On the back of three recent caravan crashes in Central Queensland, towing experts have highlighted issues around newcomers to the pastime.
Three caravan-related road crashes in Central Queensland has put the spotlight on driver skill and education, as more and more Australians find themselves towing heavy loads for their holiday.
The ABC recently reported Charleville’s Queensland Fire and Emergency Service (QFES) recorded five road crashes in the region over the last two weeks, with three of which involved caravans.
Overweight vehicles and a lack of experience has been identified as key contributing factors to caravan-related incidents on Australian roads, as many flock to the roads for a roadtrip holiday.
John and Carl Eggenhuizen – a father and son from driver training business Getabout Training Services – spoke to Drive about the growing popularity of caravanning in Australia, and some of the common mistakes that newcomers make.
According to the Eggenhuizens, it’s a lack of both education and training that can lead to these kinds of incidents occurring.
And it’s a problem that could only get worse, as carvanning only gets more and more popular.
“Most caravan manufacturers are out at least 12 to 18 months in demand at the moment.” Carl said.
“The industry generally expects that trend to continue for the next four or five years.”
With Australia only now emerging from closed international borders, Australians are turning to caravans and four-wheel drives for their own holiday aspirations.
“And many of these newcomers are getting into the caravanning, without any towing experience.”
“A lot of these people used to do the European holidays, or go overseas to Fiji or whatever each year, but now they’re not.”
“They’ve not had any interest in carvanning before, and now all of a sudden they’re towing. And they’ve never towed anything before in their life.”
There is also a change in the long-standing stereotype of caravanning being the domain of so-called ‘grey nomads’ and retirees.
According to the Eggenhuizens, up to half of caravanners on the road are younger families.
The importance of education
Some of the most important changes that need to occur are based around attitudes while driving, John explained:
“You hook the trailer on behind the car, and you immediately need to step it up another notch in your ability.
“Whether it will just be general traffic awareness, looking further down the road, anticipating more and being more aware of movement. All of these things that a normal driver in a normal car doesnt generally worry about.”
Another big issue comes down to weight, with many caravanners unaware that they have exceeded the limits of their vehicle and/or trailer.
For example, Carl recently weighed Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series, with a large bunkbed style caravan.
With the van hooked up, the car was 530 kilograms overweight despite having a GVM upgrade. This is because of the combination of a high towball mass, lots of heavy accessories, and having six people on-board.
It’s only one example of overloading, with up to 75 per cent of vehicles and caravans tested by the Eggenhuizens – in conjunction with Transport NSW and NSW Highway Patrol – being overweight.
And to make matters worse, almost all of the remaining examples had less than ten per cent of their available payload left over.
“They didn’t understand how they could get into trouble so quickly”. Carl explained.
“To be fair on the manufacturers: from their perspective, the van and the car are not overweight when they drive out of the driveway.”
“It’s when they start pairing things together, and start adding realistic accessories and realistic payloads, that it can get out of hand.”
Three tips for new caravanners
What about three tips for someone who is new to caravanning? John and Carl were quick to answer:
1: Understanding your weights.
This goes far beyond your vehicle’s GVM, and includes things like but your combination weights, ball weight and overall weight distribution. It’s a surprisingly complex subject to understand, but is a very important one for those looking to hit the road.
Where many people come unstuck is learning that their Gross Combination Mass (the total weight of the vehicle and trailer combined) isn’t as generous as they assume, and that heavy accessories can decimate their available payload.
Something the Eggenhuizens call ‘Roadcraft’, or being a better driver. And while learning new skills is important, it’s also about mindset.
Skills will include knowing how your electric brake controller works, and how it can help with trailer sway. But also general awareness, looking around more and using your mirrors a lot more.
“We call it dynamic risk assessment, you could call it hazard perception, you could give it a lot of names. But it’s a heightened sense of awareness, how to recognise a dangerous situation.”
3: Understanding dangerous situations
“It’s all about reaction. It needs to be a subconscious reaction to some degree: you need to know where your brake controller is so you can reach for it, and know when the right time is to use it.”
“If you do get sway, from the research we have done and had done for us, you’ve got about five to eight seconds maximum before the trailer is in an uncontrollable situation.”
Sam Purcell has been writing about cars, four-wheel driving and camping since 2013, and obsessed with anything that goes brum-brum longer than he can remember. Sam joined the team at CarAdvice/Drive as the off-road Editor in 2018, after cutting his teeth at Unsealed 4X4 and Pat Callinan’s 4X4 Adventures.