Plan your driving times
Plan to drive during the day when you are least likely to hit a kangaroo or other animal. Try to avoid driving at dawn or dusk as these are grazing times for animals. They graze on the edge of the road as the grass is lush due to the water run off from the road.
When you are refuelling with diesel fuel wear a pair of riggers soft leather gloves, it will ensure you do not finish with diesel on your hands. Carry them under the driver’s seat so they are always handy. Most big hardware shops sell them at a reasonable price. A small tarpaulin is handy for those under Caravan inspections or repairs.
As you travel, you’ll find that most towns have water – but at some places, you may not be able to get drinking water. We recommend that you carry drinking water with you and in very hot conditions or in the outback, carry 10 litres of water per person a day. It may seem like a lot, but when it’s hot you should drink about a litre an hour. Don’t rely on waterholes, dams, bores, tanks or troughs. Soap or detergents should not be used in any natural watercourse or stock watering point.
When you need to top up your water tanks, you can often find water at service stations where you refuel, at information centres and dump points (use the right tap) but at all times where applicable it is courteous to ask first and even offer a token payment
Rural centres are often running short of water due to drought and it is disconcerting to locals to see you washing your rig without a care in the world so respect their feelings and always ask about water restrictions.
When loading your Caravan, you must first think about proper weight distribution. Consider the locations of appliances when you’re filling the cabinets and storage compartments. Use this knowledge to properly distribute the weight from side to side as well as from front to back.
When loading, be sure to distribute heavy items evenly throughout, with the heaviest cargo placed as low on the chassis as possible. In addition, everything should be placed in such a fashion that it won’t shift while travelling. Improper weight distribution and heavy items shifting during the trip can have an unfavourable effect on your Caravans handling, ride quality, fuel economy and braking.
Fire and Gas
Fire is a major hazard in Caravans especially when cooking. An adequately sized dry powder extinguisher should be mounted within reach. The contents of dry powder extinguishers, with vibration, tend to settle and compact, so carefully release the extinguisher from its holder, invert it and give it a shake up or a tap on the side, say monthly, to ensure correct operation. During any renovations or repairs, grinding or welding sparks are a major cause of fires in Caravans.
Gas fitting is a skilled task and, with the vibration caused by constant travelling, requires regular safety checks. Gas has the potential for horrific explosions, so any gas smell must be investigated fully as a matter of urgency. A slight gas smell is evident sometimes when an appliance is operating, and the gas bottle is nearly empty.
A cooking fire on an unattended stove, often while the cook is socialising outside the Caravan, is a real hazard. A fire-blanket, stowed adjacent to the stove is a lifesaver in these situations.
Check before you start off
Walk around the Caravan prior to departure to check the tyres and any other items including carrying racks or such Caravan external fittings as TV antennas and hatches are down. See the pre-trip check list.
Ensure that you always have sufficient fuel for the next stage of your journey. It is always courteous to spend a little money in a shire where you have enjoyed the night.
Courtesy on the road is infectious and Caravan drivers, some driving a wide lumbering Caravan travelling at a sedate 80km/hr, need to be particularly aware of the needs of other vehicles on the road. Many of these other road users will be on the road as part of their job whilst you are on holidays, so please be especially considerate in providing safe overtaking opportunities.
Watch the size, allow safe road space for the truck’s size. A loaded B-double can weigh 10-15 times more than the average car and caravan. Don’t risk being under it. Don’t cut in front of trucks approaching traffic lights or out on the highway.
High beam contributes to night driving fatigue. Dip when flashed or before reaching a crest. Use fog lights only in fog, as the broad beam yellow light can be a safety hazard when used at other times.
Tyres are the most important objects under us and rarely get the attention they deserve. Our lives roll on just a few tyre prints and yet we very seldom think of them.
Tyres are just not designed for a Caravan to be fully loaded all the time. Our tyres require special attention so make sure the load rating of your tyres is adequate and regularly check your tyre pressures using a good quality truck tyre pressure gauge. As a general rule, the heavier the load carried, the higher the pressure required, and when tyres get worn, replace them as 80% of tyre faults happen in the last 20% of tyre tread.
Tyres also deteriorate with age and most are well out of any manufacturer’s warranty after five years. If you are unfortunate enough to suffer a blowout do not panic. Hold the steering wheel firmly, continue to apply moderate engine power to the driving wheels and a few seconds later when the Caravan stabilises, ease back and gently apply the brakes bringing the Caravan safely to a halt well clear of the carriageway of the road.
Many caravanners lower the pressure in their tyres when travelling on soft or rutted roads. This is fine if driving to a slow speed but you need to be aware that the side walls of tyres can be damaged beyond repair if there is not enough pressure in the tyre. Seek advice on this before doing so.
Practice changing a tyre and check that the wheel brace will fit your wheel with enough space for the operating lever to clear the bodywork of the Caravan. It is a good idea to obtain a length of pipe as an extender.
The “Do not overtake turning vehicle” sign on the rear of trucks allows them to legally turn from the second or even third lane as needed to safely get round a corner. Stay back. Don’t move to the blind spot to the left and rear of the truck cab. If you can’t see the driver’s mirror, he can’t see you.
When being approached by a truck preparing to pass, don’t decrease your speed as the truck then loses the momentum it needs to pass. Don’t hit the brakes and pull off into the gravel as you could lose control. If you have a UHF radio, use Ch.40 to advise him you are aware of his presence. As he passes you may back off your speed a little to enable the passing manoeuvre to proceed faster and easier. Either flash your lights or advise by radio when it is safe for him to move back left in front of you.
If you are up close to the truck, move back. Your vision will be better and it will give you room to pick up speed.
If you have a UHF radio, tune to Ch.40 and tell the truckie that you are there and would like to pass. He will then tell you when the way is clear or else he will slow down to let you pass. When he indicates the road is clear, LOOK for yourself to make sure you have time to pass, and then overtake as quickly and sensibly as possible.
Don’t move to the left until you can see both his headlights in your mirror, or when he confirms this on the radio. Maintain your speed until well in front of the truck. DO NOT slow suddenly. Golden Rule: If you can’t see, don’t attempt to pass.
Road courtesy and patience may save your life. It could also prevent “road rage”. A wave of thanks is far better than a shaken fist.
If you are searching for a Rest Area or overnight spot and may be travelling a little slower than the limit, keep a constant eye in the rear vision mirror to check you are not holding up a heavy vehicle. Because if you brake hard to stop, the chances are he will be looking out for the opportunity and expecting to pass, not stop, and you stand the possibility of being rammed from behind. So pull over and let him pass while you continue to keep looking for that nightspot or whatever.
A truck uses most, if not all, of the lane width space. Do not travel on the centre line as trucks overtaking you will be encouraged to go wide onto the gravel resulting in showering you with stones. This also applies to trucks coming towards you from the opposite direction.
The “Do not overtake turning vehicle” rule applies, so please stay back. Don’t compete to be in first. Large trucks often need the entire roadway. The truck isn’t racing you into the roundabout.
One of the major road safety concerns is driver fatigue and this still applies in our relaxed leisurely world of Caravanning. Of all the road users you have the least excuse. As you have a kitchen available just over your shoulder, try to have a short break every two hours – a walk around the Caravan, a ‘pit stop’, a drink – even a splash of water on the face. Fatigue and consequent lack of attention creeps up on us all.
How fast are you going?
Speeding is travelling at a greater speed than that posted by the speed limit signs. You can also speed by travelling too fast for the road conditions at the time, despite being under the speed limit. In bad weather or on poor roads, adjust your speed to suit the conditions. If the police don’t worry you, losing control in the wet or on gravel may. Speeding is particularly a problem in rural areas and accounts for almost half of all fatal crashes on country roads.
Wearing seatbelts can save the lives of drivers and passengers. On average 4% of people fail to wear a seat belt while travelling in a car. Approximately 22% of car occupants killed each year are not wearing a sear belt at the time of the accident. It is fact that you are much more likely to be killed in an accident if you don’t wear a seat belt.
Sharing the road with Roadtrains
The transport industry plays an important role in the strategic and economic development of our huge country, so road trains and large trucks are a necessary fact of life on our highways.
Here are a few pointers that might be helpful when you are confronted by one of these monsters. A double road train is around 35 meters long and weighs nearly 80 tonnes while a triple road train weighs up to 115 tonnes and is about 50 meters in length, so they do deserve our respect.
Stopping times – A heavy truck takes longer to pull up than lighter and smaller Caravans.
Rear vision – The driver of a heavy Caravan may not be able to see you in his mirrors if you are travelling too close behind. If you can’t see his mirrors, he certainly can’t see you.
Passing times – Overtaking or being overtaken can take considerable time so you need to be able to see at least three kilometres ahead before attempting to pass. If it’s dusty and visibility is impaired, don’t even think about passing.
One of the most common reactions of drivers when they see a truck coming up behind them is to prop or reduce speed and, in some cases, drop their left hand wheels off the side of the road. This has the effect of causing the truck driver to reduce speed, thus making it difficult for him to gather the momentum needed to safely overtake. The best thing you can do is to maintain your road speed until the road train or truck is alongside then slow down and, if safe, ease to the left. If you want to pull over before the truck passes, try to get right off the road.
Driving in hot weather
The ability to relax and concentrate is all important when behind the wheel; with fatigue and a wandering mind the big killers on our roads.
To help keep concentration up, keep the body temperature down. Start by taking off the baseball cap because there is huge heat release through the top of the head. Drive as light as possible by removing heavy or medium-weight clothing, like jackets.
If you are wearing shorts (rather than jeans or trousers), cover the seat with a large towel. Don’t hesitate to drive with open windows, or use the air conditioner to lower cabin temperatures.
Avoid hearty food. Nutritious snacks and plenty of non-fizzy liquid (water is ideal) will help to offset fatigue.
One handy tip for long, hot weather trips is to carry ice in a small foam Esky and suck ice cubes as you drive. Works like a miracle. Lower body temperatures mean more concentration and greater safety.
Driving on Australia’s vast country roads presents a range of potentially dangerous situations for the average city driver.
Road surface conditions can change without warning – there may be livestock on the road just around the next bend, or the driver of that car hurtling towards you at 100kmh may be asleep. Combine his speed with yours and, in an impact, no amount of safety equipment is going to save your life.
Country driving calls for drivers to be alert and patient. If you can’t wait for an overtaking lane, be absolutely sure that it is safe to overtake. Closing speeds of on-coming traffic can be difficult to judge – particularly in misty or dark conditions.
Your family’s safety is worth more than a couple of minutes saved over a 5 hour trip! When approaching an overtaking lane, or multi-lane freeway, don’t move into the right-hand (passing) lane unless you’re preparing to pass another vehicle. The right-hand lane is for overtaking only and it is an offence to stay there unless you’re overtaking.
It is a good idea to have a plan of action in mind in case of an emergency situation – Is there an escape route? Are you travelling at a speed where you can retain control should you encounter slippery conditions?