RV road safety: Part 2

By: Kirstie Bedford


Part 2 of RV road safety investigation with industry leaders.

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TESTING THE WATERS

Caravanning Queensland CEO Ron Chapman says its independent testing with the Department of Transport and Main Roads, and Queensland Gas and Petroleum Inspectorate, has shown most people want to comply with weight, they just don't often understand what's required.

The programme pioneered by Caravanning Queensland has tested more than 1,300 RVs.

Chapman says for the vast majority one of the worst things is the aluminium boxes on the front of the caravan and on bumper bars for extra storage.

"They are the biggest offenders, people think they have to take everything with them, and you find chainsaws and generators, tools and shovels, and at back some have half a forest in there for the campfire. One thousand one hundred kilograms is the most we've had over, and we've had several in the 800s."

He says swaying can be a problem, but the biggest problem is physical capacity of brakes and tow bar.

Rob Lucas says CIA VIC has followed Carvanning Queensland's lead and did 60 tests of its own last year as a pilot, and is now planning four or five more in regional locations around Victoria, with Victorian police and VicRoads.

He says initial testing showed, "there’s a large trend of consumers overloading the product".

"They put on more tool boxes, generators, batteries, and solar systems, but the other thing we found which surprised us is that the cars are overweight, so the gross vehicle mass was over ... and the car was loaded up with everything that opens and shuts. It’s not just about caravans being overweight, what about the car and the gross vehicle mass."

He says CIA VIC has a strong view around consumer information and ensuring those driving RVs are safe, "and there’s an argument who should do that, and we can have that argument for ten years and no-one will do it".

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"We’ve taken a view to explain it in plain, straight up English, and we’re producing some good flyers which are getting routinely used and we have a lot of requests from caravan clubs for this information."

Lamont says CIAA also undertakes a range of inspections of the industry and says, "we've seen a marked improvement, and there's a genuine commitment by majority of manufacturers wanting to do the right thing and produce products that are safe."

"At the end of day industry is maturing quickly and despite consumer criticism they want to do the right thing. There's a lot of unfair attention going to manufacturers when this is a far more complex issue and just because of a bit of dash cam footage ... the whole industry is put under review."

BACK TO THE STATS

Con Tsobanopoulos, CEO of one of Australia's leading RV insurers, Ken Tame, says of all its caravan claims in the last  calendar year, 50% were vehicle damage relating to an accident where the driver was at fault.

Another 23% were windscreen damage or glass claims and 12% awnings. The remainder were vehicle damage where the driver was not at fault or theft claims.

"From my personal perspective and based on statistics, a fundamental issue which needs to be addressed, is driver education. Unfortunately, regardless of the number of years driving experience you may have with a motor vehicle, when towing a substantially heavier vehicle behind you everything changes" says Tsobanopoulos.

"From the control of your vehicle, through to breaking distances and your reaction time to remedy a situation, the dynamics change dramatically, then there’s things like ensuring you have the right tyre pressure when towing, as well as distributing the weight evenly amongst the caravan – these are absolutely vital for safety.

"An under inflated tyre or an unevenly distributed payload are a disaster waiting to happen. These are simple messages which are often forgotten with all of the excitement that builds in preparation for our long awaited road-trip."

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Tourism Holdings Limited (THL) CEO Grant Webster agrees, saying the majority of accidents it sees, from a rental industry perspective, is where the driver is at fault and surprisingly, it’s not predominantly the international tourists either.

"Driver fault is the vast majority and that's the primary place to focus. Statistically international drivers can be safer than domestic, they have less accidents, but they tend to have high media attention."

He says road authorities, police, and the government should be doing random checks and managing weigh bridges.

"That would be welcomed by us and people should know there are consequences … manufacturers should potentially have a licence too that's checked in quality standards, and industry in general would be open to some self-assessment and some endorsement that it can deliver accordingly."

Di Vincenzo at New Age agrees manufacturers should have weigh bridges.

"Every van should be weighed ... it provides a level of comfort to the manufacturer and we can track our own product and ensure it falls in line with what customer requires."

"I’m a firm believer education needs to happen at the point of sale to end of delivery, there are instances where information is misconstrued from point of purchase to using it, and it needs to be a consistent message about what is safe towing, how should you load a van, what are GTMs and so people know the limitations … "

CMCA’s Richard Barwick says the bottom line is, consumers need better education.

"We are fortunate enough to share the road, not own it. The majority of RV consumers travel in a safe and respectful manner, however in society, we have that minor element that shows no respect. It’s more about getting to their destination in the quickest fashion, not the safest.

"Education is one of the major steps we need to take. It is a difficult task to ensure road behaviour is the first and foremost at the top of the list, but this can be done through driver training, media and promotions targeting certain key groups and sectors of the market."

Australian Caravan Club chairman Craig Humphrey agrees, and says an education programme should be the responsibility of the government.

"People don’t know what they don’t know and GVM and AGM and TARE and axel loadings are issues in themselves because you need to understand that around your vehicle and what you tow.

"So there’s a place for a broad based education programme and that responsibility lies clearly with the public understanding the weights are an issue, and the impact that has with stopping distance, and the government needs to ensure there is a campaign understanding that."

He says the issue is one of cultural change.

"Much like the slip slop slap campaign, I would call on all parts of industry, that’s the approach they need to take."

Check out part 1 of RV road safety.

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.