravan both at the time of manufacture or as an aftermarket accessory.
Should caravan dealers be more liable for misinformation? Absolutely. One of my customers was told point blank by a caravan dealer that their car could definitely tow the caravan they wanted to purchase – but in reality it was many hundreds of kg over the cars maximum towing capacity. This was an accident waiting to happen and put not only the driver and the cars occupants at risk but also anyone in the vicinity of the car and caravan while it was travelling on the road.
Would a special licence to tow a caravan and mandatory driver training specific to towing vehicles help reduce the death toll. Quite simply – yes.
The lure of the open road and the rise in popularity of travelling around Australia with a caravan in tow is seeing many people purchase a caravan who have never towed before.
A lot of caravan owners only have a licence that permits them to drive vehicles up to 4.5 tonne. Now although this does not include what you can tow, when you add the weights together of both the car and the caravan you can quickly end up with a Gross Combined Weight of up to 8 tonne. I believe it is time for state and national Road Authorities to have another class of drivers licence for people who tow vehicles above a predetermined weight.
Most people sit their drivers test at age 16 or 17 and that is the last time they have any driver education. Mandatory practical towing training when someone purchases a caravan for the first time would benefit all road users. Not only would this help the driver to be more confident behind the wheel, they would learn the skills to tow and manage their vehicle and caravan safely.