Debate over need for accredited caravan towing courses continues to simmer

Published: August 2, 2023

As the number of caravans on the road continues to grow, so too do the calls for a more systematic approach to towing training.

Emily McLean, the National Transport Research Organisation’s infrastructure safety management leader, says the current situation is far from ideal, and accredited training for first-time towers could be an important step in the right direction.

“The skills that people are learning are typically learned on the road, and that’s obviously not the best place for learning how to appropriately drive with your caravan,” she told the ABC. “The point is, we allow people to just drive out of a dealership with a trailer and they can have had absolutely no experience towing before … we don’t do that in any other situation, we make them go through appropriate training and appropriate licensing.”

Ms McLean told the ABC that people were not being provided with the support and the training that they might need to make sure that they’re safe on the road.

“With learner drivers, we put them through the hard yards with a graduated licensing system,” she said. “We essentially say to a P-plate driver that you can’t tow a trailer, but the second somebody gets off their P plates, they’re allowed to tow anything from a 6m x 4m trailer right through to an eight-metre-long caravan.”

Ms McLean said road safety statistics for caravans and other towed vehicles were difficult to isolate from general crash statistics, as caravan rollovers were usually categorised as single-vehicle accidents.

“Any training course, whether it’s mandatory or optional, needs national accreditation,” she said. “That would at least ensure that people are learning the right skills and not any bad habits, it would also mean not just anybody off the street is able to say ‘I do caravan training’ and potentially be providing people with information that is wrong or isn’t the latest and up-to-date information.”

Community Roadsafe Mildura is a volunteer group funded by VicRoads that has established its own towing course. It has an online component showing things like how to hook up safely and road etiquette; and a practical course in which participants learn how to reverse the trailer or caravan, how to go around corners, and they get a check to ensure they have a vehicle that is safe to tow whatever it is that it’s towing.

Executive officer, Tressna Martin, told the ABC that the more she learned about towing, the more she realised that people don’t know very much about towing at all.

“The people who do the course have told me they are 100% better equipped to be on the road after doing the course,” she said. “It’s frightening to consider what they would be like if they hadn’t done the course.”

  • Do you think new caravanners should be required to undertake a towing course? Comment below.

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It’s probably the right call but where is the line drawn trailers, caravans, horse floats etc I just see money lining the pockets of governments and trading groups and saying we put p platers thru a lot look at accident rates after they got licence not good
, all the training douse not help for experience

I think it should be a weight / length situation. Ie a 6×4 box trailer should not require the amount of training as say a caravan…

Just looks at the age difference between the majority of p platers and caravan owners. There’s a lot of experience and general knowledge gained over those years. Never the less, not many people have had a lot of practice towing something the size of a caravan by the time they get to grey nomad age.
Appropriate training is as important then as it was when they first learned to drive.

Best way to get some experience by at minimum doing a course, a test and some hours of supervised driving.
Sure beats a rollover or crash and a possible fatality!!
If it saves your life it’s a very cheap course.

I would have thought it is easy to define who or when a course is required. Anything over the 750Kg unbraked trailer should automatically require a competency certificate.

The hard part will be how do you implement it across all States and who needs a certificate? Many competent drivers have years of experience already and any legislation that does not recognise that is likely to fail.

The caravan towing issue has many factors to be looked at.
We all see people towing trailers horse floats and caravans that do a great job.
There are others that appear to have very little idea.
We have all seen these people trying to reverse a caravan, trailer etc and have no idea.
Regards caravans some will drive to a caravan park and have it put on site for them.

What I am saying for all concerned the safety of themselves and other road users come first.
You cannot drive a semi trailer or any other truck or motor home until you have the appropriate test why should you be able to tow something if you cannot do it correctly, or in some cases hold an appropriate licence that allows you to drive trucks etc.

I think there should be an online towing safety course. Something that includes training on weights and loading/weight distribution, general safety issues like tyres/wheels and suspension and hitching up, gas safety, grey and black water description and disposal. Add this to a one day practical course on safe driving and sway recovery, reversing and levelling, etc.
Once you complete both parts, you get an accreditation on your licence.
And have similar for all trailers.
If it was run by the state licensing authority and reasonably priced, then I’d be interested!
The pay back could be a discount on your caravan insurance (I wish!)

All vehicles that tow a trailer or caravan should have an additional safety accreditation added to their driver’s license

The sights we witnessed on our travels around Australia were mind boggling my husband had no van towing experience but had driven heavy vehicles we had no problems at all but people trying to back into there spots was great amusement to some van owners we were always a disappointment back in first time always the cost of these courses are sometimes a factor as to why people don’t do them but I think they are needed

Judging by how many have trouble backing into a campsite I reckon they definitely need to do a towing course.

I think their should a licence class for towing caravans. As their is LR, MR,HR. Any one with a C Auto can buy a Ram 1500 & tow a caravan with no experience. Many cannot reverse a trailer or caravan.

It’s not the RAM’s having the accidents, it’s the Ford Rangers, Nissan Navaras , Toyota 70 Series and smaller cars in the main.

And some LC,s

Yes I do think it should be mandatory to do a towing course if the driver has no proof of towing anything bigger than a box trailer but If the person has a HR or above or has owned a boat, horse float ect they should be exempt. It would be a good idea to have the spouse trained up & have the endorsement also in the unlikely case something went wrong. It is your love ones travelling with you & someone else’s travelling the other way. It’s easy enough to drive straight it getting out of trouble in tight places like backing into a site or getting fuel not knowing where the back of the van is when pulling out. We’ve all seen it at some time. It’s the damage to not only the van & ego that stops the trip of a lifetime. You are the one who needs to stand up & say yes I need a bit of training I just hope that people can get training at a reasonable cost as some trainers will cash in so shop around & safe travels.

An HR license isn’t for articulated vehicles so what help would that be

with an HR licence you can tow a trailer up to 9 tonnes, 6 tonnes heavier than my caravan.

My insurance company offerss free caravan courses for those that want them.. Go and test your skill… After watching you/me for ten minutes they may reject our application for cover.. I heard a fellow one night say that had no insurance on his caravan or car because he had not been involved in a crash in twenty years .. There are some caravan parks now that offer to park your caravan for you. Drive through bays that are big enough for two caravans but are for just one van too reduce the risk of damage. Getting a Skippers Ticket too drive a boat only reduced the ammount of drivers available..same can apply to the caravan area..

A mandated towing course would be ineffective in reducing accidents, as trailers and caravans are not an homogenous product. Some combinations are far from ordinary – how do you distinguish between towing a 6 X 4 trailer and a tri-axled goose neck?
The onus of safe towing must rest with the driver and is legislated so.
The selection/matching of towing vehicle to trailer is the area where most things are likely to go wrong.
This problem is exacerbated by unscrupulous dealers either being unaware of (or deliberately misrepresenting), the physical specifications of the vehicle.

Dead right mate , but maybe owner onus should apply

Not if the supplier of the product is asked for advice or the advice is obviously part of the supply. Have you rented a dangerous tool from a hire company lately? They know they have a duty of care and the standard of care is high and give appropriate instructions/warnings.
The principals are the same for the supply of a caravan.
And there’s never any excuse for outright lies!

Last edited 10 months ago by Fred

I attained my B class truck licence in 1968, when I turned 20 yrs.
I first towed a caravan at 21yrs.
On our old farm I drove tractors towing ploughs, scarifiers, combines, headers.
I have travelled in every state except Tasmania with a caravan and reckon some sort of test should be taken.
There are so many who have never towed a caravan before that will willingly tell you this is their first caravan, bought after they retired.

I agree that you should have extra training and special license to tow a big van but I don’t think you should need anything special to tow a small camper trailer. You already need a special license to drive a truck with a GVM of more thar 4.5T so I think the same measure should apply to the entire weight of your rig. So if the GVM of your car plus the GTM of your trailer is more than 4.5T then special towing license required. Doesn’t matter if you’re towing a caravan, horse float, 5th wheeler, box trailer or whatever.

I think you have a good point Andrew. I agree with the GCM of 4.5T threshold requiring a special license or at least proof a graduating from a special training course.

I totally agree with this, however in NSW red P tow up to 250kgs unloaded weight and green P is unlimited. In my experience its generally not those towing a van that behave unreasonably on the roads, its other traffic who are around the towing that drive in a negligent or unsafe manner when around caravanners. I think some education to those drivers as to why a van may be driving slower etc may help as well.

Last edited 10 months ago by Tony Gersbach

I’d disagree. The majority of poor behaviour/skills around caravan driving has, in my experience been on the part of the person towing. From slowing inappropriately because they cannot judge widths to consistently speeding up when being overtaken…

Definitely I have a heavy truck licence and drive a Motorhome with a tow car and it is appalling the amount of caravan and Motorhome drivers who are not competent from reversing into park sites, travelling to fast on open roads and passing, loading the caravan everything that’s outside goes in the van, so more than likely weight will be a major problem, the vans are getting much bigger height and length. Not an easy problem to fix as there are a lot of people on the roads already, but something needs to be done to stop the carnage.

There are 2 issues in order of priority .
1- Speeding
2 -weight Distibution

You can train people a thousand times however it wont fix the major problems.

1- Stop speeding – The limit is 100 not 120 Km/h
2- I go back to the design of the caravan. Caravan manufactures need to design caravans with storage so that we can evenly pack our caravan.

Training should not be compulsory.

The voice of reason and logic

There will never be legislation for towing courses. How would you police it? They cannot even police the more serious problems of overweight issues. Who would it apply to? Anyone who buys a new caravan only? Anyone who buys any van. What about the hundreds of thousands already towing? Going to make them take a course?

No doubt there will be much discussion on both sides but all pointless. It will never happen

Agree 100%

I think a training course on towing trailers including tow weights load shifting,etc has merit. Just concerned that government will see it as a money making exercise. On the other hand reducing traffic accident and associated costs would outweigh that issue

Definitely make a training course mandatory.

Yes I believe you should especially if you only have a car license u can do a advanced driving course on the Gold Coast and it was incredibly important but a separate one for towing vans is essential it can be a very scary thing to have to control 2 ton n over in a sticky situation I am on the road full time n it scares me to see the people driving like they have nothing to fear or that they have a potential missile behind them I have a ridged license n have towed trailers for over twenty years but if I became a law I would do it just to make sure I have been doing the safe way all these years saving lives should be a priority not a choice
Steve Moore

I notice that most of the calls for training courses for caravans seem to focus on reversing into sites. But that is not where the accidents happen – it is on the open road!
While entertaining to watch, the back and forth reversing into a site is done slow and steady.

Spot on, you learn reversing in your own time and place. Not cause of the major accidents! Some of the worst drivers are great at reversing.

It’s definitely a good idea

I am of two minds about this.

Firstly what are the actual statistics of caravan accidents that have been caused purely because of poor driver training or lack of knowledge of weights and loading?

There are many reasons for accidents on our roads and do the stat’s actually justify bringing in mandatory training or is this just because everytime there is an accident involving a caravan there is a media beat up slanted that it is always the caravanners fault?

There are far more accidents on our roads involving just passenger vehicles not towing anything, and I would argue more accidents involving trucks than caravans, so is some sort of mandatory training really going to have a huge impact?

If we are to have it, then it would have to be far better than a couple of so called courses that I have seen which did nothing to improve actual on road driver skill. Yes they did teach weights and loading and a brief lesson on how to reverse but nothing on training a person to deal with a large rig on the highway which is where the accidents happen, not reversing into a bay in the caravan park unless you back over the missus because she is getting you upset.

As a former automotive test driver and driving instructor in advanced driver training, a training curriculum, In my opinion, would have to offer far more than those that I have seen to date, to have any major impact on the accident rate. I would also like to add that I have been towing caravans, horse floats, large boats and other trailers around this continent for the last 50 years or so.

We all have good intentions for others to undertake additional training and yes for me after spending all my working years in the transport industry it is easy as for me personally to tow a caravan.

I started driving on livestock transports which like caravans are inherently unstable by design and so one has to learn to drive the beast. I tow a 23 foot caravan that weighs just under 3 tonnes with a Toyota Hi-Lux and have done for over 10 years and it is kinda fine with that as long as the road surface is not undulating or dippy on one side and then there is the “Cross-Wind” which can produce White Knuckle Fever and make one wish that he had stayed home today.
As far as telling others to undertake additional training is fraught with danger and is kinda like telling someone that they are lousy in bed. Not a good idea at all.

However two simple tips from me and firstly “Ladies that direct” please use big sweeping hand gestures that can be seen and understood by the driver.

Drivers if you are reversing and it goes wrong then pull forward and do something different next attempt. No point in doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result.

Remember that if the Government gets involved in this idea then as always “It will cost a fortune and take forever and Achieve Nothing”.

Not sure why so many have fixated on poor reversing skills as a reason for requiring a towing accredjtation. Towing is driving forward and that is where safety issues arise. Reversing is just a matter of practice.

Manufacturers and dealers should also take responsibility for ensuring those new to towing have the required technical knowledge.

I have to agree with you, Tony.

Yup, I think everybody should take a course … except me, coz I am perfect and was an expert even before I could reach the pedals.

Well here we go again all talk no action.A towing course is only limited, the real experience is when towing a van long distances.There is enough laws now without having to go through another exam. Once again it will not reduce accidents take p platers they still are the largest accidents that happen even though they have strict rules on what they can do and not do.All you have to do is take care on the road and dont do silly things.

A one day course either on-line or practical is not going to give anybody the ‘experience’ of actually being on the road.

However Louise has hit the ‘nail on the head’.“something that includes training on weights and loading/weight distribution, general safety issues like tyres/wheels and suspension and hitching up, gas safety, grey and black water description and disposal.”

Poorly loaded, and/or overweight, rigs will test even the most experienced persons skill level, some of the rigs that we have seen in our travels defy the imagination on just how overweight they are. Our van is close to its ATM, our tug is close to its GVM, (both with upgraded certifications) and we are still nearly 900kgs under our GCM. I have seen similar tugs to ours with vans that are 1,500 kgs heavier than ours (easy enough to check on the internet with the make and model), regardless of skill level these are accidents waiting to happen.

Education not Legislation!

Everyone towing any trailer should have an additional accreditation added to their licence after completing an appropriate course. My wife did a towing course with caravan and loved it. They were very thorough with not only backing, but emergency braking etc. I have also done a towing course a few years back as it was a workplace requirement.

Personally I think it is imperative that a licensing system be implemented Aust wide. The amount of cowboys/girls we have seen out there is astounding. Some people should not have oxygen in them let alone be able to tow a caravan. We encountered a bloke last year at Mataranka who had a dodge RAM and stated that he tows at the speed limit ie 130kmh in the NT. He also said that people who tow under 100 kmh should not be allowed on the road. In WA if you tow any trailer the speed limit is 100kmh, this should be implemented Aust wide as well. A towing licence may make some of these oxygen thieves wake up to themselves but I doubt it.

hi yes truck drivers have to do a traning course when you hook up a car or a 4X4 and put a caravan you are not much shorter than a semi so yes it would be safer for all road usere i drove truchs for about 45 YEARS THANK YOU

I don’t think it is necessary requirement for towing a trailer, caravan.
It is a good idea to build up your experience in the first place if not very confident.
A lot of your experience is on the road you already know how to drive.

Yes a predetermined course is a great way to introduce people to towing.It could include actual driving but also weights and loading a bloody good idea…Ross

I totally agree that there should be a mandatory qualification to be able to tow a caravan or trailer with a car. It should also be part of your license requirements before you can tow.
As for backing up a caravan into a tight spot well I can’t do that because I have a problem twisting around so I had my van fitted with a mover. I have great pleasure in watching the faces of the parking police at caravan sites as I pulling up and unhitch my van and engage the mover and park the van.
So if it’ becomes part of your license requirement I will fail.

Pity statistics or records isn’t taken of previous drivers involved in caravan towing incidents in regard to their prior experience in towing. We talk of the need to train drivers on towing when we don’t know the driving history record of past occupants involved in caravan accidents. Many of these may well have been or are experienced in towing. I don’t think we can assume all drivers that are towing and involved in an accident are inexperienced.

We have towed vans of all sizes around this big country for maybe 20 years. On the black top to the sand and mud, rocks and corrugations of the Great Central Road and the Tanami Track without any problems. So where do you start to introduce training for caravan drivers?

And this will stop accidents ? How ? Cars and trucks still have accidents.

Probably a good idea, but courses don’t fix stupid.

How many accidents are there by,fully licensed drivers of all vehicles that drive on our roads. Stupid is stupid no matter what qualifications you have?.

I agree that there should be some training with towing a caravan/trailer. Training and a license is required for articulated trucks so why not other trailers and caravans which are an articulated vehicle when all said and done. This training should normally include reversing. Also including training in weight distribution. Also including training in being a spotter for the tug driver. I do concede that this training would be a administration nightmare and never happen. Maybe insurance companies can give a discount if you having a training course certificate.
The big thing here is – IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN! The states can’t even standardise the the trailer electrical plugs so a license – Nah it will never happen.

Last edited 10 months ago by Shane Longman

When we bought our first little van 11 years go, I enrolled myself and hubby to do a tow course. It consisted of
1. Theory of towing, weights, packing a van , hitching other safety issues. We then had to complete our written tests before the practical part.
2. Practical was a full day, safety checking our tow vehicle and van. Hitching up. Reversing, between cones. Stopping suddenly. Etc.

We probably need a refresher every 5 to 10 years.

We are now just completing our 18 week annual trip and I’ve seen a few men who look quite old and frail, difficulty getting around and then they’re getting behind the wheel and towing a big long van. I worry how safe they are on the road.

Age discrimination is illegal, if their doctor certifies they are safe to drive, and they pass the test, they are. Most caravan accidents are caused by two factors, excess speed and incorrect or overloading. Until they design a course to rectify these human behavior traits, this forum will have fuel for many more debates on this issue.

I have towed various caravans of different sizes over the past 40 years but I still have difficulty in backing our latest 18 foot caravan into a tight site. So I am looking at some course which will help me with this. I believe all those who tow a weight over, say, 750 kg should have to undertake a certified course and have this noted on their driving licence.

Even after 18 years of caravaning I beleave I will learn from a towing course. Maybe van dealers should have to be more diligence and offer driving training to new caravan owners, who have never towed a caravan

I definitely think there should be a mandatory test. Theory could perhaps be completed online first followed by a practical test. With the road statistics as they are I can’t imagine why anyone would not want this to happen. I hope it becomes law. Thank you for letting me comment.

Just another chance for Gov to gather more money in this already over governed country

You only have to travel on freeways to see that people towing trailers, boats, motorbikes or jet skis are just as bad! It doesn’t bother me that someone has difficulty reversing into a spot, that comes with practice and experience, it’s weight, dangerous overtaking and speed that need to be targeted with all towed vehicles. People also forget about the length of their vehicle and the vehicle they are towing, cutting in very fine after overtaking. Happened to us many times, mostly unnecessary as they are speeding. You are on holiday people, take it easy, both you and we want to get to our destinations in safety.

Got to be trained , for everyone’s benefit
I think a lot r against it because if the fail the course then they may not be able to tow again

Learning how to hook up and load a caravan still does not give the skill for driving in varied road conditions.Driving on a flat wide highway is not the same as driving on a narrow winding and uneven road. There are plenty of people who train for their car drivers license, and for light and heavy truck licenses and motorbike licenses and the statistics will tell you that it doesn’t stop accidents from happening. There are to many variables out there to cover all by training.
Experience comes with driving in all conditions, not by a controlled situation that just drains your time and your pocket.

I definitely think that anyone purchasing and registering a caravan should have to attend a course and obtain a license to use one.

It’s a sound logical argument, however if we look at the ratio of caravaners on the roads today based on the number of accidents and we used the figures from say the 1970’s or 1980’s we’d more than likely find that the number of accidents have fallen. It’s same as the road total if the number of people killed today would at the same ratio of the 1970’s there be over 10,000 killed on our roads today. But the road toll it’s that number due to safer cars with ABS, SRS, active stability control and better roadways, Anyone can give a good argument for better training of drivers or how to mow the lawn to mitigate risk and add a safe work mitigation statement (SWIMS). The ABC’s video showed a Landcruiser 70 Series started to sway and eventually roll (this was from the dash cam), did the driver accelerate slowly or brake we don’t know. The question is how big was the van being towed, small truck manufacturers (Ute) Ford, VW, Nissan, Isuzu are all in this battle of 3.5 Tonne towing capacity, yet those light trucks because they weigh only 2.4-2.6 so a 3.4Tonne caravan can push them around easily if not correctly loaded. Maybe a proper handover talking about weigh distribution when loading and how the features of stability control work at the point of delivery to the client would be a logical idea and easier to implement.

As new caravan owners, I have towed large trailers in the past but not for a few years.
My wife had never towed anything, so a training course was something we both wanted to do.
We booked a course that is TAFE accredited,
There was around 4 to 6 hrs online based theory and a a whole day practical.
Was it worthwhile?absolutely
My wife was by the end of the day reversing, parking as good as any one .
Emergency breaking was certainly beneficial also.

UK has different ideas

“Under the new rules which came into force in the UK last December, anyone who passed their driving test after January 1, 1997, will now be able to tow a trailer that is up to 3,500kg maximum authorised mass (or maximum technical permitted laden mass as it applies to caravans), without taking an additional test.”

No good. It would be just another yearly or once off fee. I for one am sick of paying everywhere I go for tax payer funded institutions. I refuse to call them government paid because the government does not pay a cent. the TAX PAYER does. This would be just another payment. I am sure we all know how we are treated when it comes to rego, stamp duty, rates etc. When is enough enough

Firstly, I support a course for first time trailer towers if they think they would benefit from such education. I would claim R.P.L. (Recognition of Prior Learning) as I towed my own caravan (22 ft Chesney) at age 20. I am now 66 years old, am the holder of an MR (Qld) license, owned and towed 6 caravans and numerous other trailers (boat and box).
I have done well over 40,000 kms towing caravans, on blacktop, dirt and sand, and can reverse my van into anywhere I need to.
I have never scratched, scraped or damaged my towed vehicles, or tow vehicle whilst towing or reversing.
I am totally conversant and compliant with my weights, owning my own both wheel and tow ball scales, and putting my van and tow vehicle over a Weighbridge every time I leave on a trip. I know heaps of people who are as, or more experienced, in towing a caravan than me. My questions are;
How could anybody justifiably tell me I would need to do a towing course to license me to tow my van? And;
Where would any legislative body be able to draw the line regarding a requirement for a ‘towing endorsement’ on their license, taking into consideration that weights, length, and axles are not a true indication of any one type of trailers characteristics.
I would suggest it is just not feasible.
PS. I have had a few beers and don’t normally comment on such issues, however I think R.P.L. needs to be considered by those supporting a caravan towing endorsement.

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