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Pic: The Wanderer's first trip to Scotland in 1885, showing what can happen when a 2 tonne caravan goes off road.

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Overweight RVs - a police point of view

an interview with Sergeant Graeme Shenton by Collyn Rivers

This blog is a précis of my discussion with Sergeant Graeme Shenton (Orbost Police Station) about two years ago. Sergeant Shenton is a caravanner and is taking a leading role (via ongoing road side checks etc) in establishing accurate data on the extent of overladen RVs on Australian roads. Most rigs checked are caravans – as there are about six times more of those than campervans and motor homes.

RV Books: To what extent do RV owners see overloading as a safety issue?

Sgt. Shenton: Caravan owners, at least those that post on social media, appear to accept that overweight caravans are a risk and that police should be actively checking offenders.

RV Books: Is there not a further problem that vehicles used to tow caravans are far too light – particularly given their increasing power, but also of lighter construction?

Sgt. Shenton: As caravans have become larger (now up to 3.5 tonne or more) the vehicles used to tow them have not improved sufficiently to tow these weights. In my opinion, the resultant ‘tail wagging the dog’ effect has contributed to caravan instability and is causing crashes and roll-overs.

RV Books: Do police have any data about the number of accidents resulting in caravan rollovers?

Sgt. Shenton: Of ‘rollovers’ alone, one insurer (that has 30% of the market) advises it has had well over 100 claims a year during the past 4.5 years. If ‘loss of control’ accidents are included, it’s multiple thousands.

RV Books: When did you start publicising details of weighing – was there any negative reaction?

Sgt. Shenton: It was in May 2016 and related to rigs being checked at the Cann River weighbridge. There were no negative reactions - the pics [by Martin Ledwich] that we showed were viewed tens of thousands of times for months thereafter. It was very gratifying as it focused attention on safety issues.

RV Books: I recollect your later check (January 2017 in East Gippsland) resulted in some surprises because many attending had been invited and knew their rigs would be weighed.

Sgt. Shenton: Indeed! It surprised police as well as attendees. We had made it widely known that the check was being made – and that its aim was together information. We weighed 71 rigs and found 41 of them overweight in one (or more ratings). A surprise was that most owners had some idea of their legally maximum allowable weight – but only three knew what their rigs actually weighed. Only two (of 71) knew all the applicable ratings.

RV Books: Were many seriously overweight?

Sgt. Shenton: Five (caravans) were overweight by more than 20%.

RV Books: That could have been 400 kg plus for each of them! What reaction did police receive when owners were made aware of their caravan and tow ball weight?

Sgt. Shenton: Surprise at the actual weight – and that they had so substantially underestimated it.

RV Books: Did you also check the tow vehicles?

Sgt  Shenton. No, it was felt better to weigh as many RVs as possible – but it was clearly obvious that many of the tow vehicles too were overladen. We advised owners accordingly of how to reduce that weight – but also of the [adverse] effects of weight and its distribution on stability.

RV Books: The results seem to indicate that many RV owners do not have clue about the weight of their rigs!

Sgt. Shenton: It certainly showed their knowledge of weights and (legal) ratings to be minimal. Also that this lack of knowledge, and the associated safety implications, requires further attention. It is of major concern that most drivers clearly have little idea of what their rigs actually weigh.

There’s also a problem, primarily with caravans, that the Compliance plate does not always show the actual Tare weight. That can result in owners loading their RVs beyond the legal maximum (ATM) allowed.

RV Books: To what extent do you feel that such overloading is causing RVs to be unsafe?

Sgt. Shenton: It is difficult to quantify, but it seems logical to accept that exceeding permitted limits will not only increase the possibility of having an accident, but also of its severity.

RV Books: Did you experience any hostility to the operations?

Sgt Shenton: Next to none. We gained the impression that RV owners are keen to know about matters vital to safe usage – not just for themselves but to pass on to others.

RV Books: We believe there should be an obligatory towing course for all new caravan towing drivers. Do you have any views about this?

Sgt. Shenton: Yes, very much so. Such courses are commercially available and supported by the Australian Government as a nationally recognised qualification.

RV Books: Any further recommendations for our readers?

Sgt. Shenton: I feel that education is more important than enforcement . . . I’d like to see more use of transport authority weighbridges – many are closed much of the year. Also that driver education is encouraged by caravan dealers.

Also important is that the RV industry examines its responsibilities to stop declaring incorrect Tare Mass on compliance plates.

RV Books: Thank you very much for making this invaluable information available. It is greatly appreciated.

NOTE.  Sergeant Shenton was Acting Sergeant Shenton at the time the original inspections were conducted. He was subsequently promoted and his work extended to other states and jurisdictions – with generally similar results.  


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