RV road safety: Part 1

By: Kirstie Bedford


Kirstie Bedford investigates the issue of RV road safety and finds the finger points squarely at the user.

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Most of us have seen it. The dash cam footage of a caravan swaying out of control down a major highway before it topples sideways and is dragged along the road in gripping video reminiscent of an action movie. The driver clambers out dazed, and the social argument begins about who is at fault.

Despite what some describe as a bit of 'sensationalised footage', the issue of how safe RVs are on our roads isn't one which is going to go away any time soon, and it's something everyone agrees needs to be addressed, including the Federal Government.

Late last year, the Turnbull Government announced it would review the existing nearly 30-year-old Motor Vehicle Standards Act to, "modernise and strengthen the laws governing road vehicles to maintain and improve vehicle safety, while expanding consumer choice and reducing red tape".

It says the new legislation, to come into effect from 2019, "will better protect the community, provide more choice for specialist and enthusiast vehicles, be responsive to emerging technologies ... and provide increased consumer choice through expanding and improving the pathways for importing specialist and enthusiast vehicles".

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The change will also give the responsible minister strong powers to mandate the recall of vehicles if serious safety issues arise. The powers will apply to all road vehicles supplied in Australia, whether for private or commercial use.

Luke Donnellan, the Minister for Roads and Road Safety in Victoria, where 90% of caravans are built, says the changes will, "give consumers greater choice while maintaining a high standard of vehicle safety".

"Amendments to the law propose strengthening power to recall and remedy non-compliant or unsafe vehicles.  In addition to this, further approvals will need to be obtained by caravan manufacturers who supply more than four of each make and model covered under the new proposed amendments."

He says the Victorian government is investing more than any other state government in history to keep people safe on our roads.

Caravan Industry Association of Australia (CIAA) CEO Stuart Lamont isn't, however, convinced the new law change will improve safety.

"Will it make consumers safer on the road?  Probably not, but what it'll mean is that there are enforcement powers if product is unsatisfactory on the road, so they can get it off. This will create a new piece of document which will change things so power will be moved back to federal department to issue recalls and give them the ability to withdraw and approve supply to market, and allow them to issue fines.

"We identify there's a safety issue and some product coming to our shores and getting on the road isn't as good as the industry expects, and that'll clean that up. Already there are a large number imports, but the frustration is that they are getting in hands of consumers with no inspection."

He says the change will also mean for those who import more than four RVs a year, you still have self declaration, but you need pre-approval, and need to prove it's worthy to bring it in, "and you will have to under audit convince the government that the product is compliant".

Caravan Industry Association Victoria CEO Rob Lucas says this change is something he, along with Lamont, and Ron Chapman from  Caravanning Queensland, lobbied Government about six years ago.

"There’s no doubt that imports and the way vehicles were registered needed revamping. The original act was written for cars, trucks and bikes, and we found massive holes in the registration, and around imports.

"When we were told if you’re importing a caravan you fill out a form and tick, yes your product is compliant, and if you tick no, the next question is 'can it meet requirements', and if you tick yes, it can be imported. That’s the test. I sat there gobsmacked."

"There will now be more requirements to verify and prove compliance. It's not a lot more complicated, but it puts more onus on the person importing or making the caravan."

Adrian Di Vincenzo the design manager of Australian-built New Age caravans says the change is important to the entire industry.

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"We have rigid regulation to adhere to and it seems a lot of imports are coming in non-compliant, and as an Australian certified manufacturer we have hoops to go through. We don’t have a level playing field ... if want to release a product why should any other product be different?"

Celso Prado from Mars, also welcomes the change.

"We are very happy for it, because it raises the bar for everyone, and there’s nothing there we don’t already comply or exceed and that’s why we are in business for 12 years .. which is longer than 80% of manufacturers in Australia."

WEIGHING IN ON THE ISSUE

While the new law will tighten up laws around imports, it begs the question, who is addressing the issue specifically around road safety, the weight of the caravans we are towing, and importantly the combined weight or gross combined vehicle mass (GCVM).

"The weight is determined by government," says Lamont.

"So they are generally recorded on identification plates and available for consumers to understand. The angst that is coming in, is that consumers go and put it on a weigh bridge and get a different weight, and that's because manufacturers can't control it after it leaves them.

"That's annex poles, jerry can holders, tool boxes, and it all changes distribution of weight. A lot of that is being thrown to manufacturers, when they are quite innocently providing product."

Check out the full feature in issue #124 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.