Mike Clayton from Clayton’s Towing says there’s an increasing number of crashes involving caravans. (Supplied: Clayton’s Towing)
As caravan ownership steadily grows, south-east Queensland’s largest towing company says there needs to be compulsory education for drivers, even if it is online.
Mike Clayton from Clayton’s Towing on the Sunshine Coast said there had been an increasing number of crashes involving caravans over the last couple of years.
While opposed to the concept of a caravan-specific licence, he said drivers required more education before hitting the road with van in tow.
He said up to 80 per cent of crashes could be avoided if drivers were more educated and suggested online education, similar to a workplace health and safety certificate or a traffic controller’s blue card.
Mr Clayton said attaining that education and understanding differed from the physical ability to operate a motor vehicle.
“We have people who’ve driven a semi-trailer their whole life and been in caravan accidents,” he said.
“We don’t think [there’s a need] so much for licensing but there should be a course understanding weights as it’s quite technical getting your weights right.
“A lot of caravans we tow are brand new ones because people have hooked them up at the caravan place and head off on their first trip, think they’ve got everything perfect with all the latest safety equipment — anti-sway controls and that type of thing — and next thing they’re upside down in the middle of the highway.”
Mr Clayton said the increase in crashes was concerning because the cheaper way to travel was no longer a hobby restricted to the grey nomad demographic.
Data from Queensland’s peak motoring body, the RACQ, showed the number of its caravan insurance policies has grown from 35,208 in 2014-15 to 38,654 in 2016-17.
“There’s a lot more caravans on the market, people liking the idea of a cheaper holiday. Hook up the caravan and head off,” Mr Clayton said.
“A lot of people are in their 20s and 30s towing and I don’t call them grey nomads.”
Wait! It’s all about the weight
Mike Clayton is calling for more driver education as caravans become an increasingly popular way to travel. (Supplied: Clayton’s Towing)
Mr Clayton said the biggest safety concern was motorists’ lack of understanding about the uneven distribution of weight in the vehicles.
“It’s not weight from being overloaded, it’s weight over the front of the caravan, the drawbar weight onto the back of their car,” he said.
“It’s quite technical … it’s not as straight forward as it sounds [where you’d just] hook a caravan on and go.”
Mr Clayton said newer caravans were lighter in weight and when travelled empty were more dangerous.
“It actually needs weight at the front loaded up to be safer and a lot of these caravans have got limited table weight — which is why they get this fishtail happening and then it’s all over.”
To licence or not licence?
In Queensland, drivers with a valid motor vehicle can tow a registered caravan.
Caravan owner and ABC Sunshine Coast talkback caller ‘Sarah’ said a voluntary driver training program saved her life.
The Sunshine Coast woman said a general motor vehicle licence does not go far enough to educate drivers about the implications of towing a caravan.
“In one instance I came down a straight and I had loose gravel on the highway and there was loose gravel and posts on my side. I saw a bend coming up and a truck coming in the opposite direction,” she recalled.
“What I didn’t see was that he was overtaking and when he came around the corner he was actually on my side of the road.
“Luckily I’d done a course and so I felt much more confident.
“I couldn’t go off the side of the road. If I had of I would’ve lost the caravan, and everything.”
On social media, contributors were overwhelmingly in favour of additional education for drivers.
“Definitely! Most people today have no idea how to handle a car when something goes wrong, let alone a car and caravan!” said Richard Bailey.
While Jo Campey added: “Yes. A mandatory safety course of some type seems a good idea. Caravans (and trailers, boats, etc) are available to anyone with a licence but add extra risk to all road users.”
Spreading the word
Caravanning Queensland and the Queensland Government have this year conducted free safety checks at 16 locations in an effort to educate motorists.
The general manager of the Caravan Trade and Industries Group, Jason Plant, said education was key, but the group was not in favour of mandatory licensing or regulations.
“Being alarmist and proposing implementation of unnecessary increased regulation, we don’t think that’s the way to go,” he said.
“We think educating the public through these safety check programs and participating in towing courses is the better way to go than to introduce another level of regulation and red tape.”
Mr Plant added that crashes involving caravans was still “extremely low” at 0.01 per cent of all road crashes in Queensland.