Are you towing illegally?
Towing laws differ across states, and there can be big fines if you break them
You might think that towing a caravan is a quiet pastime that’s not going to attract the attention of the law, yet there are plenty of rules and regulations that relate to towing that could bring you undone, some of them attracting hefty fines and demerit points.
Be aware – Each state is different
While much effort has been made to standardise road rules, there remain some that are unique – including those involving towing.
Check your tow mirrors
Towing mirrors are a pain to fit and hard to set up so they don’t knock out of adjustment or simply fall off while you’re driving. However, you do need towing mirrors to see behind your van – if you don’t, you’re up for a fine.
A simple test would be to attach your trailer to your tow vehicle and stand directly behind each of the rearmost corners of the trailer at
a distance of about 20m from your side rear-view mirrors. If you can see each mirror in its entirety, then you are likely to be compliant. If the mirrors are partially obscured or completely hidden behind the trailer, then you must install extension mirrors.
Towbar obstructing rego plate
Australian Design Rules state that your towbar must not obscure the number plate when the van’s not attached. If your towbar falls into this category, in NSW you’ll be hit up with a $439 fine and three demerit points under the “Use vehicle without correctly fixed/displayed number plate” rule.
Number plate height
There’s another number plate requirement that’s more likely to bring you the attention of the law if you (or your caravan manufacturer) has got it wrong. According to Section 18.104.22.168 of ADR 61/02 Vehicle Markings, a number plate fitted to the rear of the vehicle must not be more than 1300 mm from the ground. If you’ve bought an off-road van or have had your van’s axles flipped over for better clearance, you might want to check the number plate height.
Turning the corner
If your vehicle and van measure more than 7.5 metres long, you can fit a “Do Not Overtake Turning Vehicle” sign to the back that permits a legal turn from an adjacent lane when turning off a multi-lane road. But if you don’t have the sign (or it’s not correctly fitted) then you could be in trouble.
In NSW, breaking Rule 28 (1), which is “Not turn left from multi-lane road from within left lane” will set you back $257 and two demerit points.
Maximum towing speeds
The states and territories are so close to reaching harmony with trailer towing speed limits, but are not quite there yet.
In NSW, if your vehicle and caravan weigh up to 4.5 tonnes combined, you can drive at the prevailing speed limit (that is, up to 110km/h), but if the rig weighs more than 4.5 tonnes in total, the speed limit is capped at 100km/h.
In NSW, you’ll be hit with a $116 fine and one demerit point if you’re driving no more than 10km/h over, or $269 and three points if you stray between 11km/h and 20km/h over the (100km/h) 4.5 tonne-plus rig towing speed limit.
Perhaps your van got a bit of a sway up while driving down the freeway? Hopefully it did not result in a crash, but either way, in NSW there’s a rule that
can be applied called “Tow trailer or vehicle not have safe control of vehicle etc”.
The hefty fine is $439.
One of the main things that you need to get right is to not exceed your van’s maximum allowed trailer weight (Aggregate Trailer Mass), which you’ll find on the van’s compliance plate. The only way you’ll know for sure you haven’t exceeded this is to get your caravan weighed when it’s all loaded up ready to go on a trip.
If you just guess the weight and get it wrong, you may cop a fine and loss of points. For example, in NSW the fine is $439 and a loss of three points for exceeding the plated ATM.
While you’re unlikely to suddenly find the police doing random caravan weight testing as often they do random breath testing, overweight caravans are increasingly on the police radar, and we have heard rumours of a blitz in the second half of 2020 in NSW!