Sharing the road: Enlightening caravan owners

By: John Ernst, project manager for Safe Freight Networks Australia

Truck drivers are sharing their knowledge with older drivers and caravanners

Sharing the road: Enlightening caravan owners
Sharing the roads, it's simple


Wobbly boxes, caravans, heading around Australia are becoming more common and with an estimated 170,000 ‘grey nomads’ out there at any one time, the fact that last season saw several of them come to grief should not surprise anyone.

The Safe Freight Networks has been funded by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) to address the local road crash stats using local solutions developed by an engaged industry. Teaming up with police, local governments, state roads authorities and a variety of members and transport types from the industry, many networks are now developing local initiatives to address the issues that cause most crashes – the light vehicle drivers.


VIDEO: How to share rest areas, it's simple. Watch here

Crash statistics are showing an increase in the number of older drivers who are becoming seriously injured in crashes or who die. There has also been a spike in the number of casualty crashes involving caravans and while this may have a lot to do with the increase in the numbers, there is also a lot that can be done to develop a better awareness. Truck drivers are often at the blunt end of this road trauma and seldom have an opportunity to share their knowledge by being part of the solution.

Safe Freight Networks (South Gippsland) conducted two major initiatives – the first was a series of forums for older drivers and the second was in partnership with the Men’s Sheds at their annual "Cluster Muster" (an event that brings the men from dozens of sheds together across a region), to put on a Caravan Safety Forum.

The older drivers’ forums were run through in partnership with four Probus Groups and ran as a panel discussion whereby older drivers learnt about modern trucks, the rules associated with driving a truck and the things that light car drivers could change in their driving to make it safer for truck drivers.

Apart from truck drivers we also arranged to have a member of Highway Patrol attend as well as a pharmacist, physiotherapist and representative from the car industry. With over 300 older drivers coming to the four forums the take home messages were clear and the discussions during the open forum indicated that there remained a lot of misconceptions about driving around trucks even for those that had been driving in excess of 50 years.

Having a professional truck driver attend the forums and share their real-world knowledge and experience made a big impression on the crowd.

The driver was able to discuss why trucks appear to be going faster than cars at times, they talked about stopping distances with a demonstration of this. The stopping distances also meant they could discuss leaving a space in front of a truck, visibility issues and sight lines. They talked about how they manage fatigue and the importance of making sure designated truck rest areas kept clear. They talked about loading and weight management and they talked about the vast array of safety equipment that is being built into the modern trucks.

The police were also able to reassure the audience in relation to the ‘real facts’ about truck drivers. The local Highway Patrol could reassure the crowd that they have not detected any truck drivers in their area with either drugs or alcohol in their system but noted that they had been finding one in two car drivers where driving with residual drugs in their system on some days. The take home message was you’re better off driving around trucks than cars!

The pharmacist was then able to discuss the issue of script medications and the impact this may have on their own driving – this led to discussions on poly-pharmacy and the increasing number of older drivers who may themselves be driving drug affected. The physiotherapist provided sound information about how to remain physically fit to drive and how to ensure that you remain able to do good head checks even if you are not as flexible as you may have once been.


Caravan Forum

The opportunity to discuss how caravanners could become safer was discussed at the Gippsland and Cardinia Men’s’ Shed Cluster Muster at Lang Lang. This comes off the tails of a horrific northern caravanning season and many reports of Grey Nomads coming to grief with their caravans. On one section of road west of Cloncurry two significant crashes involving caravanners losing control cost the lives of several people including a well-loved local truck driver.

With many traveling up north coming from the southern states, it was felt that if we can discuss some safety measures that can be taken by caravanners then next season could be made safer. The Safe Freight Network has long held the view that they can have an impact on the road safety of all road users and this has been the case in previous road safety campaigns. Caravan towing was an activity that professional truck drivers may have some knowledge to share as a result of what they have been seeing on the roads as well as their own experiences in carrying heavy loads.

Key players were brought together and, again, local Highway Patrol was seen as an important player, but it was the truck drivers that stepped up by providing a truck for the day and having it on display and available for the caravanners to sit in and look at. Members of the caravan industry also attended. This forum was run as question and answer event with members of the audience invited to ask questions and clarify key points.

Topics covered were:

• Understanding weight/mass requirements for caravanning and how to work them out.

• Loading and managing the load

• Driving on main highways with trucks and other road users – highway etiquette

• Communications – radios and how to use them

• Trip planning and why to move only in the morning

• Other resources to assist – driver aids and tips

• Brief discussion about motorhomes (again loading and mass).

• Special challenges of driving around truck.

The group is happy to share the information about how the day was organised and suggests that this type of forum can be duplicated in any region that has Men’s Sheds. Of the 100 men in attendance nearly all owned and towed caravans regularly.

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