When everything changes in ‘the blink of an eye’

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caravan rollover in high winds in Tasmania
Paul Hoelen captured the aftermath of the rollover in Tasmania PIC: Paul Hoelen Photography

As the number of grey nomads back on the road has started to increase, so too has the number of terrifying accidents involving caravans.

The occupants of a car towing a van were lucky to escape serious injury a week ago when their rig was literally blown over in extremely high winds in Tasmania.

Photographer Paul Hoelen was driving near Triabunna when he saw the incident, which he says happened in gusts of about 75-80km/h.

“People started to rush out of their cars to help out and get the people out of the vehicle,” he said. “It was kind of beautiful to see that good Aussie help-your-fellow-man kind of spirit.”

While it is heartwarming to hear that so many people were ready to leap into action to help the stricken travellers, the re-emergence of these sorts of incidents on our roads is both confronting and worrying.

With most grey nomads free again to travel within their own states and across certain borders, the need to follow safe towing guidelines has never been greater.

The team at Sunshine Coast-based Clayton’s Towing, which has attended the scenes of countless caravan accidents over the years, says getting the basics right is vital. The company says the starting point is for travellers to ensure they have the right tow vehicle for their caravan, that they get their van weighed, and that they ensure it is set up and loaded correctly. “Lots of set ups we collect after accidents (when they stay together) are evenly balanced with the tow bar up in the air, sometimes you are able to pick the drawbar up with one hand,” they say. “This is a recipe for disaster, and we consider the biggest factor for a lot of crashes we attend.”

It is commonly recommended that grey nomads also attend a towing course to ensure they have the skills and knowledge to deal with some of the situations they might encounter on the road.

However, sometimes there are factors – such as the high winds in the Tasmanian accident – that are very difficult to prepare for. Grey nomad Dave and his wife Cathy generally travel seven months of the year in their Avan 555 pop-top towed by a Mazda BT50.

Dave has learnt to expect the unexpected as he says there are myriad external factors which can change the situation on the road in the blink of an eye.

“As an example, coming down the range at Toowoomba a truck in front of me de-laminated a tyre and, with a car in the lane next to me, I had nowhere to go … so I had to ‘I see many caravans in the future’ run over it,” said Dave. “Fortunately, the tow vehicle, a high clearance 4WD, escaped damage … but the underside of the van – not quite so lucky.”

In this particular circumstance, Dave was able to pull over safely and so technically had avoided an ‘accident’ … but it was a frightening experience nonetheless.

“The point is that this was a situation totally outside of my control,” he said. “It was pure luck that the tyre went under the car rather than into the front, or worse still, the windscreen!”

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13 Responses to When everything changes in ‘the blink of an eye’

  1. Glad you are both ok. We cannot predict the unknown so we just have to be full on aware of our surroundings to stay safe

    • I imagine that the high winds were predicted. The right response would have been to delay journey. It is the driver’s respossibility to keep the rig in control at all times.

  2. No near problems for us, I ball tow at 85- 90 kph all the time as it gives me maximum control giving me the ability to stop in time for wildlife like roos and emus. In addition I get bugger all sway when trucks overtake or pass as well.

    • Yep just dropping speed by 10 15km makes an amazing difference to vehicle stability and braking distance.
      It is far less fatiguing to drive at 90 85 and much better fuel economy.
      Of course you will get a string of vehicles behind you occasionaly on busier roads but when you can you let them past either on overtaking lanes or just pull over for 20 seconds

      • Totally agree with you Andy , recently I got stopped at road works south of Townsville and a substantial amount of traffic had built up behind me. When the lights finally turned green I indicated left, pulled on to the grass and let them all go . The positive remarks that the truckies gave me on Ch 40 in appreciation was well worth the few minutes extra I had to wait.

    • Yep, I’m new to the game and do not tow faster than 85k’s. There’s just no need to especially if one is retired.

  3. This could happen to any of us regardless of preparation. Its always a wake up call to be vigilant whenever I read a story like this. I try to put myself in their situation after an event like this and hope they can work through it ok and continue to live the dream. All dreams come with an element of risk.

  4. Maybe the authorities could provide reasons for the roll over, something we can all use for our own preparedness. I drive at max 90kph, 22′ van and haven’t experienced sway etc. Not saying it may never happen but understanding root cause for all incidents may be vehicle.

    • Disagree,13 yrs full time on the road,whatever angle you look at,its the human factor.This story perfect example,eye witness states Van and car just got blown over,75/80kph winds,one could comment”what the #¥£€ were you doing on the road”.Vans don’t load themselves,tugs dont beg to be bought.What we need is state authorities to hammer the industry.I have been told by NSW Roads and Maritime inspectors,they have been instructed to back off caravan’s,another area where the industry is corrupt.

  5. Nice ‘story’ Dave’! Trucks MUST use low gear on the range so we’re talking sub 30km/h if you can’t avoid something at that pace (assuming you’re following at a safe distance of course) I’d suggest that not only are you a liability to your Insurer, but a danger to other road users!

  6. I own this little caravan, my brother the tow vehicle, myself my brother and my two sons were involved in this accident. This van is registered, passed safety inspection, all correctly connected to the tow vehicle. We left our camp site early Sunday and didn’t hit stronger winds until just after Swansea, we had made the call to leave the van at a friends property in Orford, we were travelling just under 70kmph along the last straight with no cover between triabunna and Orford when the gust caught the van, we were getting gusts in excess of 100kmph at the time and I have no doubt one of which caught the van. There was no stopping the van from overturning and my brother did all he could to keep us all as safe as possible in a shitty situation. We were one of probably 40 caravans we seen towing back along the route home so not the only ones on the journey home. We were all very fortunate to walk away from this accident I’m still not quite sure how we did! Thankyou to all the wonderful people who stopped to assist, we were blown away by the help offered roadside, the support was amazing!

  7. Have been caravaners for the past 25 years, seen it all, it should be compulsory to complete a safety towing course. Stamped on our license, and receive a discount on the van rego. Truck drivers need a special license, so should caravan drivers.

  8. If you don’t have a stable tow at 100kph then that is a sure sign there is a hidden problem with towing weights. Towing slower helps but not solution. Resolve the original problem!

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