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Safety First

April 26, 2019
Safety First

Regulations you must adhere to

Towing a caravan has long been subject to regulations. Space, unfortunately, won’t permit me to detail each and every one, so I’ve nominated a small handful that I feel are particularly important for vanners, new and old hands alike, to be aware of.

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Braking

Around Australia, if a trailer has a Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) of more than 750 kg, it must have an independent braking system fitted; however, the requirements depend on the actual weight of the trailer.

A trailer weighing between 750 kg and 2000 kg GTM is required to have the wheels of at least one axle to have a braking system. Hydraulic over-ride brakes are allowed.

A trailer weighing more than 2000 kg GTM must have a braking system on all wheels and, should the van become detached from the tow vehicle, the braking system must be capable of automatically engaging and remaining engaged for at least 15 minutes. This system is commonly referred to as ‘break-away’ brakes.

Vans registered in New South Wales, however, are required to have their tow vehicles fitted with a visual or audible signal that indicates there’s enough power in the battery that powers the break-away system to activate the system in the event of a break-away scenario. This signal must be visible, or able to be heard, from the driver’s seat.

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Speed

In most Australian jurisdictions, it’s permissible to tow a caravan up to the posted speed limit. However, there are some exceptions.

In Western Australia, a 100 km/h speed limit applies to any light towing combination, including caravans. If you travel at 110 km/h in a 110 km/h zone, you’re 10 km/h over and liable for a ticket.

In New South Wales, caravan/tow vehicle combinations with a Gross Combined Mass greater than 4500 kg – which describes many rigs on the road – are capped at 100 km/h. Otherwise, the posted speed limit applies.

Finally, as with all things, common sense should prevail. Just because you technically can travel at a given speed doesn’t mean it’s safe, even in ideal conditions. And let’s face it: towing is never an ‘ideal’ condition.

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By the numbers

No part of a caravan’s number plate can be more than 1.3 m off the ground. According to Australian Design Rule 61/02 – Vehicle Markings, “Provision must be made for mounting a registration plate to be affixed to the rear of the vehicle so that no part of such plate is more than 1,300 mm from the ground.”

This national regulation came to prominence a couple of years ago when vanners started getting booked. Apparently, they were unaware of this rule, as were the manufacturers who’d built their van.

It would be particularly important to get your measuring tape out if you’ve made any modifications to your van that have increased its ride height.

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Tow mirros

There are very few scenarios in which a caravanner could be legally exempt from not using tow mirrors.

The field of vision provided by a vehicle’s external mirrors is required to meet a standard set down in Australian Design Rule 14/02 – Rear Vision Mirrors. Unfortunately, most, if not all, standard vehicle mirrors are inadequate to provide the required rearward field of vision when a van is hitched up. Police around the country can and do enforce this rule. In Victoria, the fine is around $240 and comparable in other states and territories.

Furthermore, did you know that it’s illegal to drive with your tow mirrors still attached when your trailer is not? This is because doing so would very likely breach the ‘over-dimensional’ rules set down in the ADRs, which state that nothing can protrude more than 150mm from the side of a vehicle.

For the purposes of this rule, a caravan/vehicle combination can be thought of as ‘one’ vehicle, hence why tow mirrors may protrude more than 150 mm from the side of the tow vehicle when hitched up.