Ahead of the busy holiday season, police are cracking down on overweight caravans, with fines and demerit points being handed out for those doing the wrong thing.
Overweight caravans pose a huge safety risk for all road users out on the road. Apart from being illegal, it reduces stability, increases braking distances and greatly increases the risk of a crash.
In a Queensland wide operation last year, authorities found that nine out of 10 caravans were overweight. Roadside checks were also conducted in Longreach, which found nine out of 12 caravans to be overweight.
As this was an educational exercise however, no fines were issued. Following plenty of warning, police are now cracking down – caravanners found doing the wrong thing can expect to be fined.
Those caught exceeding weight limits while towing caravans in Queensland can expect fines of up to $287 and three demerit points, $469 and three demerit points in NSW, $238 to $1580 in Victoria, up to $591 in South Australia and $130 to $735 in Tasmania.
But are these fines enough of a deterrent? “As truck drivers, a lot of our fines are for things that do not affect road safety like over $700 for not ticking a box on your log book,” said veteran truckie and truckies’ advocate Rod Hannifey.
“We’re talking about a fine of $287 for someone who has spent a substantial amount of money to buy that vehicle and put it on the road. I don’t think that’s a fair level of fine and I don’t think $287 is commensurate with the risk. But I’d like to see more education first because not finding out and doing the wrong thing could kill someone else.”
Caravan road safety researcher and campaigner Ken Wilson, who is also manager of the popular Truck Friendly caravan movement, believes the issue of overweight caravans largely comes down to complacency and people not getting their caravan set-ups weighed. “Instead they’re assuming instead of going and finding out the facts,” he said.
Each month, Truck Friendly posts a list of mobile scale companies around Australia, where caravanners can go and get weighed. “They offer a great service of weighing each wheel and the tow ball to give you an idea of where the weight lies. They also offer assistance in moving weight around from the caravan to the towing vehicle to get all the weights correct to ensure compliance. So there’s no excuse not to get your caravan weighed,” Wilson explained.
“Interestingly one of the things that the 2022 police checks found was that rear axle loading was one of the largest issues. A caravan is typically towed using an overhung hitch. When you apply weight to the hitch, it lifts weight off the front axles – that weight has to go somewhere so it goes onto the rear axle. That can equate to 140-150 per cent. This means that 300kg on the tow ball can mean about 450kg on the rear axle.”
Hannifey believes the issue of overweight caravans on our roads is one that has been largely ignored up until just a few years ago.
“The first time they actually did something about it was with a police officer in Newmerella in Victoria, about three or four years ago. But we as truck drivers see it all the time,” said Hannifey.
“As truck drivers, we are monitored, we are controlled, we go into weigh bridges and get weighed. For caravanners, there’s no need for them to do any training whatsoever.
“From having never towed a caravan, they can go straight out on the road but the tragedy is that some don’t even make it through the first part of their holiday.
“It’s a hazard if they don’t know what they’re doing and creates a problem on the road – and what many caravanners don’t recognise is that if they are involved in an accident and are overweight, it voids their insurance. So not only do you lose your holiday, you lose your caravan too.”
And the issue is something that Hannifey has seen firsthand, with the first caravan incident he witnessed being shortly after he hit the road. “I had one happen right in front of me when I was about 18. He had a Statesman and a really big caravan. The van started swaying and then tipped into the scrub. He was lucky though because the car managed to stay in the lane.”
Hannifey points to information from 10 years ago that showed 80 per cent of crashes involving a trailer – this included caravans, horse trailers and boat trailers – were attributed to loss of control.
“This is one of the biggest factors that contributes to crashes where people lose their lives. If you told truck drivers that 80 per cent of us were doing the wrong thing, authorities would be on top of us like a tonne of bricks – but still nothing was being done,” he said.
According to Wilson, there are many caravan sales people who are letting the industry down too. “There are some great ones out there but unfortunately we only get to hear about the bad ones,” he said.
“I recently received a message from another reader stating that when they were at the Canberra Caravan Expo, they enquired about caravan weights and the salesperson told them that: ‘Caravan weights are far too complicated. You wouldn’t possibly understand’.
“A lot of vehicles are leaving the dealerships with overweight caravans. The tare weight stamped on the caravan is not to be relied on because that’s as manufactured and doesn’t include any extras – like the extra solar panels or the slide out kitchen.
“I strongly believe that no caravan should be sold without an accurate weight certificate.”