RV Road Rules Summary

The Key Australian Road Rules You Need to Know when Driving an RV

Disclaimer

This guide is a summary and is for general information only. No liability is accepted for any error or omission. The absence of a reference to a rule or law here does not mean than such a rule or law does not exist. In the event of any discrepancy between this guide and federal, state or territory rules or laws, please follow those rules or laws. These regulations are subject to change – please check with the relevant authority for the latest information.

Introduction

Whilst some progress was made in 1998 to standardise towing regulations across Australia, there is still some way to go before Australia has one set of rules for towing nationwide.

RV Books is currently preparing a detailed guide to Australian and New Zealand Towing Regulations which is currently being cross-checked with state and territory road agencies. Below is an overview.

Which RV Road Rules apply?

All states and territories have road rules which must be followed by all vehicles. Beyond these, additional road rules exist for 'heavy' and 'light' trailers depending on their weight or the weight of the tow vehicle towing them. This information relates in general to vehicles and light trailers up to 4500 kg.

NSW, VIC, SA and WA have towing rules that cover tow vehicles up to a Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) of 4500 kg, whilst QLD, ACT, SA and the NT have rules that cover trailers with an Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) of up to 4500 kg. Tasmania’s towing rules are for ‘Very Light Trailers’ up to 750 kg and for ‘Light Trailers’ up to a Gross Trailer Mass (‘GTM’) of 3500 kg.

As a general rule you must follow the rules of both the state or territory in which your vehicle and/or trailer is registered and the state or territory in which you are travelling.

Maximum Trailer Dimensions

Maximum trailer dimensions are set out in 'Vehicle Standard Bulletin 1 ('VSB1'). These are:

  • Maximum trailer width:               2.5 metres
  • Maximum trailer height:              4.3 metres
  • Maximum combination length:    19 metres

Roads, bridges and tunnels (but not multi-storey car parks) are built nationally with these dimensions in mind. VSB 1 also contains additional information on maximum trailer overhang and projecting items. Download VSB 1 for further details.

Roadworthiness

All states and territories have regulations on the roadworthiness of trailers. Whilst wording differs in each case, items covered include requirements to comply with Australian Standards and Australian Design Rules as well as general comments about the tow vehicle, trailer and its equipment being in good condition and working order.

In short, if it’s not compliant and roadworthy, it’s not legal.

Maximum Towing Weights

Trailer weight is the compliance category that statistically is most likely to result in infringements when towing a trailer.

In broad terms, if you exceed any maximum weight limit set by the manufacturer or either the tow vehicle or trailer, you are breaking the law. Note that different weight regulations apply to very old tow vehicles and trailers that do not have manufacturer's recommendations.

In all Australian states and territories, whilst towing a trailer, NONE of the following eight, manufacturer stipulated weight limits may be exceeded:

For the tow vehicle:

  • GVM
  • GCM
  • Maximum Towing Capacity
  • Maximum Tow Bar Mass
  • Maximum Tow Ball Mass

N.B. The first three weight limits are specified by the tow vehicle manufacturer, whilst the last two are specified by the equipment manufacturer (which may or may not be the tow vehicle manufacturer). Tow vehicles have additional weight limits such as tyre and axle loadings, but these are taken into consideration by the manufacturer when deriving a tow vehicle’s GVM and GCM.

For the trailer:

  • ATM
  • GTM
  • Maximum Coupling Load

N.B. The first two weight limits are specified by the trailer manufacturer, whilst the last is specified by the coupling manufacturer. Trailers have additional weight limits such as tyre and axle loadings, but these are generally taken into consideration by the manufacturer when deriving a trailer’s ATM and/or GTM. GTM is not legally required to be shown on a trailer’s compliance plate.

See here for weight definitions of all the above.

Towing Equipment

Tow Bars

In all states and territories, tow bars must be of a suitable type and capacity for the trailer being towed. They must conform to Australian Standards, which include stipulated information that must be ‘clearly and permanently marked’ on the tow bar (maximum rated capacity, part number, the vehicle model(s) for which it is intended and manufacturer’s name or trade mark). Some states require that tow bars must not protrude dangerously or have sharp corners when no trailer is connected (although there are more general rules about dangerous vehicle protrusions in all states and territories).

Electrics

In all states and territories, trailers and tow vehicles must have electrical sockets for lighting and brakes manufactured in accordance with Australian Design Rules. Earth conductors (now standard in modern trailer plugs) are specifically mentioned in VIC, SA and ACT trailer legislation.

Types, colours, positions and visibility of lights are stipulated in detail and must include brake lights, night lights, indicators, hazard lights, number plate light and reflectors (reversing lights are not compulsory). Trailers over 2.2 metres wide must have ‘side reflectors’ in SA and trailers over 1800 wide or 1600 mm wide and over 4000 mm long must have ‘side marker lamps’ in the NT.

Couplings

A coupling is the mechanical connection or ‘hitch’ between tow vehicle and trailer. Standard coupling wording in most legislation either refers to or restates the wording used in Australian Standards. A typical example is that couplings must be ‘strong enough to take the weight of a fully loaded trailer, should be marked with manufacturer's name or trade mark and rated capacity and must be equipped with a positive locking mechanism which must be able to be released regardless of the angle of the trailer to the towing vehicle’ (NSW).

In QLD the coupling must be a ‘quick release coupling which is designed to be engaged and disengaged without the use of tools. It must be of a positive locking type with provision for a second independent locking device’. QLD and WA legislation also suggests ‘typical approved couplings’ for different trailer weights (50 mm ball couplings for trailers with an ATM up to 2300 kg, heavy duty 50 mm ball couplings for trailers with an ATM up to 3500 kg and pintle hook couplings for trailers with an ATM up to 4500 kg).

TAS and the NT additionally state: “Where any part of the coupling or towbar is removable, the bolts, studs, nuts etc., fastening those parts must have a locking device such as a U-clip, split pin, spring washer, or nylon lock nut”.

Trailer Brakes

Trailer brake requirements are now largely standardised (with minor exceptions) across Australia and depend on the weight of the trailer – requirements range from no brakes for the lightest trailers, brakes on some of the wheels for medium weight trailers to brakes on all wheels for heavier trailers. Heavier trailers additionally need breakaway brakes.

For all states and territories, the trailer brake rules are:

  • Trailer up to 750 kg GTM (and only one axle in WA, NT) - no brakes required
  • Trailer between 751-2000 kg GTM - braking on both wheels on at least one axle
  • Trailer between 2001-4500 kg GTM - braking on all wheels plus an automatic breakaway system (VIC, ACT - only breakaway brakes are referred to in this weight category, not brakes on all wheels).

N.B. NSW uses the term ‘laden weight’ rather than GTM in the above categories.

Further, brakes must be operable from the driver's seating position. So called “over-run” or over-ride” brakes (where the momentum of the trailer activates the brake) may only be used on trailers that do not exceed 2 tonnes GTM.

Breakaway Brakes

Breakaway brakes operate automatically if the trailer becomes detached from the tow vehicle. The general requirements are in (compliance with ADR 38):

“breakaway brakes must operate automatically and quickly if the trailer breaks away from the towing vehicle; and (b) remain in operation for at least 15 minutes after a break-away.”

VIC and ACT additionally state “breakaway brakes must be able to hold the trailer on a 12% grade while in operation after a break-away.”

NSW (RMS VIB 6) additionally states that “to register a trailer in NSW, a warning device (either visual or audible) must be fitted in the tow vehicle to warn the driver if the trailer battery charge is not adequate to fulfil automatic breakaway requirements”. Note that this does not appear to be a requirement for trailers visiting NSW.

Safety Chains

Safety chains retain a physical connection between tow vehicle and trailer in the event that the trailer becomes disconnected from the tow vehicle.

The general Australian requirement is that modern light trailer safety chains must conform to Australian Standards (VSB 1) and be sized such that their minimum breaking load exceeds the ATM of the trailer. Chain dimensions (taken from VSB 1) are stipulated in some states and territories.

Trailers up to 2500 kg ATM must have at least one safety chain whilst those over that weight must have two. Where two chains are used they must be crossed. Chain attachments on the trailer side must be permanent whilst attachments on the tow vehicle side must use shackles able to withstand the load imposed on them (‘rated’ shackles are not required but we recommend them).

Safety chains must not touch the ground when attached and should stop the drawbar from hitting the ground if the trailer becomes detached. Chains must not prevent a breakaway protection device from operating.

Mirrors

There are two parts to the mirror equation when towing. The first is what they must do and the second is their physical dimensions.

In terms of what they must do, ‘a driver must not drive a motor vehicle unless the driver has a clear view of the road, and traffic, ahead, behind and to each side of the driver’ (VIC). Every state and territory has legislation along these lines, and, for the purposes of such clauses, a ‘vehicle’ includes a tow vehicle and trailer combination.

To meet this requirement, nearly all states and territories helpfully suggest “extra mirrors may be required for towing large trailers”. Note that rear view cameras do not meet side visibility requirements and are therefore not an acceptable substitution for rear view mirrors (but they are a useful aid when reversing a trailer). So your tow vehicle must have mirrors that allow you to see along the side of your trailer. If you have a trailer that is wider than your tow vehicle, you need extra (or special towing) mirrors.

But towing mirrors must not be so wide as to be dangerous to other road users. They must be fitted in accordance with Australian Design Rules, So, in accordance with ADR 1402, towing mirrors “may project 150 mm beyond the point of the ‘Overall Width’ of the vehicle or the ‘Overall Width’ of any trailer it may be drawing. The mirrors may project 230 mm on each side beyond the point of ‘Overall Width’ of the vehicle provided that the mirror is capable of collapsing to 150 mm.” It is common sense and safer to remove towing mirrors when not towing. WA points this out in their legislation.

Load Equalisers

There are three known references to ‘load equalisers’ or ‘weight distribution hitches’ in Australian towing legislation:

  • NSW and QLD state “load equalisers can be used when towing large caravans” (the QLD wording is under review)
  • WA states “to tow heavy loads some vehicles may need strengthening, and/or special transmission and suspension options. A load distributing device may also be required.”

The terms ‘can’, and ‘may’ mean that the use of such devices is not required. The Australia and New Zealand RV Handbook (to be published in late 2018) will explain the risks involved in their use.

Number Plates

All states and territories have rules which state that the tow vehicle number plate must not be obscured by towing equipment (such as tow bars or tow balls) when not towing.

All states and territories have rules on the position and visibility of trailer number plates – generally one plate must be fixed to the rear of the trailer and must be visible from a distance of 20 metres (night or day, which means they must be illuminated at night).

Increasingly, states and territories are introducing regulations to ensure that trailer number plates (as with all number plates) can be easily read by static and mobile road cameras.  To this end, NSW and TAS require all number plates to be read within an arc of 45 degrees above or to either side of the vehicle. The NT has a lower requirement of 15 degrees reading angle from above for vehicles less that 4.5 tonne GVM but still 45 degrees either side and 45 degrees above for vehicles over 4.5 tonne GVM.

The latter rules mean that in these states or territories trailer number plates can no longer be partially obscured by items such as trailer overhangs, spare wheels or jerry cans. Expect number plate ‘visibility arc’ rules to be introduced in the remaining states and territories soon.

Towing Speed Limits

Maximum towing speeds for light trailers are the same as for other vehicles (i.e. the posted speed limit) in NSW, VIC, QLD, SA, TAS, ACT and the NT. In WA the maximum towing speed is reduced by 10 km/h to 100 km/h.

Note that TAS has a maximum speed limit for all vehicles of 100 km/h on sealed roads and 80 km/h on unsealed roads. At the other end of the speed scale, there are four highways in the NT which have sections with maximum speed limits of 130 km/h. Elsewhere, the general maximum highway speed limit is 110 km/h.

General Prohibitions

When towing a trailer you must not:

  • tow more than one trailer
  • carry passengers in the trailer

Learner and Provisional Drivers Towing a Trailer. In most states and territories learner drivers are not allowed to tow at all, whilst provisional (P1) drivers may tow a small trailer weighing up to 250 kg (unladen). In the ACT this weight is increased to 750 kg GVM.

In VIC, learner drivers may not tow but P1 drivers can tow a trailer if a) it’s for work purposes, or b) it’s related to agriculture or c) they are accompanied by an experienced driver and a ‘driver under instruction’ plate is attached to the front and rear of the vehicle.

In QLD learners may tow a trailer if accompanied by a licensed driver.

There are no towing restrictions on either learner or provisional drivers in SA and the NT.

Long Vehicle Rules

If the length of your motor home or combined total length of your tow vehicle and trailer is over 7.5 metres, you are a 'Long Vehicle' and must abide by the Long Vehicle rules of the state or territory in which you are travelling.

Being a Long Vehicle does not make you a truck or bus - you do not have to comply with road rules applying to these vehicles unless your RV is formally defined as a truck or bus. The three main rules applying to Long Vehicles which RV owners need to be most aware of are the stopping, minimum distance and turning rules.

Stopping. Long Vehicles may only stop on road shoulders outside built up areas and may only stop in built up areas for 1 hour unless signs say otherwise or unless picking up goods (for the entire period).

Minimum Distance. If you are a Long Vehicle travelling behind another 'Long Vehicle' on a single lane highway that is not in a built up area, you must travel at least 60 metres behind that vehicle unless overtaking.

(There are variations to this rule in some states. In NSW, the minimum distance rule applies to roads without street lights rather than areas that are not built up. In WA and the NT, the minimum distance is 200 metres. In TAS the minimum distance is 200 metres in a 'road train area' (60 metres otherwise)).

Turning Left and Right. If you are driving a Long Vehicle, you may straddle two lanes to turn left or right and vehicles behind may not overtake you, provided you have the appropriate 'DO NOT OVERTAKE TURNING VEHICLE' sign or sticker at the rear of your trailer.

Some narrow side streets have maximum vehicle length restrictions, so it's important to know just how how long your RV is.

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