Towing is very different from everyday driving – it requires additional driving skills and safety precautions. As a driver, you have a legal responsibility to other road users and yourself when towing a trailer, caravan or another vehicle, to drive to suit the conditions. Also, the towing vehicle, trailer and its load must meet all legal and safety requirements. This Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) publication provides information on how to:
- ensure the vehicle and trailer are correctly equipped; and
- drive a vehicle and trailer combination safely.
Towing will affect your vehicle
The first step to safe towing is to ensure the vehicle, trailer and load are suited. While modern vehicles are lighter and provide better service for normal motoring, some do not have the necessary characteristics for towing. Vehicle manufacturers usually indicate in the owner’s manuals the maximum weight and other features of trailers appropriate for the vehicle. These limits should not be exceeded. Similarly, some trailers are designed to carry certain types of loads and cannot be towed safely when carrying other materials. Other ways towing will affect your vehicle are:
- decreased acceleration and braking performance
- reduced vehicle control and manoeuvrability and
- increased fuel consumption.
These effects become more pronounced on your vehicle as trailer size and the mass of the load increase. By understanding the limitations of your vehicle and trailer, you can help prevent crashes and both structural and mechanical damage to your vehicle. Driving with a trailer takes practice.
- Allow for the trailer’s tendency to ‘cut-in’ on corners and curves.
- Allow longer distances for braking, overtaking and joining a traffic stream.
- When reversing, it is advisable to have someone outside the vehicle giving directions.
- Avoid sudden lane changes or changes of direction.
- Look further ahead than normal so you can react to changes in traffic or road conditions.
- Use the accelerator, brakes and steering smoothly and gently at all times.
- Use a lower gear when travelling downhill to increase vehicle control and reduce strain on brakes.
- Slow down well before entering corners and curves.
- Accelerator, brake and steering must be operated smoothly when towing. Unnecessary steering wheel movement should be avoided because sway or “snaking” of the vehicle and trailer may result. If sway occurs the trailer brakes should be applied gently if they can be operated separately from the towing vehicle, otherwise a steady speed or slight acceleration should be maintained if possible, until the sway ceases. The tow vehicle’s brakes should only be applied as a last resort.
- Take care not to hold up traffic unnecessarily.
- Plan more rest stops and shorter travelling days as towing is more stressful and tiring than normal driving.