‘All was going well, then our van started to sway …’

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caravan rollover scares grey nomads
Lucky escape: Bill and his wife just suffered cuts and bruises Pic: Facebook/Road Trains Australia

The deaths of two caravanners in an accident on Queensland’s Carnarvon Highway a couple of weeks ago is yet another tragic reminder of the dangers faced by all grey nomads as they travel Australia.

The exact circumstances that led to the horrific collision with a truck will now be the subject of a comprehensive investigation. It’s the latest in an ever lengthening list of crashes that have turned dreams into nightmares, and left other anxious travellers scrambling to check their own set-ups and to be more cautious on the road.

Sometimes though, things just go wrong. On February 28 this year, grey nomad Bill Salm was crossing the Mooney Mooney Bridge north of Sydney when disaster struck.

“We were travelling at 95km/h in a 110km/h zone, straight road, a brand named Electronic Stability Control on, and for no apparent reason, the tail of my 18’ caravan started swaying like an overweight hula dancer,” he said.

Bill desperately tried to ‘power out’ of the sway, but says a rollover was inevitable.

“We were very lucky that the semi beside us saw the van do the ‘dance of death’ and slowed down in expectation,” said Bill. “If he had not, I’m sure I would have a large indentation on my forehead the shape of a Mack bulldog.”

In the event, the couple escaped with only cuts and bruises, but their DMax and van were totally written off. Bill – who has driven light and medium rigid trucks and buses, has extensive towing experience, and has travelled widely in country areas – says he had the truck and van weighed just before setting off so knew it was below maximum weight, and that the load was equally dispersed.

“The cause of the crash was a combination of buffering from the semis and a rush of wind in a noted ‘high wind area’,” he said. “I was told that there were two more crashes involving vans in the same location in the following two weeks.”

Bill said that the episode taught him not to rely on the ESC, that it was definitely possible to sway on a straight road, that a heavier and more powerful tow unit ‘may’ have pulled them out of the sway, and that while travelling at a reduced speed is good, it wouldn’t necessarily stop ‘stuff happening’.

After the insurance paid the couple out, Bill said they had a choice of returning to home base, renting a house and licking their wounds, or sucking it up, buying a replacement, and getting ‘back on the horse’.

“We picked the second option and have bought a used motorhome,” he said. “A wheel in each corner gives us both a bit more confidence and we can now continue on our interrupted lap.”

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10 Responses to ‘All was going well, then our van started to sway …’

  1. According to the article in drive, he should have applied brake. When the caravan electric brakes came on it would have slowed and straightened. The anti lock braking system on the car would have kept the car moving straight. PS not that I have had the experience.

  2. Thanks to Bill for being prepared to say what occurred. So many ‘experts’ make spurious observations on such incidents. The fact that Bill has experience, various levels of licence, correct weight, and setup is evidence that at times a ‘perfect storm’ of circumstances can occur.

  3. Was considering buying an ESC but now might defer. With my 20 footer van pulled by a Nissan Navara I’m not going to go above 90ks on my lap of oz for anyone. The others can happily pass me by. Have already experienced van sway with a windy day and trucks belting past on the day I collected the van.

  4. Heavier and more powerful tow rig is the answer 97% of the time.

    • Agree lots of people play with lots of numbers (normally chosen by the sales people) but if the tail is heavier when things go wrong it’s going to wag the dog.

    • Completely incorrect.
      What will more power do? More speed so you can crash harder ???
      Slowing down will prevent many accidents. 95 may not seem too fast but on that day at that time and scenario it was too fast.
      90 is ideal towing speed even a fraction slower. Save plenty of fuel and arrive at destination in reasonable time. Yes cars will bank up but there will be less than if your dog is rolled blocking the road in both directions

      • Could not agree with you more all of our 15 years traveling towing 25 ft caravan with Nissan patrol 3ltr turbo diesel speed 85. -90 very comfortable very comfortable just not enough power for most travellers it seems and were happy for them to pass any time they want
        Enjoy your travels

  5. Very scary and pleased no one was hurt.
    That is one of the reasons when we used to tow a van that we always dropped to around 75 to 80 in those high wind areas. I hope that there was signage alerting motorists.
    Best wishes with your new motorhome and travels.

  6. trying to speed up is the worst thing let it slow down gets the wobbles going to fast. yes i have and do tow a lot been towing 40 odd years and live on the road

  7. Twin cab utes and some caravans are an accident waiting to happen.

    I would not tow with one if it was given to me.

    Now my critics will say, Rubbish my twin cab Ute tows our van perfectly.

    Maybe so, but what about when you are put into an emergency evasive manoeuvre.

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