Is there an argument for compelling caravanners to do a towing course?

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Many grey nomads benefit from towing courses PIC: Roadcraft

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With so many caravan accidents making headlines on an almost weekly basis, it it time radical action was taken to improve safety? 

Let’s imagine a scenario for a minute. A car licensed driver decides to change careers and becomes a self-employed semi driver.

To achieve this, all they have to do is buy the articulated vehicle and they’re good to go. Although this sounds positively ridiculous, this is similar to what’s happening when many Australians decide they want to become grey nomads.

All they have to do is buy the caravan and towing vehicle and they’re good to go. The statistics don’t lie and, far too often, this results in tragedy.

So, should safe towing courses be mandatory? We think they do; we even go as far as suggesting there should be a separate licence category for caravan towing drivers.

To drive any other articulated combination requires legislated testing and, in some cases, lengthy assignments as a prerequisite to testing. In Queensland, it is an additional requirement for bus drivers to maintain a general driver authorisation, updated every five years.

There are also strict regulations for other articulated combinations, so there’s not much consistency when the same lawmakers rule that towing a 12.2m caravan, or a total combined length of 19m, only needs a car licence.

An accredited Safe Towing Course already exists (AURTGA001 – Drive and manoeuvre trailers) so Industry standard is already set. While that’s a good start, there is some concern that the regulating body focuses on auditing the paperwork, rather than training quality. This needs to be addressed before we can consider mandating safe towing courses and a separate licence class.

There are numerous causes for caravan crashes, including incorrect towing vehicle (vehicle size or towing capacity), incorrectly loaded or overloaded caravan and/or towing vehicle, lack of understanding or awareness of the combinations (car and caravan), braking system and ability, and fatigue.

But one major cause is certainly inexperience. We consider essential components of an effective safe towing course to be:

  • Knowing and understanding the towing combination
    • Hitching and unhitching
    • Loading safely
    • Knowing relevant weights & understanding compliance
    • Braking with and without trailer
    • Reversing and manoeuvring
    • Spatial awareness
    • Speeds for towing

We also think it is imperative to test the towing combination in a controlled environment (not on road) to see how the vehicle reacts and responds to particular activities, so practical components are a must.

Effective safe towing courses are available and it is encouraging that many grey nomads realise the need to undertake such training after they’ve purchased their new home on wheels. In a perfect world, especially for those limited to car driving experience only, effective safe towing courses would not be the optional extra … and lives would be saved.

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