Caravan weights and safety - do you know all about yours?

Submitted: Friday, Dec 23, 2016 at 23:07
ThreadID: 133985 Views:6060 Replies:5 FollowUps:14
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Police in the East Gippsland area will be out in force over the holiday period to educate road users on caravan safety.

As part of the current Operation Roadwise, police in the East Gippsland area will be out in force over the holiday period to educate road users on caravan safety.

Local police, with the assistance of VicRoads and the Sheriff, will set up a site at the Newmerella Rest Stop on Wednesday 4th and Thursday 5th January from 9.30am where, amongst other tasks, they will educate travellers about caravan and tow vehicle weights, general safety around towing and how to manage fatigue on long journeys.

Acting Sergeant Graeme Shenton said the objective is not to fine every driver with a caravan that may be overweight or non-compliant with vehicle standards, rather they want to use this opportunity to educate and generate discussion around towing safety and road safety in general. Obviously, if there are any major issues with your registration, road worthiness or if you have any outstanding fines, you can expect a little more than a ‘discussion’.

We also understand representatives from various media outlets, forums, magazines, clubs, blog sites and Facebook Groups will be on site to provide first hand reporting on the operation itself. This open approach will ensure that an ongoing positive discussion about towing safety takes place in both mainstream and social media.

Again, we would encourage travellers not to avoid the area but to take advantage of the opportunity to find out whether or not they are, in fact, legal. It is rare that you can openly discuss towing safety issues with the officers who are actually tasked with enforcing the law. It will certainly be better than some of the advice and opinions shared on forums and social media.

Victoria Police will release a small media piece on the morning of the 4th on their news website and their Facebook page with further details about the Newmerella operation.

When will this take place? On the 4th and 5th of January 2017.

Where will this take place? At Newmerella rest stop. See Map.

Will you be there? If you are caravanning in the area, do take the opportunity to undertake this safety check, and understand more about various aspects of caravanning safety. Your life, and the life of other road users could depend on it.

From Facebook

Please share on your Facebook page and on any caravanning groups you belong to.

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Reply By: eaglefree - Saturday, Dec 24, 2016 at 11:32

Saturday, Dec 24, 2016 at 11:32
Great, I'm all for the authorities checking rigs. We've all seen the danger of out of control caravans.

I'm also eager to see marked police vehicles more common on our roads policing the fools that are also a danger with their lack of care. How are they educating them? Some compulsory defensive driving courses in place of a fine? In 1974 at 18yo I was forced by the RAAF to attend such a course due to my hoonish driving and it shook me up for the benefit of many.

Anyway those police on the ground and emergency services do a great job overall, especially this time of the year when they'd prefer to be at home enjoying their family.

AnswerID: 606952

Reply By: hooks - Tuesday, Dec 27, 2016 at 12:07

Tuesday, Dec 27, 2016 at 12:07
It does not seem right to me that someone with a car licence can tow a caravan with no endorsement on their licence particularly if they had never towed anything as long and heavy as a medium sized van before. I guess with all the vans on the road (many thousands) at anyone time, we are getting away with it, but there are accidents due to driver inexperience which may have been avoided if that driver was better trained. I personally believe all caravaners should be required to obtain an endorsement on their car licence before towing a caravan.
The police check is a very good step in the right direction and more should be set up nationally. I have been towing a van now for 3 years, in all states and have never been checked while on the road.
AnswerID: 607020

Follow Up By: Batt's - Wednesday, Jan 04, 2017 at 01:35

Wednesday, Jan 04, 2017 at 01:35
Teaching people how to reverse and drive at safe speed limits should be part of it also way too many slow van drivers creating hazards on the roads.

If you need a special licence for towing a van what about car trailers there long and heavy when loaded or other large trailers or boats if one gets done the lot should. Just saying there are lots of variables to consider that's all.
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Follow Up By: hooks - Wednesday, Jan 04, 2017 at 10:32

Wednesday, Jan 04, 2017 at 10:32
I agree Batts, it should apply to any medium, long, heavy type of trailer being towed whether its a boat, caravan or anything being towed does not matter. Some situations could happen with a 6x4 trailer being towed or reversed but of course perhaps less likely.
Motherhen below makes a very good point re weight distribution and braking with heavy trailers, these things are not part of the training for a car licence. To reverse with a trailer is perhaps the hardest to master and even after a training course takes time to master.
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Follow Up By: Batt's - Thursday, Jan 05, 2017 at 02:21

Thursday, Jan 05, 2017 at 02:21
Common sense is something that should be used when you're towing or just driving a vehicle that is loaded being aware of what is behind that your braking distance will increase and you should leave a bigger gap between the vehicle in front you but not all of us have the ability to use it. When I got a HR then later a HC licence I was never taught about weight distribution driving to suit the load or even carried weight on a truck when driving with an instructor they just throw a hand book at you and their job is done as far as they are concerned. I learned from work colleagues and used my common sense.

Yes maybe there should an endorsement for a towing licence I don't disagree with it. Some sort of training involved and you actually have to pass a driving test when towing say the old zig zag through witches hats overtaking another vehicle and reverse parking but that would mean training facilities have to be available or set up which would be costly.

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Follow Up By: Member - Andrew & Jen - Thursday, Jan 05, 2017 at 11:56

Thursday, Jan 05, 2017 at 11:56
When towing the van, we have an all up gross mass of around 9T so I leave an increased separation distance wrt the vehicle in front.
So what happens? Many drivers take advantage of this increased space to overtake and then cut in front and "fill" the gap!
Back in my younger days when I drove a semi, this was always happening so nothing has changed :-(
So it is not only the tug + van users who need educating, it is the average driver as well re behaviour around larger vehicles.
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Follow Up By: Member - Munji - Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 at 11:10

Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 at 11:10
Lets open this up with more questions and start asking our regulators what are they doing about it rather than sending broadside messages back at each other.
We also allow tourists & 457 visa holders to come over here and immediately drive on our roads.
Many have come from countries that rely heavily on public transport and have never driven a car over 40 km/h, then come here on a holiday or work and some die on our roads through lack of ability and understanding.
I know of fatalities where the driver responsible has jumped on the next plane out and left the country to avoid prosecution.
There is a plethora of issues here and it can only start by our regulators making some hard decisions and then educating everyone, which should include people being further trained and endorsed as competent to do things such as towing trailers.
In the construction industry you go and get trained to operate equipment with a high risk licence but every site you go to you must be reassessed as competent because the regulator states the employer has an obligation to satisfy themselves the individual is competent. Merely holding the endorsement does not make them competent. I have seen this many many times.
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Reply By: Shaker - Wednesday, Jan 04, 2017 at 08:31

Wednesday, Jan 04, 2017 at 08:31
It would be interesting to know what is considered a safe speed for towing a big caravan fitted with an archaic braking system. Certainly the majority of caravan brakes aren't up to the same standard as modern vehicles & the chances of avoiding a collision in an emergency stop at highway speeds would be pretty slim.

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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Wednesday, Jan 04, 2017 at 08:41

Wednesday, Jan 04, 2017 at 08:41
Braking is one thing, caravans fitted with ESC or similar may be more stable, but every caravan has its "wobble point" and this depends on a lot of factor, including weight distribution and ball weight ratio, distance of hitching point from rear axle of tow vehicle, caravan and tow vehicle combination, and even tyre pressures have been blamed for some instability.

While caravan electric brakes have their frailties, when in good working order they certainly can bring you to a stop fast.

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Reply By: Motherhen - Wednesday, Jan 18, 2017 at 23:35

Wednesday, Jan 18, 2017 at 23:35
We have a summary this very successful two day event:

Firstly, keep in mind this is just a snap shot in time. Any figures I give should not be taken as scientifically analysed in anyway. Just raw data collected from those that were weighed or spoken to over the two days.

Next, the actual going out and weighing of vans was carried out to try and alter the perception (well founded) that police do not target caravans for compliance. That perception was to be altered by allowing various members of social media forums, Facebook groups, written magazines, radio and so on to witness the activity first hand and report on it. The object being to spread the word as far as possible that the chances of being weighed have now increased. This was then going to drive conversations and discussion across social media to encourage more caravan users to think about their situation and start to make some changes. Hopefully, they themselves would then help and encourage new entrants into the market to consider weights and safety BEFORE buying their van, not after and realising they had stuffed up!

There is so much anecdotal evidence on the internet about all these big overweight vans tracking up and down the highways. I wanted to test that evidence and get some real facts. I also wanted to get an idea of how much your average caravanner knows and understands about ratings and weights

The operation was setup to coincide with a very busy period of traffic passing through the East Gippsland town of Newmerella near Orbost. Caravans were to be brought in at random to be inspected and weighed. Some did come down voluntarily after hearing about it on social media.

What happened?

Of the 80 plus caravans that passed through the site, 71 caravans were weighed. Only 1 motorhome surprisingly.

All were asked several questions

1. Do you actually know what your ratings are?
2. Have you ever weighed your rig?
3. Do you know what you weigh right now?
3. Can you provide an estimate of what you think you weigh right now?
4. Do you know where your compliance plate is?

Only 2 drivers knew all their ratings
Only 3 drivers had ever weighed their rigs
Only 3 drivers knew what they weighed at that moment.
ALL (except the 3 above) underestimated their weights as at that moment.
All knew where the compliance plate was. Two didn’t have one attached.

Caravans were then weighed by my friends from Vic Roads. This was done by way of portable scales, all fully tested and certified.

GTM was measured hitched up.

Caravan was unhitched.

Ball weight was measured and ATM calculated.

These were then compared to plated ratings for the caravan and tow bar.

41 caravans were overweight in 1 or more category.

Most were within 10% of plated ratings.

5 were 20% over their plated ratings.

ATM was the most common issue, followed by actual ball weight and then tow bar capacity.

Highest over rating on ATM was 2880 kg on a plated ATM of 2600 kg.

Most over rating on ball download was 400 kg on max of 280 kg

Most over on Tow bar loading was 400 kg on max of 300 kg

Most ATM offences were in the 1500 kg to 2500 kg size vans. Camper trailers were the worst offenders. Loaded with bikes, kayaks, generators, tool boxes etc. Most of these had maximum ATM around 1650 and were consistently 100 plus kg over. These were also being towed by the smallest cars, many of them sedans that did not have the capacity to tow those weights. These were generally families of 4 or 5 and the car was also loaded up to max.

We did not have the time to weigh tow vehicles. However, those that were obviously an issue were given further advice. Overloaded tow vehicles are not included in the 41 offenders. If they had been I estimate at least another 15 or more offences against GVM and GCM would have been recorded.

Several with tinnies on the roof were weighed and none were significantly over on van weight. GVM/GCM may have been an issue.

Most notable tow vehicle offence was an older model Colorado towing a 5th wheeler. The 5th wheeler went to 3.5 tonne. The rear axle on the Colorado went 2.1 tonne. We did not unhitch. The Colorado also had boxes of tools, fuel and a generator in the back. They were full timers on the road and we had quite along chat.

Where possible, I had a look inside those vans that were overweight. The common issue here was that if you had placed items on the floor, under beds, on chairs and so on, then the van was overweight. If everything fitted into a proper cupboard and was not loose somewhere in the van, they were generally less likely to be overweight. One customer who was 350 kg over weight plead innocence as to how he could possibly be overweight. Then I opened his door and the first item at the door was an old steel 4 burner BBQ. 4 bikes to add to the 2 on the back, tents, swags, inflatable boats and lots of bags of clothes. He estimated he had 350 kg in his van. He had close to 700 kg if Tare was right.

Almost all were very surprised at what they actually weighed. Some just did not believe the scales.

Some of those using WDH believed that they allowed them to load more than ATM into the van because it would be transferred to the car via the hitch.

One person calculated what his payload could be by loading his van to ATM, then adding on what he measured his ball weight as because that came off the ATM when hitched. So ATM 3500, load to 3850 because the 350 kg was going on the tow ball and viola, back down to rated ATM. That was another long chat.

Of most concern was that most drivers had little idea of what they actually weighed. The fact we only had 41 offenders I think was more by luck than any sort of planning by the driver.

A number of those passing through were given some help in re organising their payload distribution to bring them closer to ratings.

All drivers were given a handout produced by Colin Young from the Caravan Council of Australia. This explained each of the ratings and how to weigh the rig at a weighbridge. We tried to keep the information simple to avoid info overload. Just concentrating on the van helped and when I experimented with talking tug weights, eyes would glass over and I lost them, so that was avoided.

The conversations had with drivers, co-drivers and family were far more valuable than the weight data collected. It gave an insight into how the average man thinks and what he understands about weights and safety. All expressed a desire to be compliant.

Most knew where to find the information they needed, but unfortunately complacency was apparent. The social media campaign was paramount in making this operation successful. The responses to these posts was nothing short of amazing. 100,000's of hits on each article released. Of note was that many of those reading the articles on various sites went on to click other tags that led them to caravan specific safety articles. Police media released their article on the morning of the operation. In the next two days, it was viewed over 52,000 times and over 400 comments left, mostly positive. New pictures were uploaded to police media during the two days and these continued to boost hits.

I also did 3 ABC Radio spots, 2 recorded and 1 live from the site. Local media also attended. I have either written or been interviewed by several other big caravan publications, and had calls from TV shows and other interested stakeholders from around the country. So more publicity is still to come. In essence, we have reached many 100,000's of people genuinely interested in being safe. And all we did was talk to around 80 people towing a van and post some pics of it happening.

Checks in addition to caravans

Two tickets were given for inadequate mirrors, one towing a caravan. There were tickets for unregistered, unlicensed and unroadworthy issues too. One failed drug test but no drink drivers from over 1700 tests.

The Sheriff had a massive couple of days executing over 600 warrants and collecting or arranging payments in excess of $200,000. None from caravanners.

Where to from here?

It is apparent that there is a knowledge gap amongst caravan users. This will be addressed with more of the same. More weighing, more social media. Caravanners seem to have a thirst for information and appear very receptive of advice.

We are exploring how we can get this information into the hands of new buyers in particular.

Continued focus on education for a further period of time. This will eventually have to go into enforcement but there are a whole load of issues that would need to be ironed out before that happens.

Vic Roads have signposted a change in direction and are now happy to collaborate in helping to educate caravan users. This is a change and a fair commitment from Vic Roads as obviously a large proportion of their time is taken with the heavy vehicle industry.

Looking at how to get some sort of (compulsory) towing course built into the sale of new caravans. I know some have already tried but the cost seems to be an issue, so that needs to be explored.

That course could lead to maybe a licence endorsement of some sort. However, this is a huge can of worms and has no end of pitfalls and considerations to overcome, but maybe it is time to have a proper look.

Work with manufacturers in relation to Tare weights being correctly plated. This did come up in conversations. Some had looked at the plate, estimated what the payload sort of was and believed they may be close to allowable ATM. I had to agree with some of them that it was fairly obvious the Tare was wrong from day one out of the dealers.

Together with Vic Roads, I am heading to Mallacoota in March for a few days and will be weighing all the ACC members attending the East Gippsland Muster.

My thanks to those who assisted with this publicity.

Sgt Graeme Shenton

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Follow Up By: hooks - Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 at 11:45

Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 at 11:45
Excellent report, Motherhen. :)
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Follow Up By: Member - TonyV - Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 at 14:17

Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 at 14:17
Good report, I will be covering the Townsville, Mackay and if it comes off the Cairns events.

Cairns FNQ.

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Follow Up By: Michael 1954 - Saturday, Jan 21, 2017 at 18:50

Saturday, Jan 21, 2017 at 18:50
Interesting reading Mother Hen.

Do you know if any thing like this is carried out in NSW?

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Follow Up By: Motherhen - Saturday, Jan 21, 2017 at 19:11

Saturday, Jan 21, 2017 at 19:11
None that I have heard of Michael.

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Follow Up By: Member - TonyV - Saturday, Jan 21, 2017 at 19:36

Saturday, Jan 21, 2017 at 19:36
Queensland dates

Cairns FNQ.

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Reply By: Baz - The Landy - Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 at 10:31

Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 at 10:31
I use a spreadsheet to track vehicle and camper-trailer weights. Following is the summary page of this. There are some input data required to get to a summary of weights...


No easily updated at any time.


Perhaps some may think that, but I know to a high level of confidence vehicle weight at any time. And as this current exercise in Victoria indicates, authorities are checking and many people have no idea how much they weigh...

Bearing in mind, I only need to do it once before leaving on a trip...

For most the only weight variable when travelling is fuel, as the vehicle burns fuel the weight will change. I cover that by simply populating current ODO reading into the spreadsheet and it recalculates vehicle weight to a "reasonable" level of confidence based on an average fuel burn.

The detail shown is a summary page only, I have a separate sheet for recording the weight of items. Anyone with excel skills can do this, but happy to assist if anyone has an interest.

Cheers, Baz - The Landy

AnswerID: 607738

Follow Up By: Member - Andrew & Jen - Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 at 16:47

Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 at 16:47
Thanks Landy
I suspect that for some of us who are self sufficient and carry a significant amount of water when we go bush (if necessary, our van can carry 420 litres), water may also be a major variable. In addition, the order in which the tanks are emptied will affect ball weight.
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Follow Up By: Baz - The Landy - Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 at 17:09

Thursday, Jan 19, 2017 at 17:09
Hi Andrew


And noting, my calculations are not specific to individual axle weights on the vehicle, that would require something akin to the loading chart for an aircraft to take account of where the load is...

But in the least, it keeps me on top of the actual weights...

Cheers, Baz
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Follow Up By: Member - Andrew & Jen - Saturday, Jan 21, 2017 at 20:38

Saturday, Jan 21, 2017 at 20:38
Hullo Baz
We have a load sharing Simplicity suspension so that is not an issue for us as it has a single point connection to the chassis.
Granted it would be for a non load sharing set up but I doubt if Weights and Measures would be finessing to that degree.
Motherhen might have a comment on this
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