Driver's licence change considered for 'big problem' on Aussie roads

Caravan sales have boomed across Australia with road safety experts suggesting more training and testing should be required for drivers towing a van.

There are new calls to introduce tougher licensing rules for drivers towing a caravan on Australian roads as the tourism trend continues to boom across the country.

Caravan ownership surged following the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, and has remained steady since with the cost of living crisis forcing more people into temporary caravan accommodation, as well as older Australians adopting the 'grey nomad' lifestyle.

But now, a special licence is being proposed for drivers towing recreational vehicles in Queensland following a rise in road-related accidents — an idea welcomed by road safety experts across the country.

Black ute towing caravan on rural Australian road.
There's been a surge in caravan sales and drivers towing recreational vehicles on Aussie roads. Source: Getty

While data specific to caravan accidents is difficult to determine, according to Queensland government statistics, there were 50 fatalities and almost 1,000 hospitalisations from accidents involving cars towing trailers or vans between 2017-2021, The Courier Mail reported.

More training for caravan owners 'strongly supported'

Joel Tucker, road safety manager at Queensland’s peak motoring organisation RACQ, said he "strongly supports caravan owners doing more training" before hitting the road— a sentiment echoed by Tony Maddison, director of towing technology company WiTi.

"Overweight and unstable caravans are a big problem" in Australia and are causing serious accidents, Maddison told the publication. "In most cases, drivers only need their car licence and they can hitch up three tonnes or more of caravan and take it out on the roads with no training whatsoever… which is just crazy," he said.

Road safety expert from UNSW Raphael Grzebieta agrees, telling Yahoo News Australia "driving a caravan is like driving an articulated vehicle (semi-trailer vehicles)" so it makes sense for additional training, and even licensing, to be mandatory. "Folks towing a caravan need additional training if the caravan is above a certain load. It’s not like towing a small trailer," he said.

Four lanes of cars driving on Australian highway.
Road safety experts suggest more testing for drivers towing caravans. Source: Getty

'Diverse, complex' driving environments should be considered

Natalie Watson-Brown, whose research focuses on road safety and education, also welcomes the idea of additional licensing. She believes more evidence that caravans disproportionately contribute to crashes is necessary before going down the licensing route — but extra training should certainly be considered.

"People that tow caravans often drive in diverse, complex environments including unsealed roads, narrow roads and high-speed roads, then to low-speed congested roads," she told Yahoo. "So if some of these factors are contributing to their crashes, then that needs to be important in their training and then in their testing before they get their licence".

Additionally, she said streamlining the licensing processes nationally would "make things easier" for those travelling across the country. Currently, licensing is a state-by-state decision and not a federal one which has always proven "challenging".

Calls for 'attitude change' with new drivers

However, Watson-Brown, from Queensland's University of Technology, said "the skills that make you a safer driver are not necessarily your vehicle control skills". "I guess that's where everyone's going with the people that tow caravans, that potentially they need to upskill in their ability to tow the caravan," she said.

"That would be one component of it, but we talk about other skills which contribute to road crashes. Maybe it's an attitude change, so maybe it's having an awareness and understanding of things like they do on a long drive, so maybe they need to understand more about fatigue and how that affects the way that they're driving, or maybe they need to self regulate."

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