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Allan Whiting's thoughts on 4WD issues and other topics of interest....

Australia’s ridiculous licensing and towing laws


Allan Whiting - Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Australia’s ridiculous licensing and towing laws

 

When well-meaning authorities and pressure groups call for reduction of the road toll it’s surprised me that no-one mentions the criminally negligent situation that different lawmakers tolerate across this so-called Commonwealth.

I’m talking, of course, about the ludicrous licensing laws that allow a person with a car licence to buy a light truck with a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 4495kg and couple to it a braked trailer weighing 7000kg.

Yet that very same person cannot drive a light truck with GVM greater than 4495kg, unless he or she has a light-rigid-truck licence.

Can someone please explain how that anomaly can be logical, legal and safe?

That would be a bad enough scenario, but it gets worse.

Consider the caravan buyer, who couples a wagon to a two-axle caravan. Without the legal requirement to do any training a novice can drive a combination that weighs around seven tonnes.

It’s by far the least stable vehicle combination that can be devised, with an unregulated amount of weight on a tow ball that’s behind the tow vehicle’s rear axle.

On top of that is nationwide acceptance of an electric trailer braking system whose braking force can be adjusted at will by the tow vehicle driver.

A trained and licence-qualified truck driver is not allowed to adjust the amount of ADR-regulated braking pressure on semi-trailer or dog-trailer brakes - and would face jail time for doing so - but a non-trained, non-licensed car driver is allowed to adjust the braking pressure on a caravan!

As impossible as it sounds, the current legal situation is even worse than that.

Australia-wide light trailer laws that also cover caravans, insist that any trailer weighing more than two tonnes must have a ‘breakaway’ braking system that applies the brakes in the event of coupling failure. However, that same law requires restraining chains that prevent breakaway in the event of coupling failure.

Can someone please explain to me how a breakaway braking system can operate if the trailer is chained to the tow vehicle, preventing breakaway?

Of course, it can’t happen, as the world’s trucking laws have recognised. All global heavy vehicles have breakaway systems that apply and maintain the trailer brakes in the event of coupling failure and, naturally, they don’t have restraining chains!

It’s a simple engineering matter of choice: you can have restraining chains on small trailers, under 750kg gross trailer mass (GTM) - that don’t have brakes and no chains on trailers that do have a breakaway system. That’s how Europe operates.

Also, in Europe, trailers cannot have brakes with pressure adjustment that the tow vehicle driver can vary. All European caravans have override mechanical or hydraulic braking, where the trailer is braked in proportion with the towing vehicle brake force.

The European system has no chains, but a calibrated wire tether between tow bar and trailer handbrake. In the event of a breakaway the wire pulls on the brakes before breaking off.

A European tow vehicle driver who experiences coupling failure is left with a tow vehicle that can be easily controlled and a separated trailer with its brakes locked on.

An Australian tow vehicle driver who experiences coupling failure is left with a tow vehicle and trailer loosely connected by a pair of chains. The combination behaves totally unpredictably and almost always finishes up rolled over. I’ve been to several such accident sites and they’re not pretty.

Stir into this mix a largely unregulated caravan and trailer manufacturing industry, where the ancient 10-percent ball weight habit encourages excessively heavy ball weights and you have a proved recipe for disaster.

How is that thousands of European caravans and trailers operate safely with a legal maximum ball weight of 100kg?

In another ridiculous carry-over set of laws some Australian states allow a motorhome to tow vehicle on an A-frame without the need for tow-vehicle actuated brakes on the towed vehicle, provided the motorhome has an unladen mass that’s 3.5 times the GVM of the towed vehicle.

The ‘wild west’ approach to towing weights and licensing should come to an end, don’t you think?


 

Comments

Paul Salmon commented on 05-Jun-2019 05:00 PM
Well said Allan.
The other issue is caravan manufacturers advertising ball weights for unladen vans. Most of the storage space in caravans is forward of the axle and some vans have a load capacity of 1 tonne. What percentage of that load is on the tow ball?
Regards
Paul Salmon

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