7 towing laws you need to know

Words & images Marty Ledwich

So….you’ve decided to do that big lap around the country and you’ve bought yourself a nice new caravan and a 4WD to tow it. You’re all loaded up with everything you and your family will need for the adventure of a lifetime. You’ve also been driving for most of your adult life and you’re confident you’re ready to set off, safe in the belief that you are compliant with all necessary laws and regulations.  But are you?

Here are seven laws that affect your driving when towing a trailer that you may have thought you knew but weren’t clear about or you may not have heard about them at all:

1.  Driving too slowly

Many road users complain about caravanners driving too slowly and causing unnecessary traffic holdups. Some suggest that their slower driving is actually illegal. It is not illegal to drive too slowly, however, you can be booked for unreasonably obstructing drivers or pedestrians. All states will have their own road rule on this, however they will be largely consistent.

In Victoria the rule states:
1 A driver must not unreasonably obstruct the path of another driver or a pedestrian.
2 For this rule, a driver does not unreasonably obstruct the path of another driver or a pedestrian only because –
(a) the driver is stopped in traffic; or
(b) the driver is driving more slowly than other vehicles (unless the driver is driving abnormally slowly in the circumstances).

Example of a driver driving abnormally slowly:
A driver driving at a speed of 20 kilometres per hour on a length of road to which a speed-limit of 80 kilometres per hour applies when there is no reason for the driver to drive at that speed on the length of road.

In other words, you can drive at a speed that is safe and reasonable under the circumstances but doodling along at 20km/h on the freeway just to conserve fuel may land you in hot water.

2. Break away brakes battery monitors

In all states of Australia, it is a requirement to have an electronic breakaway system with a back-up battery fitted to any trailer over 2500kg. What is not as well known is that for trailers registered in NSW, you must be able to monitor the battery from within the tow vehicle. The monitor must also have a visual and audible alert should the voltage of the battery in the system fall below operable levels.

3. Prescribed height of a number plate

The Australian Design Rules (ADRs) 61/02 Vehicle Markings, Section 9.1.1.1. states:
…provision must be made for mounting a registration plate to be affixed to the rear of the vehicle so that no part of such plate is more than 1300 mm from the ground.

The registration plates on many larger off-road caravans and campers could potentially exceed this height restriction. It’s worth getting the tape measure out and ensuring yours is compliant.

4. Articulated licence for a 5th Wheeler

If you are a resident of the ACT and you hold a normal class C driver’s licence issued in the ACT, you are not permitted to tow a fifth wheeler.  I was a bit surprised by this myself and I even went to the lengths of writing to the ACT Government to confirm the rule.

Apparently, the ACT Road Transport team has a slightly different interpretation of Schedule 2 Part 3 Section 13(7) of the National Transport Commission (Road Transport Legislation – Driver Licensing) Regulations 2006. They consider a fifth wheeler to be a semi-trailer.

5. Speed limits while towing

Some states have differing speed limits for drivers towing a trailer regardless of where the driver originates. In NSW, if your rig’s combined weight exceeds 4500kg, the maximum speed you can do is 100km/h. In Tasmania, regardless of the weight of the trailer, you cannot exceed 90km/h.  WA has a similar limit to NSW but does not specify a minimum weight.  All other states allow driving with a trailer up to the posted speed limit.

6. Fitting towing mirrors

This one catches a lot of drivers out. A section of the ADRs, Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 14/02 – Rear Vision Mirrors) 2006 specify that rear view mirrors provide a minimum field of vision as indicated by the diagram above.

Putting a full-size caravan on the back of your car will likely hinder vision of this area. So in order to remain compliant with the ADRs, you must fit extension mirrors. In Victoria, the offence for not doing so is fail to have a clear view of the road and traffic, ahead, behind and to each side of the driver and it will set you back $233.

7. Do Not Overtake Turning Vehicle signs

While it is not a legal requirement to do so, if your vehicle (meaning the towing vehicle together with the trailer and projecting load) is 7.5 metres long or longer, you may fit a “DO NOT OVERTAKE TURNING VEHICLE” sign at the rear of the trailer.  Under the Australian Road Rules – Reg 143 When passing or overtaking a vehicle displaying a do not overtake turning vehicle sign, a driver must not drive past, or overtake, to the left or right of a vehicle displaying a do not overtake turning vehicle sign if the vehicle is turning left and is giving a left change of direction signal, unless it is safe to do so.

 

This article was originally posted by RV Daily.

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Comments 16

  1. Hi Guys, Just received your Newsletter and think that point 5 of your summary on the towing rules needs amending in relation to Tasmania.

    A vehicle towing a trailer (including caravan) may travel at the posted or default speed limit.

    This has been the case since the early 1990s.

    Regards,

    Steve

  2. curiosity about act law, say you need articulated license so this would only work in the act, and i say this because if each state has its own laws
    unless you are breaking the law in that state you cant be booked for breaking the law some where else, in our legal system you are only
    guilty of breaking the law if you new if was an offense in the first place.

    1. It’s also illegal in Old, I’ve heard the plod check the class of a drivers licence over my scanner before pulling him over.

    2. Do you have a later reference than this? http://www.legislation.act.gov.au/es/db_50929/20141127-59701/pdf/db_50929.pdf

      That document states “This regulation amends the licence requirements in section 9 so that drivers wishing
      to tow a fifth wheel trailer may do so on a lower class driver licence – either a C class
      (car) licence, a Light Rigid (LR) class licence, a Medium Class (MR) class licence or
      a Heavy Rigid (HR) class licence. The regulation does not amend existing weight
      restrictions applying to the applicable class licence, and a driver seeking to tow a fifth
      wheel trailer must still comply with the existing weight restrictions applying to each
      vehicle class. This amendment standardises licence requirements for ACT licence
      holders with requirements applying in other jurisdictions. “

  3. Thanks, an interesting article. Under number 1, you mention someone doodling along at 20 on a freeway, but what about someone doing 70 or 80 on an open road with a 100 ,110 or open speed limit?
    I have experienced this numerous times heading to Darwin, it drives the trucks and other van drivers crackers.

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        Author
  4. In reference to rule 1 – IN NSW you will be fined for doing 21 or more kms per hour under the posted speed limit – I.E. Do less than then 90kms per hour on 110km/hr highway and you will be fined. Its so frustrating to be caught behind towing vehicles going 30-60kms/hr on highways because they are trying to save fuel or simply can drive a large towing vehicle

  5. I thought that it was any caravan/trailer that weighs more than 2000 KG must have a brake away .

    Not 2500KGS as stated in the artical.

  6. Guys I normally enjoy reading your tips but this one not so. Please please if you are going to post on here double check that all information is correct as some aren’t.

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      Author

      G’day Kevin,

      Sorry about that – care to help and point out the issues? This article was re-purposed and the main link is at the bottom of the article.

      Kalen

  7. Very inaccurate article in Australia all trailets over 2000kg must have break away brakes. Not 2500 kg as stated. Do research before posting. If you run your insurance as slack and unprofessional as this article was written with all its mistake.? What problems may we face when making a claim?

  8. Regarding all- round visibility when towing trailers, (caravans), how is the use of a constant rear view camera considered? Having tried various forms of extension mirrors over the years I now use a ‘constantly -on’ rear camera as well as the standard tow vehicle mirrors. It does give an imperfect impression of distance, like some internal mirrors, but this can be compensated by experience driving the vehicle.

  9. Hi peeps,
    I was a courier here in Victoria for 16 years, & have been a road user for quite a few years longer, & I was the first 1 to complain about slow drivers pulling a caravan.
    Now I own a caravan & have a different perspective, & understand.
    Often while pulling a caravan, it’s unsafe to drive at the limit. My van has an Al-Ko stability control system, which will apply the brakes when the van becomes unstable. Even setup correctly, bumps feel much worse, and I notice that the caravan’s stability control hits the brakes often when the road is bumpy.
    I now have an understanding why some who tow caravans, drive slower than the posted speed limits. I think patience & courtesy is required when driving on our roads, not just for caravaners, but all the time.

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