Roadside Services Speed Towing

RV Road Rules Summarised

17th December, 2020 by rvSafe Team
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The rules of the road exist to keep you and everyone else on the road safe. However, Australia’s road rules as they apply to RVs vary across the country.

Generally, you have to obey the RV road rules that apply in both the state or territory where you’re driving, and the one in  which your RV is registered, so it’s important you familiarise yourself with both. Here we’ll provide a summary of the road rules that relate to RVs. Keep in mind this is only a summary. You should check the specifics for each state and territory you plan to travel in, to ensure your setup complies.

General RV Rules

In most of Australia, learner drivers cannot tow a trailer, while probationary drivers may only tow a small trailer up to 250kg unladen.

When towing a trailer, no drivers are allowed to have any passengers in it. You also can’t tow more than one trailer at once — that may seem obvious, but you never know what people will come up with!

Speed Limits While Towing

In some states, speed limits are modified for drivers pulling a trailer. These altered limits apply no matter where your trailer is registered, so be sure to pay attention! And, of course, you must always stick to posted speed limits where they are lower than these numbers.

In WA the max speed when towing is 100kmph.

In NSW, if your combined trailer and tow vehicle weigh 4500kg or less you can drive the posted speed limit, but any more and you’re restricted to 100kmph.

Anywhere else in Australia, you can tow a trailer up to the posted speed limit.

Driving too slowly

You’ve likely heard the complaints. Many drivers claim that RV owners drive too slowly, holding up traffic. Some even claim that slow driving is illegal.

You should know that slow driving is not illegal, but unreasonably obstructing drivers or pedestrians can result in a fine. Each state and territory has it’s own laws on this. Generally, you should avoid driving abnormally slowly for the speed limit and driving conditions, but always stay at a safe speed.

Roadworthiness and Registration

All RVs must be registered before you hit the road. Campervans and motorhomes must display a number plate front and back, just like a car, and camper trailers and caravans must display a number plate at the rear, like other trailers.

Every state and territory has its own rules about roadworthiness, but they all boil down to the same general principal. Vehicles and trailers must comply with Australian Standards and Australian Design Rules, be safe and roadworthy.

If you’re driving a motorhome or campervan, then you’ll have established that your RV is roadworthy before you were able to register it. If you’re towing a caravan or camper trailer, however, you’ll find that rules are less stringent. The registration process will involve a basic inspection, but there isn’t usually the same requirement to get a roadworthy certificate from a qualified mechanic. This could lead to you being caught out on a second-hand trailer, so it’s important to ensure that it’s safe and complies with road rules.

Maximum Towing Weights

Trailer weight is the area where caravan and camper trailer owners are most likely to find themselves in legal trouble. The law in every state and territory in Australia is clear that you must not exceed your tow vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Mass, Gross Combined Mass, Maximum Towing Capacity, Maximum Tow Bar Mass and Maximum Tow Ball Mass. Similarly, your trailer cannot exceed its Aggregate Trailer Mass, Gross Trailer Mass or Maximum Coupling Load.

To read about what each of these terms means and how to check if your towing setup complies, check out our weight glossary.

Electrics

Trailers and tow vehicles must have electrical sockets for lighting and brakes manufactured in accordance with Australian Design Rules.

Types, colours, positions and visibility of lights are stipulated in detail for each state and territory. These must include indicators, brake lights, hazard lights, night lights, number plate light and reflectors. Reversing lights are a good idea, but they aren’t compulsory.

Trailers must have side reflectors in SA if they’re more than 2.2 metres wide and in the NT trailers over 1800 wide or 1600 mm wide and over 4000 mm long need side marker lamps.

Mirrors

Every territory and state has legislation about mirrors, all with roughly the same purpose. You must have clear visibility of the road beside and behind your vehicle, and when towing, beside and behind your trailer as well.

To achieve this, extra side mirrors are often required when towing. It’s important to note that rear view cameras, while often helpful, are no legal substitute for adequate mirrors.

Towing mirrors shouldn’t be more than 150mm wider than the overall width of the vehicle or the trailer you’re towing, whichever is more. Mirrors may be 230mm wider than the overall width, if they’re capable of collapsing 150mm.

It’s a good idea to remove extended towing mirrors when not towing, something that is specifically mentioned in WA’s legislation.

 

Trailer Safety Chains

In the unfortunate event that your trailer becomes disconnected from your tow vehicle, safety chains are a backup connection.

Light trailer safety chains must conform to Australian Standards (VSB 1) and be sized such that their minimum breaking load exceeds the ATM of the trailer. Chain dimensions (taken from VSB 1) are stipulated in some states and territories.

Trailers up to 2500 kg ATM need at least one safety chain, while heavier trailers need two. When using two chains, they must be crossed. These chains need to be permanently attached to the trailer, and shackled to the tow vehicle with shackles rated for the load.

Safety chains must be of the correct length to stop the draw-bar hitting the ground if the trailer detaches, and can’t touch the ground during normal towing.

Long Vehicles

Many narrow side streets have restrictions against vehicles beyond a certain length, so it’s important to know the length of your RV. Typically these restrictions will be for vehicles over 7.5 metres.

The legal definition of a long vehicle is anything over 7.5 metres. That will apply to lengthier motorhomes, but it can also include the combined total length of your trailer and tow vehicle, so RV drivers of all stripes will often have to obey the rules for long vehicles.

There are three main rules that you’ll need to keep in mind when driving a long vehicle.

First, minimum Distance. If you are a long vehicle travelling behind another long vehicle on a single lane highway that is not in a built-up area, you must travel at least 60 metres behind that vehicle unless overtaking. This varies in some states. In TAS the minimum distance is 200 metres in a ‘road train area’, and 60 metres otherwise. In NSW, the minimum distance rule applies to roads without streetlights rather than non-built up areas. In the NT and WA, the minimum distance is 200 metres.

Secondly, stopping. Long vehicles can’t stop on road shoulders in built up areas for more than an hour unless picking up goods for the entire time you’re stopped, or if signs say otherwise. Outside built up areas you can stop on the road shoulder as normal.

Finally, turning. If you are driving a long vehicle, you’re allowed to straddle two lanes to turn left or right. If you have the appropriate “do not overtake turning vehicle” sign or sticker at the rear of your trailer, vehicles behind may not overtake you while turning.

Trailer Dimensions

Maximum trailer dimensions are defined in ‘Vehicle Standard Bulletin 1’. These are:

  • Maximum trailer width: 2.5 metres
  • Maximum trailer height: 4.3 metres
  • Maximum combination length: 19 metres

Vehicle Standards Bulletin 1 (VSB 1) contains additional information on maximum trailer overhang and projecting items. Google and download VSB 1 for further details.

Trailer Brakes

Rules surrounding trailer brakes are largely standardised across Australia. What’s required depends on the weight of your trailer.

Trailers up to 750 kg GTM (and only one axle in WA and NT) don’t require brakes.

Trailers between 751–2000 kg GTM require braking on both wheels on at least one axle.

Trailers from 2001–4500 kg GTM require braking on all wheels plus an automatic breakaway system. In Victoria and the ACT only breakaway brakes are referred to in this weight category, not brakes on all wheels.

It’s also important to note that NSW uses the same categories but uses the term ‘laden weight’ rather than GTM.

Break away brakes and battery monitors

It’s necessary everywhere in Australia to have an electronic breakaway system with a back-up battery fitted to any trailer over 2500kg.

 

Staying safe and legal

Driving a large vehicle such as a motorhome, or towing a camper trailer or caravan, each add complications and challenges. Even the most experienced drivers can run into trouble in new ways, potentially putting themselves or others at risk. This is why there are so many added road rules when you step up from a car to an RV.

Familiarise yourself with the added rules that you need to obey in each state and territory that you visit and not only will you avoid fines, you’ll also be that much safer on the road.

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