With some travel restrictions still in place, it looks like road trips are this year’s holiday of choice. Although there’s nothing more exciting than hitting the open road, it’s important to brush up on caravan safety before setting out.
Deputy Secretary for Safety, Environment and Regulation at Transport for NSW Tara McCarthy has said that caravanning and RV holidays are on the rise, and that this has raised more safety concerns, too. In addition to driving safely, it’s important to take caravan security into account – it’s your second home while on the road, so don’t take security lightly!
Before towing a caravan, it’s crucial that you:
- understand how towing a caravan can affect your driving, safety and others around you on the road
- make sure your vehicle’s towing capacity is adequate for towing your caravan
- ensure that you weigh both your towing vehicle and caravan – by checking your aggregate trailer mass, gross trailer mass, combined vehicle mass and that you know where to find and use a weigh station in your state.
- load your caravan correctly to meet safety requirements
- create a checklist of the safety checks you should make before and during your trip, including brakes and tyres, lights, towing components, load, and storage.
Driving with a caravan instantly makes your vehicle heavier, wider, longer and taller. It makes it harder to move and stop a vehicle, so make sure that when driving you take a bit of extra time and space for all manoeuvres. Take special care when turning around a corner or pulling up on a kerb – you don’t want to hit a post or tree!
When starting off, you’ll probably notice the extra weight of the caravan. If driving with an automatic transmission, accelerate gently – but if you’re driving with a manual transmission, get the vehicle started with as little clutch slip as possible. Increase speed gradually until you can feel that the caravan’s momentum has reduced the engine’s labouring. You can only change to a higher gear if the engine shows no sign of strain. After travelling for a few kilometres, stop and check that everything is secure.
When driving, stay aware of the legal speed limit (some vehicle manufacturers impose reduced speed limits when towing), road conditions, weather conditions and the power of the towing vehicle. It’s important to note that lower speeds place less stress on the vehicle and save fuel (but be conscious of other drivers around you as slow driving can also cause traffic hold-ups, so check your mirrors often and allow traffic to pass when possible). Give good signals and indicate early, making sure you give any overtaking vehicles plenty of space. When stopping the vehicle, it’s important to allow a greater distance between you and any cars in front or behind you. Be especially patient whenever you need to reverse.
Stay alert and keep control to avoid sway, when overtaken by large vehicles. Large vehicles can push your vehicle away and then pull it back towards them – light acceleration can help keep the caravan straight. You should avoid punts and ferries at low tide, as these can cause steeper approach and departure angles. Also avoid crossing flooded causeways during or immediately after heavy rainfall, as this can cause the caravan to overturn. Don’t forget to regularly check the condition and adjustment of your caravan, tyres and headlights during the trip – this will save you any headaches later!