Ready to join the caravan boom?

Many of our happiest memories are when we have the time to get out and enjoy the country-side with friends and family. A caravan trip offers great flexibility, plenty of fun and also a budget-friendly break of any length.

Australia is in the midst of a caravanning boom and has more than half a million recreational vehicles now on our roads. According to the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, caravans are the fastest selling motor vehicle in the country, with registrations having increased by 5 per cent year on year over the past decade. The largest ownership of caravans is in Victoria, followed by Queensland and New South Wales.

Retired caravan manufacturer and active caravaner, Neil Chesney, 78, from Brisbane, believes this is good news for those of us who love exploring the country by road. “I see a great future for the caravanning industry and grey nomads in Australia,” said Chesney, who has clocked up hundreds of thousands of kilometres since starting in his father’s caravan business at age 12. “There are many more caravans on the road today, and with an ageing population it is a great experience for older people to do a lap around Australia,” he added.  

Caravanning Queensland CEO, Ron Chapman, agrees. “Anecdotally we know that the 50 plus age group are the largest demographic of purchasers of caravans and motorhomes,” said Chapman. In fact, the latest available industry data suggest one-in-four Australians using caravans are 55 to 70 years old.

Safety Check!
Driving any vehicle can be a risky task. However, unlike regular car travel, caravanning comes with additional risks. According to Chapman, overloading is one of the main errors among caravaners.

“We recently conducted some free safety checks and this [overloading] was the biggest issue found,” he said. “A major problem in the weight category is after-fitment by consumers of things like large tool boxes, generators, bikes/bike racks, jerry cans and other containers.”

For Chesney, one of the biggest mistakes among drivers is not checking the connection of the caravan with the car. “If you forget to hook up the electric brakes, or forget to connect the indicator lights, you’re going to turn right and there’s no indicator on,” he said. We can all easily miss small details when we are excited about an upcoming trip. However, it is important to focus on one task at a time during that hook up process and seek advice from professionals if you are new to the game.

As for external factors, such as wet or windy weather and road rage also contribute to dangerous driving conditions so keep an eye out and err on the side of caution.

Accident trends
We don’t need statistics to tell us that caravanning accidents can and do happen on our roads. There are no specific numbers to outline incidents involving caravans, however, in 2012-13, there were more than 6,000 traffic accident related hospitalisations among the 65 and over age group.

And according to the latest government report on national road deaths, this age group now accounts for 23.1 per cent of all road fatalities, compared to 13.4 per cent 25 years ago. We know this doesn’t necessarily mean that older drivers are responsible for these accidents. Rather those of us in this age group may potentially have contributing risk factors associated with ageing such as slower reaction times, difficulties with vision and hearing, loss of muscle strength and flexibility and the use of prescription medications, which may lead to drowsiness.  

Plan Ahead
Careful planning and attention to detail are crucial when it comes to caravan safety. Some of Neil Chesney’s top tips include:  

  • Safety checks
  • When connecting your caravan to your tow vehicle, count and check off the number of connections and tasks as you go.
  • Don’t get distracted talking to other holidaymakers during your safety checks.
  • Get someone to check the lights on the back of the caravan before you move off.
  • Move off very slowly (10km/h) and manually apply the caravan brakes to make sure they’re working. Consult your manufacturer’s handbook to learn how to do this in your own vehicle. Make sure this is done before you move into traffic.

Be Aware:

  • Leave your excess load at home.
  • Drive at your own comfortable speed. If you are driving slower than traffic, pull over to allow other road users to overtake safely.
  • If you are a member of a 'caravanning convoy', don't travel too close together. In fact, the law requires caravans and other large vehicles, outside a built-up area, to leave at least 60 metres between each other.
  • Wind is always a problem when towing a caravan. The best thing to do is to reduce your speed by 10-15km in wet or windy conditions.

Stay Comfortable:

  • Drive a maximum of 5-6 hours per day, taking a 15 minute break every two hours.
  • During each break walk and exercise your legs to avoid deep vein thrombosis. Walk at least 100 metres for every hour you’ve been driving.
  • At lunchtime have a rest or if possible, even take a 15 minute power nap.
  • Eat a light lunch to avoid digestion problems on the road.
  • Try to be at your campsite or caravan park by 2pm. And try and make every third day a rest day.

The caravanning industry also provides safety education programs and resources, and these are available to all drivers. Visit the Caravanning Queensland website for general information, or contact the industry body in your state.

Are you ready to join the growing band of grey nomads? Find out here. 

Are you a grey nomad who loves to explore? Do you have any tips based on your caravan travels around Australia?