It’s been a frustrating year for travel lovers everywhere with plenty of grey nomads itching to go interstate at least once before 2021 arrives. And now with restrictions easing and state borders opening up in time for Christmas, many people are getting ready to dust off the caravan and jet off as quickly as they can.
Whether you’re a seasoned pro at the caravan game, or setting off for your first adventure, there are certain safety tips it pays to know before hitting the road. That’s why Starts at 60 spoke to James Field, chief technical officer from Caravan Industry Association of Australia, to get the lowdown on how you can ensure your road trip goes off without a hitch.
Prevention is key to staying safe on the roads according to James, and if you’re new to caravanning, it might be worth enrolling in a towing education course to get up to speed with rules, build confidence and learn new skills.
But the most important first step is knowing the weight limitations of your vehicle, as well as your towing and combined weight. These can usually be found in the owner manual.
Exceeding these limits don’t just pose a risk on the road, it could also see you facing a fine or, in the case of an accident, having your insurance claim refused or further legal action being pursued against you, according to RACQ. James adds that weight distribution is something that should constantly be on your mind while driving.
“Remember absolutely everything weighs something – when loading your caravan prior to heading off keep a note of what you have put in, how much it weighs and where you placed it. Heavier items should be strategically and securely stowed as low and close as possible to the axle group of the trailer.
“While it can be tempting to overlook, every item counts, so make sure you pack carefully and strategically.”
Next, it’s time to do a once over of the vehicle. Check the trailer hitch and coupling is properly engaged, chains correctly attached, trailer plugs connected and all lights operating correctly, wheel nuts tight and that the combination is sitting as level as possible.
Fitting towing mirrors is also a must to ensure you have a clear view behind you at all times as well eyes on your towing combination. It’s also worth doing a few test stops as you head off to ensure your break controller (if it’s fitted) is adjusted correctly.
Once you’ve hit the road, the safety precautions don’t stop there. Continually carrying out safety checks, including checking how the vehicle is weighted and packed, is vital. So is being aware of external factors that could put your caravan, and yourself, in danger.
“Keep an eye out for things like strong crosswinds, potholes or passing trucks which may create trailer stability issues,” James says. “Long days on the road can result in fatigue, it is important to be conscious of how you are feeling and take breaks if you need them.”
Fitting your caravan with a UHF radio will also come in handy when you need to communicate with other road users, particularly trucks. Maintaining a crash avoidance space when travelling on highways is imperative and can be measured by the poles on the side of the road or sometimes the markings on the road.
According to the New South Wales Government, a reaction time of three seconds is required to avoid a collision and possibly even longer in poor conditions like rain or darkness. Your crash avoidance space can be measured by noting when the rear of a vehicle in front of you passes an object and ensuring it takes your car at least three seconds to reach the same spot.
“Be sure to be courteous to other road users and give them plenty of space, and if you feel someone is travelling too close to you, pull over where safe to let them pass,” James says.
While it sounds like a lot to keep track of, James says practice makes perfect and ensuring you’ve got the basics covered goes a long way towards protecting yourself and other drivers on the road.
“The more you travel and explore the caravan and camping experience, the more you pick up and learn – it is a gradual process,” he says.