This holiday - stay safe when towing!

With the summer holiday season well and truly here, caravans and other forms of trailer will be on the roads in increasing numbers for the next couple of months, many of them towed by drivers who are new or inexperienced in towing. The Qld Department of Transport & Main Roads offers this useful guidance on what drivers should be aware of to help make their journeys as safe and free of stress as possible.

Towing a trailer requires additional driving skills and safety precautions. The trailer may be a caravan or camper trailer, boat trailer, horse float or special-purpose trailer.

The driver of the vehicle is legally responsible for being safe when towing a trailer, and ensuring the towing vehicle, trailer and couplings meet the minimum standards.

They will also find the drive more enjoyable if the combination is well designed and set up.

Using a suitable vehicle

Safe towing starts with ensuring the tow vehicle is suitable to tow the trailer. You can select the right trailer or caravan to match your tow vehicle, or buy a tow vehicle to suit your trailer type and towing needs.

While modern vehicles are lighter and provide better service for normal motoring, some don’t have the necessary characteristics for towing.

The owner manual usually indicates the maximum weight and other trailer features that are appropriate for the vehicle. You should not exceed these limits.

Towing will affect your vehicle in several ways, including:

  • decreased acceleration and braking performance

  • reduced vehicle control and manoeuvrability

  • increased fuel consumption.

Therefore, when assessing the load, consider the weight of the tow vehicle and trailer, including:

  • the number of passengers you intend to carry

  • the equipment in the tow vehicle, such as tools and camping gear

  • modifications to the tow vehicle, such as bull bars, long-range fuel tanks, supplementary batteries and roof racks

  • the load on the trailer or caravan:

  • on a caravan – may include water tanks, gas bottles, food and drink, clothing, toys

  • on a boat trailer – may include fishing gear, safety equipment, motor and fuel

  • on a horse float – may include the weight of the horses, tackle and food.

If the vehicle was manufactured before 1 January 1992 and the manufacturer hasn’t specified a maximum towing capacity, use these towing capacities as a guide:

  • 1.5 times the unloaded mass of the vehicle - if the trailer is fitted with appropriate brakes

  • a maximum of 750kg - if the trailer isn’t fitted with brakes.

If you’re unsure about the mass of the trailer and load, have it weighed at a public weighbridge.

If necessary, the manufacturer, the dealer or a specialist in towing equipment may fit special suspension or transmission options, or load-distributing devices, to the tow vehicle.

Legal requirements

  • The vehicle and trailer must be roadworthy and registered.

  • The trailer must have a rear number plate

  • Towbars and couplings must not cover the towing vehicle’s number plate or rear lights when the trailer is not connected.

  • You may tow only 1 trailer (caravan, box or boat) at a time.

  • People must not ride in trailers/caravans.

While driving

When towing a trailer (including caravans), remember to:

  • allow for the extra length and width of the trailer when entering traffic

  • allow for its tendency to ‘cut in’ on corners and curves

  • accelerate, brake and steer smoothly and gently to avoid swaying

  • allow for the effects of cross-winds, passing traffic and uneven road surfaces

  • leave a longer stopping distance between you and the vehicle ahead; increase the gap for longer, heavier trailers and allow even more distance in poor driving conditions

  • use a lower gear in both manual and automatic vehicles when travelling downhill to make your car easier to control and reduce the strain on your brakes

  • allow more time and distance to overtake and avoid ‘cutting off’ the vehicle you are overtaking when returning to the left lane

  • get someone to watch the rear of the trailer when you reverse—reversing is difficult and takes practice

  • not hold up traffic—pull off the road where it is safe to do so, and where it won’t create a build-up of traffic unable to overtake

  • be aware that your vehicle and trailer will have a tendency to sway when a heavy vehicle overtakes you.

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