Caravan safety is crucial. Here at Caravan World it’s the most important issue we deal with, especially with so many new owners planning to hit the road as soon as lockdowns are lifted. Anecdotal evidence points to an increased number of accidents, but the truth is that we don’t have accurate Australia-wide figures on the number of caravan injury related crashes — the information isn't documented in some states as a separate statistic.
Evidence from insurance companies suggests 8 percent of caravans are involved in some sort of moving accident each year — still, that figure includes minor incidents like clipping a post when backing into a site. In NSW, between 2014 and 2018 it is estimated there were 239 crashes involving a caravan. These crashes resulted in 12 deaths and 120 serious injuries. While this might seem lower than the bad news would suggest, any accident is one too many so there is a real need for safety awareness and education for all of us caravan mob.
Safe driving comes from experience, but good advice and learning a few tips along the way will always help. For example, if the estimation of the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA) that 50 percent of vans and tow vehicles are overweight is correct, there is clearly something wrong in the messaging to van owners.
Relevant governments take an active interest in road safety, and the latest rules about manufacturing are primarily about building better, safer vans. State police and transport departments play their part by setting and enforcing road rules and vehicle requirements and stepping outside the rules risks fines, or worse.
For an industry take on safety, we approached key players including the Caravan Industry Association of Australia (CIAA) and their state affiliates, CMCA, and web-based sites promoting harmony on the road like Truck Right and Truck Friendly.
THE CARAVAN INDUSTRY ASSOCIATIONS
The Caravan Industry Association of Australia is Australia’s peak industry organisation, and CEO Stuart Lamont said the CIAA had been active in programs strongly advocating for new federal construction legislation, the expansion of accreditation programs for caravans and caravan parks, and the securing of government funding for the installation of defibrillators in caravan parks. Lamont added that their latest initiative deals with how to best co-exist with heavy vehicle users, and the establishment of the Caravan & Trailer Road Safety Alliance.
For improved safety in manufacturing, the association played a significant role in lobbying the government on safety issues and played a key part in the latest Road Vehicles Standards (see issue 613 for more information).
The CIAA also produce a helpful Towing Guide which is downloadable from the CIAA website caravantowingguide.com.au. With 150,000 copies printed each year, it's also available through many caravan dealers. It’s a valuable recourse for all things towing and best practices around weights and weight distribution.
CARAVAN & TRAILER ROAD SAFETY ALLIANCE
In response to increased numbers of inexperienced Recreational Vehicle users on the road, the Caravan & Trailer Road Safety Alliance was born in late 2020.
Financially supported by a number of corporate entities, insurers, state associations, repairers, and consumer groups all interested in advancing caravan safety, the Alliance is headed up by long time industry safety advocate, Peter May, and looks at safety programs, information, education, and technolo›y development.
Operating under the mantra of ‘one caravan accident is one caravan accident too many,’ the Alliance has already contributed to the National Road Safety Strate›y, built relationships with government departments, started assessing patterns out of crash data and insurance claims, and working with interested parties on new regulation and technolo›y development designed to make caravans of the future safer. To support this, the Alliance (through the CIAA) received a grant under the Road Safety Innovation Fund to investigate existing Automated Driver Assist Systems available and how they can be applied across to the caravan industry.
CO-EXIST SAFETY PROGRAM
With a quarter of caravanners admitting to have spent a night parked in a truck rest area, at times there can be angst between heavy vehicle users required by law to rest, and caravanners filling spots otherwise allocated for heavy vehicles.
Funded under the Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative and in co-operation with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, CIAA has developed and collated a series of educational tools for caravanners to better understand how to best co-exist with heavy vehicle users. These tools include quizzes, videos, and signage awareness education. More information can be found at coexist.org.au
DEFIBRILLATOR INSTALLATION SUBSIDY
Over 23,000 Australians die each year as a result of sudden cardiac arrest, and the availability of a defibrillation greatly increases the chance of survival.
CIAA worked with the Federal Health Department to introduce a defibrillator installation subsidy program which in two years has installed approximately 900 new defibrillators into caravan parks and campgrounds around the country.
In 2020 alone, three people were saved as a result of having a defibrillator supplied as part of the subsidy available for use by a caravan park patron (two of these being children under the age of five).
STATE CARAVAN ASSOCIATIONS
State bodies also play a proactive part in educating drivers. The Caravanning Queensland branch is very proactive with a number of programs. Their website has good information about towing, and they have organised free weighing stations across the state over the last year to increase driver education and awareness around loading the van and compliance. Although it’s conducted in cooperation with the Queensland Department of Transport, it’s purely educational and no fines are issued.
Their initial Safety Expo just outside Brisbane in September was postponed at the last minute due to COVID-19. Check out their website at caravanqld.com.au for valuable advice that includes a suggested caravanning code of conduct.
The West Australian Association has some valuable written advice, but the most impressive content included videos from the WA Road Safety Commission’s Van Chat series with some sage bush advice — ‘don’t take too much stuff.’ A sensible precautionary golden rule presumes RV vehicles are in holiday mode and suggests ‘only overtake when on a purpose-built overtaking lane if the vehicle in front is travelling much slower than you.’
THE CARAVAN AND MOTORHOME CLUB OF AUSTRALIA
With a $1.2m grant from the federal government in early 2020, CMCA has a golden opportunity to promote its services and the safety message to its 70,000 members and a broader web-based mix of RV owners.
Wylva Hall heads the project, and her team has seen hits on their site steadily grow. Called rvSafe, the content is aimed at both new owners and experienced operators. The website is being developed to address nine critical issues around towing, vehicle weights, speed, overtaking, UHF radio use, roadside services, consumer behaviour and licensing.
Core to the consumer behaviour theme is the hope of creating a culture of safety, courtesy, and respect, which in the digital age is a huge task.
Overtaking trucks takes time and care, so plan ahead
Most of the nine themes have basic written information, and it will be interesting to see how the site is developed to attract RV owners. One of the main drivers so far has been a set of animated videos on the website and YouTube. Featuring Mr and Mrs Jones and their three children, the animations take a light-hearted approach to some of the basics of caravan ownership. More are coming, but so far, there is content related to caravan mirrors, overtaking safely, caravan sway, and caravan weights.
The videos on YouTube are getting good traction, with the Overtaking Safely having over 188,000 views and Caravan Sway more than 163,000. The advice is sensible, accurate, and easy to follow.
Most of the written advice is valuable and well documented. I like this section on packing a van: “The general rule of thumb is to have equal weight distribution left to right and back to front while keeping the bulk of the weight as low as possible for a low centre of gravity. Keep heavy items low and central over the axles, while medium weight items can be loaded a little further from the centre and up to the windows. Finally, light items can be stored to the front and back and in overhead lockers.”
Part of the rvSafe toolbox is a handy checklist downloadable to your phone as an app. The list is comprehensive and very useful at the start of a trip. You can open each item for a more thorough explanation of regulations, and once you tick that issue has been checked, the list reduces to the ones you need to address and resets to the complete list next time you need it. You can add items, but you can’t remove any to make a more relevant daily check.
There’s also provision for a handy packing list that you can populate with the things you need to take along.
TRUCK RIGHT AND SHARE THE ROAD
Long-distance truck driver Rod Hannifey has been an advocate since 1997 for safely sharing the road with trucks and promoting a more harmonious relationship between the two groups. He takes his message to shows around the country and on the road with his rig displaying various road safety messages. His top ten tips were developed after consultation with fellow drivers and are part of his Truck Right website (see truckright.com.au and breakout).
Rod has also joined producer Stephen McCarthy in the Whiteline Televison series of videos on interacting with big rigs. As well as the top tips, the high-quality videos explain sharing rest areas and two homing in on outback travel and road train etiquette. The videos have been shared across many websites including Truck Friendly and the CIAA.
Here are some valuable words from Rod about overtaking.
“Often, caravanners mistakenly believe they are helping a truck about to overtake them slow down and move to the left. This is the worst possible thing to do as it forces the truck to slow further, and it then has to regain even more speed/momentum to be able to overtake. The best thing is to maintain your speed and position until the truck moves out to overtake, and only then, if you want to assist, back off slightly. Moving too far to the left throws stones up from this mostly unused section and does not make the road any wider.”
Ken Wilson started his privately run Truck Friendly program when he saw a need for driver education. A keen caravanner, Ken spent long hours on the road and witnessed enough near-accidents to convince him the industry was falling behind in its duty of care to new owners.
On both his website and Facebook (9200 followers), Ken promotes many aspects of caravan safety and he has set up a mobile display to visit club events from his home in Bundaberg, Queensland. The use of UHF radio to communicate with truck drivers is central to Truck Friendly’s safety message. You can become part of the program and display a 30cm green Truck Friendly sticker on the back of your van by signing up to a simple code. All you need is a radio, to have read the safety advice, and a desire to promote road harmony. Along with the sticker, you also need to display the radio channel you usually monitor. Go to truckfriendly.com.au to get a sticker.
ROAD SAFE STUDIES
As part of the Monash University Accident Research Centre, the National Road Safety Partnerships Program is a valuable source of studies and data. Their paper on Speed and Crash Risk reinforces the edict that speed kills (nrspp.org.au).
The Centre reports, “speed has a direct influence on crash occurrence and severity. With higher driving speeds, the number of crashes and the crash severity increase disproportionally. Conversely, with slower speeds, the number of accidents and the crash severity decrease. This is because the severity of a collision follows the laws of physics. At higher speeds, the kinetic ener›y released in a crash increases with the square of the speed.
Sharing caravan safety tips with new owners is always a good idea
The increase in crash risk is explained by the fact that when speed increases, the time to react to changes in the environment is shorter, and manoeuvrability is smaller.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
This information about speeding might be the most important single factor in avoiding accidents. Yet, many of us ignore it at our peril every time we hit the road. Many factors encourage us to speed. The wish to get somewhere by a specific time, the message from other road users that we are in their way, fast-paced lifestyles in general, and a fundamental lack of understanding of the laws of physics. We ignore that the six-tonne combination of the tow vehicle and van can’t stop, won’t handle, and wasn’t engineered for the job.
There is a considerable amount of good advice on caravan safety on these websites, and they deserve our attention. Even old hands could benefit from a fresh approach. It’s a tough battle fighting for eyes on the web, and there is plenty of misinformation online and around campfires. So, if you want real news, check out these sites and help share them with new caravan owners.
TRUCKIES TOP TIPS FOR SHARING THE ROAD
1. Please don’t cut in front of trucks approaching traffic lights or out on the highway. Allow safe road space because trucks take more distance to stop.
2. Trucks need room at intersections, so stay back; don’t move into the blind spot to the left and rear of the truck cab when trucks display a “DO NOT OVERTAKE TURNING VEHICLE” sign. Please remember that if you can’t see the driver, he can’t see you.
3. If being passed by a truck, don’t allow your speed to increase. If anything, ease up on the accelerator, and by helping the truck pass safely, you strengthen your own safety as well. Moving to the left only makes it more difficult to control your van on the often broken edge of the road.
4. Trucks are speed limited, meaning they have no engine power above 100km/h. If a truck is catching up on a flat road, you are probably travelling under the speed limit and it’s time to let them past.
5. Road courtesy and a bit of patience may save your life — it could also prevent road rage.
6. Road positioning — a truck uses all of its lane space, so don’t travel right on the centreline, use the road width available to give you distance between opposing traffic. If stopped or broken down, park well clear of the roadway to provide passing traffic plenty of room. Use hazard lights, not high beam, when parked at night.
7. High beam glare contributes to night driving fatigue. Dip when flashed or before reaching a crest or curve. Trucks mirrors are much larger and have no anti-glare position, so dip lights early when behind trucks and when overtaking. Please check headlight alignment regularly, particularly if loaded up on long trips.
8. Caravans — when being overtaken, maintain speed and position, only slow when the truck has moved out to pass. A UHF radio can also be worthwhile. We fully support the idea and benefits of a caravan UHF 18 and the fitting of Caravan CB stickers on the front and rear of your van.
9. Safe overtaking:
- If you are right on the back of the truck, you have very little vision; stay back, allowing you to see better.
- Be sure you can see enough road ahead to pass safely.
- Pass quickly but sensibly.
- Don’t pull back in until you see both the truck’s headlights in your rear-view mirror. 5. Maintain your speed, don’t pass and then slow directly in front of the truck. If you can’t see the road ahead, don’t pass.
10. Roundabouts — like rule 2, trucks need room at roundabouts, as it is often impossible for them to travel through, let alone turn without using more than one lane. If you stay back behind the truck and heed the signs, you won’t end up in a blind spot.