Some tips for sharing the roads with trailers and caravans

Be cautious around people towing, and never cut them off. Photo: Shutterstock
Be cautious around people towing, and never cut them off. Photo: Shutterstock

There's a fair bit more to towing than you may realise if you haven't previously done any towing yourself.

The biggest thing to be aware of is the stopping distance gets noticeably longer, even when the trailer or caravan has its own brakes, so if you want the major inconvenience and potential danger associated with being hit up the rear in traffic, just cut someone off who is towing something.

If you are towing I do recommend a dash cam to prove that you were leaving a safe gap (and making another gap each time someone cuts you off) because while most people are competent at sharing the roads, there are enough of them lacking this ability that ad campaigns have needed to be made to tell people not to go into the gaps which heavier vehicles leave for obvious safety reasons.

Also be aware that just because a vehicle looks like it will accelerate slowly, do not assume that it isn't now moving just as swiftly as anything else. That means not pulling out in front of anything without observing them long enough to judge if the gap ahead of them is actually enough for you to get up to speed before they arrive.

Something else to be aware of on open roads, especially when you're going over bridges or traversing other open spaces, is the tendency of anything with big flat sides - caravans, campervans, trucks large and small, and plenty more - to get blown off course in gusty conditions. Be very mindful of this when overtaking them, or when passing them in the opposite direction.

Another thing worth noting is the cargo on board - be it horses in a float, a car or boat strapped down, or just camping gear and kitchenware - will very likely incentivise the driver to be as smooth as they can with all their control inputs for acceleration, gear changing, braking and turning.

As for towing something yourself, there's plenty to think about even before you set off.

First up, make sure it's registered and roadworthy, especially if you've borrowed it.

Next, ensure it has adequate chains and shackles (in capacity and number for the state you're driving in; some states require two chains even for a box trailer) in case it comes unhitched, and if it has a braking system ensure it's compatible with your tow rig (ie. you have a controller if there are electric brakes, and an attachment point for a breakaway system's cable if present). Also remember to adjust the brakes correctly (electrics are adjustable on-board and need to be turned down for light loads, but overrider brakes with a cable system often need adjusting after the load is added to prevent them activating too eagerly or too late).

Speaking of the load, you must not go beyond the legal rated capacity for the towed vehicle or for the hauling vehicle's tow pack.

The load must also be appropriately covered or secured, and distributed evenly to be safe. If too much of the weight is forward, it will exceed the ball weight (the downward pressure on the tow ball) and also make the rear of the tow vehicle struggle to stay up (a sagging rear creates aerodynamic lift and interferes with the front geometry's angles, both of which reduce grip). If too much weight is towards the rear the vehicle can become very unstable and have a greater tendency to wiggle and sway when you get up to ordinary highway speeds.

You need to ensure your rearward visibility is as good as it can be too. If the stock mirrors aren't enough your options include add-on side mirrors or rear-facing cameras.

Then comes actually driving. The trailing vehicle will take a bit of a shortcut at every turn so that needs to be remembered, especially when turning sharper into side streets or driveways. It is probably also a bit wider than the tow rig (up to 2.4 metres wide is still legal). And that's just going forwards.

To reverse, you need to turn the trailer first by steering the tow rig the opposite way to what you need to go and then when the angle is where you want it, follow the trailer by turning the tow rig back to the way you would have if it didn't have something hitched up.

Happily for novices there are driving courses to teach the basics of towing, usually in a day. It will get you more confident and competent with knowledge and practice, and also give you the chance to ask questions.

This story Some tips for sharing the roads with trailers and caravans first appeared on The Canberra Times.