One of the most common questions asked my novice caravanners is “do I need towing mirrors?” If this question is placed on a caravanning forum or Facebook group, the ensuing responses, usually numbering in the hundreds, would confuse anyone posing this question. Most responders would say the answer is yes but a staggering number also argue the opposite and they cite many publications as evidence supporting their claims. The truth is often obscured by these comments, leaving the original poster without a definitive answer. In this article, we hope to put the myth to rest and provide you with a definitive answer.
The first thing we need to do is to establish exactly what the relevant laws are and how they apply to each particular situation. This EXCLUDES many of the towing guides that are published by the various state road authorities. These are guides only and are intended to provide advice that can cover a range of towing configurations, including those that do not require the fitting of mirrors. This is why many of them state that you may be required to fit extension mirrors. Do not rely on the guides. They are not the law.
The Act is Legislation that has been made and enacted by The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. Put simply, it is the law.
In order to register a vehicle, it must comply with the ADRs. Any modifications, alterations or additions to a vehicle, and attaching a caravan is an addition, has the potential to effect the vehicle’s compliance with the ADRs. If a vehicle is non compliant with the ADRs, it is essentially unroadworthy.
Now you can, if you feel the need, read all the relevant ADRs but the one that is applicable in this case is Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 14/02 – Rear Vision Mirrors) 2006 Amendment 1. It states: The field of vision must be such that the driver can see at least a 4 m wide, flat, horizontal portion of the road, which is bounded by a plane parallel to the median longitudinal vertical plane and passing through the outermost point of the vehicle on the driver’s side of the vehicle and extends from 20 m behind the driver’s ocular points to the horizon. In addition, the road must be visible to the driver over a width of 1 m, which is bounded by a plane parallel to the median longitudinal vertical plane and passing through the outermost point of the vehicle starting from a point 4 m behind the vertical plane passing through the driver’s ocular points.
That may sound like a lot of legal mumbo jumbo, and it is, but the diagram below explains what this means:
So assuming that your chosen tow vehicle complies with the ADRs, it is your responsibility to maintain that compliance. When you hitch up a caravan, boat or other trailer to your tow vehicle, you potentially block your vision of the area as specified above. If the trailer is no wider than your tow vehicle, then it is likely that your standard mirrors will be sufficient, but if the trailer is wider, and pretty much all caravans are 2.5m wide, then you will need to fit extension mirrors. The following diagram gives a visual representation of what that means:
The area in green represents the area of vision that you must maintain. A simple test would be to attached your trailer to your tow vehicle and stand directly behind each of the rearmost corners at a distance of about 20m from your side rear view mirrors. If you can see each mirror in its entirety, then you are likely to be compliant. If the mirrors are partially obscured or completely hidden behind the trailer, then you must install extension mirrors.
Some people will argue that they have a camera fitted on the back of their vans and that it provides the additional area of vision required. This is not the case. As shown above, at best, a camera will show you what is directly behind the trailer and that may actually include some of the green area. What it won’t cover are the areas alongside the trailer and its rear most corners. These are the critical areas that you need to be able to see in order to avoid a collision with another vehicle when changing lanes, merging onto traffic or cornering around a dual lane roundabout.
Now, having been explained all that, many drivers will choose to ignore it and will continue to tow a caravan without fitting extension mirrors to the vehicle. Apart from the obvious safety issues, there is a very high likelihood that they will be pulled over by the Police and issued with an infringement notice. In Victoria, that infringement is 297(2) – fail to have a clear view of the road and traffic, ahead, behind and to each side of the driver RR 297(2) and it will set you back $233. A few drivers who were subjected to safety checks at Newmerella recently were fined for not having mirrors fitted where required. Given the low cost of a good set of towing mirrors, and the likelihood that, in future, there will be an increased focus on towing safety by police, if you avoid just one fine by fitting extension mirrors, they’ll have paid for themselves.
On the 4th and 5th of January, 2017, a police officer from the small town of Orbost in Victoria fired a massive salvo across the bow of the caravanning, camper and boating communities. With the help of a small team from Vic Roads, Victoria Police and a group of media and industry representatives, Acting Sergeant Graeme Shenton ran a standard roadside police stop during “Operation Roadwise”, a Victorian state-wide blitz over the Christmas holiday period. What made this unique was that he added the capacity to weigh caravans and other trailers by utilising Vic Roads personnel and portable roadside scales. Up until this day, this sort of operation, where caravanners were subjected to weight safety checks, was a myth of epic proportions. Graeme’s salvo may have crossed the bows of the general towing communities, but it scored a direct hit on the myth, making the possibility of being subjected to weight safety checks a reality for RVers across the country.
The event was widely publicised on social media. The details of the operation reached literally hundreds of thousands of people across Australia in a matter of weeks. The general reaction was overwhelmingly positive with the vast majority of posts on social media pretty much saying the same thing. There should be more of it. More importantly, those same people who were praising the operation were more than likely starting to question their own compliance with the law regarding their individual rigs. I know Kylie and I were. It prompted us to take our caravan up to a weighbridge and check out our weights. Like the many who were weighed at Newmerella, we were quite surprised by the results.
To put this into perspective, you have to look at the results from the Newmerella operation itself:
• 71 caravans were weighed across 2 days.
• 2 drivers knew all their ratings.
• Most had an idea of what their maximum allowable weight was (ATM) but were confused about how to manage weights.
• 3 knew what they actually weighed.
• 41 were overweight in one or more ratings (ATM, GTM, Ball weight).
• 5 were overweight by more than 20%.
• The majority of those spoken with were surprised at how heavy they were and had under estimated their actual weight.
It is worth noting that due to the time constraints of the day, no tow vehicles were weighed, however it is well known that many of the popular dual cab tow vehicles have some issues with GVM and GCM. Several were noted on the day with advise given to some who were obviously pushing their limits. If these had been weighed, then the percentage of overweight vehicles would likely have been much larger.
In many respects these figures were entirely expected but when you see them written down like that and understand they have come from a factual source, it is very confronting. Recognising that the sample from the weekend is not huge, if we were to apply a simple extrapolation of those figures to the wider RV community of over 600,000 registered vehicles across Australia, only 25,000 will actually know what they weigh. More troubling, out of the remaining 575,000 drivers who have little to no idea about what they weigh, nearly 350,000 are likely overweight in at least one category. Worse is that around 42,000 are, in all likelihood, overweight by more than 20%. Remember that is just RV’s. Consider drivers towing boats and other heavy loads and you can start to appreciate the magnitude of the problem.
Now there will be those out there who do not agree that this is a significant issue. In fact, many accuse law enforcement agencies conducting similar operations as nothing more than revenue raising. I saw one particular comment on social media where it was stated that the police should be patrolling caravan parks and camp sites to counter thieves and stop wasting time targeting a minority. To me, this shows that many people have absolutely no idea about the way law enforcement works and how agencies like Victoria Police have to spread their resources across many areas in order to meet public law enforcement expectations.
I have actually known of Graeme for about 4 years, but only met him in person very recently. Over the Christmas period, Kylie and I were holidaying in Bemm River, about 70ks from Orbost, and Graeme turned up at our caravan site at about 10.30pm on New Year’s eve, just to say gday. He had been on general patrol with his offsider checking caravan parks and camp sites in the area to ensure the safety of campers during festive celebrations. He is a fairly typical country cop. Extremely friendly. Loves a chat but you also get a sense that if the situation called for it, he would be a force to be reckoned with, as his towering frame would suggest.
But Graeme has another side to his life. He is a fellow caravanner and he, like many of us, is passionate about the lifestyle. He is quite active on many forums and Facebook groups, although he keeps his identity on Facebook, well…let’s just say low profile. He is very knowledgeable about the subject having gained a lot of experience from his own travels as well as from his police duties in Orbost. You see, Orbost sits right at the critical point between the major summer holiday destinations of Lakes Entrance in Victoria and the southern NSW coast along the busy and treacherous Princes Highway. Motor vehicle crashes involving caravans and boats are, unfortunately, a normal part of life in this area and Graeme has seen his fair share. In fact, the day we were heading up to Bemm River, there was a rollover involving a large caravan towed by a 4WD that Graeme attended. All were safe but it could so easily have been another tragic start to the holiday period for one family.
This puts Graeme right in the middle of the debate. He has a unique perspective where he can actually see the situation from both sides. It was this insight that gave Graeme the wisdom to run the operation, not as an enforcement exercise, but more as an education with the aim to raise awareness of the safety issues with drivers. Judging by the social media responses, he definitely achieved that. Thousands of RVers around the country took notice of what went on and have started to question their own status.
Evidence of this can be seen in the reaction on social media to posts, one by myself and the other by Mr Matt Sutton, who manages the very popular Caravanning and Camping Facebook group with in excess of 120,000 members. The posts showed ourselves weighing our rigs at public weighbridges. At last count, both posts had been viewed in excess of 270,000 times. Another subsequent post showing a link to our website where people can download a list of public weighbridges in each state received over 3,000 hits in 2 days.
I was present at the Newmerella operation and watched how the weight checks were conducted and how Graeme and his team interacted with drivers during the checks. They were patient, methodical, friendly, and willing to discuss the issues in a helpful and constructive manner. Others present included representatives from the Australian Caravanning Club who were also on hand to talk to drivers and assist with the overall goal of education. It was very impressive. Drivers were given advice on how to reduce weight and the effects of weight distribution on stability. All drivers were given printed information detailing a step by step process to assist them to establish their empty and loaded weights and how to use a weighbridge. All drivers were spoken to in regards to fatigue and taking rest stops. A TAC handout was given to drivers describing the effects of fatigue. I spoke to many drivers as well and everyone I spoke to said they were pleased with the approach and valued the advice given to them.
One area of concern that was addressed in a sterner manner was the lack of towing mirrors fitted to a number of vehicles. Many drivers who pulled up without towing mirrors defended their lack of compliance but found themselves loosing that argument very quickly. This is a subject for another day but one worth keeping in mind.
The outcomes from this operation are many but some stand out, in particular in relation to the overall desire of caravanners to become more knowledge about the safety aspect of their activity. In this respect, it is now up to the authorities, the media and industry associations to start to develop and publicise this information on a broader scale.
There is another outcome from Newmerella that I believe needs even greater promotion and follow up, and it relates to the manufacturing sector of the RV industry. The issues surrounding the accuracy (or lack thereof) of compliance plates on new caravans and campers are well known and have recently received a lot of main stream media attention through the activities of Ms Tracey Leigh and her Lemon Caravans and RVs facebook group. Others like Phil Sanchez of the Shonky Caravan Builders/Dealers facebook group have also been challenging the industry by publically naming and shaming builders and dealers who are allegedly involved in some decidedly dodgy practices. Industry experts like Mr Colin Young from the Caravan Council of Australia have also been extremely vocal in their condemnation of the industry and its severe lack of regulation. Newmerella should be a signal to the RV manufacturing industry that law enforcement agencies are now starting to look very carefully at the issue and realise that it will be only a matter of time before they become the focus of investigations.
Everyone involved in the RV lifestyle, from beginning to the end, has now been put on notice that the authorities are aware of the situation and are now prepared to do something about it.
So what happens now?
Well, that will depend on many things, not least will be the value placed on further activities of this nature by the authorities involved on the day. I know the recommendation in the follow up of Newmerella include conducting more weighing operations around the state of Victoria and to continue along the path of focusing on education before enforcement…for now. A closer examination of dual cab utes towing big loads is something that is being considered.
However, for Newmerella to be truly successful will require more than just further police operations. Those involved in the RV media and its representative bodies need to stand up and show their support for greater awareness, better adherence to the law and a genuine effort to further educate and prepare RVers of all types to ensure they are compliant with regulations and not overweight.
More importantly we need the RV manufacturing and retail industry to get their heads out of the sand and take responsibility for their part in the issue.
Mr Gary Moreland, who writes for Caravan and Motorhome magazine, who was also present at Newmerella, said something on the day that resonated with me. He described how the trucking industry introduced a chain of responsibility when it came to safety. In essence it means that everyone in the chain from industry regulators, RV Manufacturers, dealer companies and the drivers share varying degrees of responsibility for safety and, likewise, share the accountability when safety is compromised.
Gary believes the RV industry in this country needs to adopt a similar approach. Rather than working in isolated silos, everyone needs to take ownership of their part in the problem and work together to find solutions. As is the case of a regular motor vehicle, the compliance plate on an RV, be it a caravan, a camper trailer, a boat or a motorhome, is a legal document and it should be treated as one and enforced as one.
Graeme’s operation at Newmerella is an enormous step forward in the path to safer RV motoring and will likely have already saved lives. But for this to be truly successful requires others in the industry, including those who are active on social media, to carry the momentum forward, but they must work together in order to achieve this common goal. As for the rest of us, the average motorist who just happens to tow a caravan, a camper or a large boat, we need to step up and take some responsibility for our own actions. We will not be able to plead innocence for ever or go on blaming the manufacturer of our RV for our situation.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse and right at this moment, the onus is on us to comply with the law.
I urge everyone who reads this to get your rig down to a weighbridge and get your weights checked. Even if you spend the effort to ensure you have not exceeded your tow vehicle’s gross combined mass (GCM), you will have achieved something and taken one big step forward towards ensuring your own safety and that of others on the road around you.
Here’s a very brief update on the Police Operation at Newmerella where caravan, campers and other larger trailers were checked for compliance with weight restrictions and other general requirements.
Victoria Police worked together with Vic Roads and the Sheriff’s department to conduct a major road safety operation that included blood alcohol checks, licence and registration checks, outstanding fines or registration payments and, in particular, safety checks of larger trailers including caravans, camper trailers and boat trailers. This was conducted on the 4th and 5th January, 2017, at the rest stop in Newmerella Victoria on the busy Princess Highway.
With regards to caravan and trailer checks component of the operation, it was largely an education and safety awareness exercise. No one was fined for being overweight. I did see one defect notice issued to a driver who’s boat trailer had incorrectly rated tyres for the weight being carried.
There were fines issued for drivers who did not have towing mirrors fitted where required.
A full report will be issued by the police on the results of the operation but I can tell you that overall most trailers were either right on their maximum weight or were overloaded. Some vehicles were also overloaded in terms of their tow ball load and rear axel loadings. Interestingly, many camper trailers were overloaded and this was a bit of a surprise to those of us observing proceedings.
Most drivers were appreciative of the information and guidance provided with many not being aware of the critical state of their rigs. A few were not entirely pleased especially if they had recieved assurances from the manufacturer of ther caravan of its weight carrying capabilities.
The day was observed by representatives from the Australian Caravan Club Ltd, Everything Caravan and Camping Facebook Group, the Caravanners’ Forum and other organisations. All were very impressed with the operation and how it was conducted. It was agreed that further promotion of the operation and its associated safety message must continue and all agreed to collaborate on achieving this outcome.
From my perspective, it was an extremely worthwhile exercise and it was a privilege to be there to watch the dedicated members of Vic Police and Vic Roads go about their work in a professional and helpful manner. I spoke to a number of drivers who had been tested and they were all appreciative of the advice and assistance offered. Many were grateful for having the opportunity to get their rigs checked.
Of particular note was the number of drivers who had heard about the operation on social media prior to the event and came down specifically to get their rigs checked. This, to me, is an amazing outcome that just goes to show that attitudes are changing and that people are genuinely wanting to ensure their rigs are legal.
This was the first real, widely publicised, safety operation specifically aimed at caravans, boats and all large trailers. The social media campaign of this operation had, to this point, reached well over 250,000 people who are members of the RV and boating communities. It is the start of a whole new approach that could have far reaching implications, not just for folks like ourselves, but for the manufacturers, law eforcement in other states, industry regulators, and so on. This is great momentum for continued improvements in towing safety.
I’ll be publishing a more detailed report later. Until then, safe travels…!
We can now confirm that as part of the current Operation Roadwise, police in the East Gippsland area will be out in force over the holiday period to educate road users on caravan safety.
Local police, with the assistance of VicRoads and the Sheriff, will set up a site at the Newmerella Rest Stop on Wednesday 4th and Thursday 5th January from 9.30am where, amongst other tasks, they will educate travellers about caravan and tow vehicle weights, general safety around towing and how to manage fatigue on long journeys.
Acting Sergeant Graeme Shenton said the objective is not to fine every driver with a caravan that may be overweight or non-compliant with vehicle standards, rather they want to use this opportunity to educate and generate discussion around towing safety and road safety in general. Obviously, if there are any major issues with your registration, road worthiness or if you have any outstanding fines, you can expect a little more than a ‘discussion’.
We also understand representatives from various media outlets, forums, magazines, clubs, blog sites and Facebook Groups will be on site to provide first hand reporting on the operation itself. This open approach will ensure that an ongoing positive discussion about towing safety takes place in both mainstream and social media.
Again, we would encourage travellers not to avoid the area but to take advantage of the opportunity to find out whether or not they are, in fact, legal. It is rare that you can openly discuss towing safety issues with the officers who are actually tasked with enforcing the law. It will certainly be better than some of the advice and opinions shared on forums and social media.
Victoria Police will release a small media piece on the morning of the 4th on their news website and their Facebook page with further details about the Newmerella operation.
Rumours have started to circulate that Vic Police will be running a blitz targeting caravanners with even the popular Caravan and Motorhome On Tour magazine running an article on the subject. Well, while nothing can be confirmed, we have been told there is definitely substance to the rumour.
Last May you will recall there was a specific operation in Cann River, Victoria that targeted (amongst others) caravanners where rigs were weighed on set of portable scales. The pictures we were able to obtain and share (with appropriate permission) showed in no uncertain detail what was happening, busting a national rumour that had persisted for many years.
Well, the word I have from the same source is that a similar operation is in the planning but, this time, it is part of an overall strategy to 'educate travellers about caravan and tow vehicle weights, general safety around towing and how to manage fatigue on long journeys'.
During holiday periods, police have found 'there is an increase in the number of motorists towing caravans and boat trailers, with many being first time towers' or lacking experience towing long heavy loads. Recent media stories and videos of incidents showing caravan rollovers has also raised police concerns.
Police are also very aware that the public perception can be that these operations are just an exercise in revenue raising. I know this is not the case as the costs associated with such an exercise, especially over the holiday period, would greatly surpass the total of any fines issued. So this time there is a real focus on the need to 'educate and generate discussion around towing safety and road safety in general'.
We have maintained that caravanners who do the right thing have nothing to fear from being asked to pull in for an inspection and we would encourage travellers to take advantage of the opportunity to find out whether or not they are in fact legal. Safety should be everyone’s number one priority on the roads especially when towing big loads.
Roadside vehicle weight checks are indeed being conducted in Victoria and here’s the proof.
This photo may as well be the UFO from Roswell or of a little green man on Mars. This was taken last weekend at Cann River in Victoria and it clearly shows Vic Roads and Vic Police conducting weight checks of a caravan using portable scales. It was part of a state wide operation targeting overweight vehicles of all types, not just caravans. The fact that caravans were included is somewhat unique and has largely been the subject of innuendo and unreliable third hand gossip.
From what I have learned talking to various sources, the authorities are aware of a problem we caravanners have known and talked about for years. That there are a lot of overweight rigs out there and there is some evidence to suggest (or at least the belief) that the number of road crashes involving these overweight rigs is on the increase.
We can expect to see more scenes like this on our major highways.
More photos can be seen here. All photos have been supplied and used with permission.
The underlying message here is be legal and stay safe.
Its almost impossible to believe we are now into a new year already. It seems not so long ago we were celebrating 2015 as the new year, yet here we are in 2016. Time certainly flies when you’re having fun. Both Kylie and I wish everyone a very happy and prosperous new year.
If you are like us and you have taken some time off work during the Christmas and New Year period, you’ve probably driven off on a caravanning holiday. This year, Kylie and I went to Seaspray, Victoria. Situated 35KM south of Sale, Seaspray is located right on the 90 Mile Beach. This would have to be one of the most spectacular beaches in the country with seemingly endless stretches of sand and surf. Its an ideal location to simply wind down, relax and enjoy the summer sun.
We took the girls with us and they had a wonderful time. As always, they were the centre of attention at the caravan park.
It was the first holiday where I’ve had an opportunity to fly my drone, a Parrot BeeBop which features a very cool full HD video camera. Some of the footage is absolutely spectacular. Having a drone provides a totally new perspective on capturing holiday memories that go way beyond simple photographs. Using video editing tools like iMovie on the iPad, you can make some visually stunning memories of your travels. Here’s a bit if a teaser of what is possible.
While we were away, the weather was extremely warm and it got me thinking about running caravan and RV fridges in these extreme conditions. Many people have issues with their fridges in hotter weather, right when they need the fridge the most. There is nothing worse than arriving at your destination with a fridge full of spoilt food and warm beer. So I’ve compiled some handy tips on keeping your fridge and its contents cool this summer. Hopefully you find it useful.
As always, safe travels and see you on the road in the new year.