Barely a week goes by without reports of a caravan roll-over or crash on Australian roads, with only this week a ute and caravan tipping over on the Pacific Highway near Rainbow Flat, NSW.
While road accidents are unavoidable, and the increasing number of grey nomads and other RV travellers on our congested highways increases the chance of mishaps, there appears to be little action of late from Australian governments or road safety regulators to improve caravan towing safety.
It’s now mandatory for all new passenger vehicles (and therefore most tow vehicles) sold in Australia to have electronic stability control (ESC), a measure that’s no doubt prevented a few crashes. But with Al-Ko’s ESC system for electric-braked caravans available since 2012, isn’t it time that all new caravans sold in Australia be fitted with the potentially life-saving technology?
ESC systems, which correct excessive sideways movement of the caravan by automatically applying the van's brakes, have been available on British and European caravans for years. And European manufacturers’ emphasis on safety is undoubtedly one reason why these imported, lightweight vans are rapidly gaining fans Down Under.
And like that in cars the caravan ESC system is extremely effective, as we discovered at the race track launch last year as well as in ‘real world’ conditions recently in the Flinders Ranges. Towing a Bailey caravan behind a Holden Commodore, some serious ‘fish-tailing’ at highway speeds was quickly and efficiently brought under control by the technology, allowing the driver to concentrate on the road ahead rather than behind.
Because towing a caravan requires concentration levels well above the otherwise complex task of driving a vehicle, having ESC fitted is one thing less to worry about.
According to Al-Ko Australia, the take-up of electronic stability control so far has been encouraging, with most caravan manufacturers where possible (it’s currently only compatible with Al-Ko axles and brakes) offering the system as a $1000-$1500 option. But it shouldn’t be long before it can be fitted to other suspensions, while it can also be retro-fitted to older vans.
Market leader Jayco, among others, should be applauded for taking the step of fitting ESC as standard to its top-spec Sterling caravans, and hopefully other major caravan manufacturers will follow suit.
But unless required by law I reckon most caravanners, unless given the chance to experience the system in action, would prefer to spend the money on extra solar panels, batteries or a washing machine rather than a little ‘black box’ that sits on the axle and is rarely if ever used.
Making Al-Ko's ESC mandatory would also help drive down the cost of the units, limiting the financial burden on buyers as well as manufacturers.
It could also kickstart other safety initiatives to help reduce towing accidents, such as compulsory towing training for all new caravanners or a special licence for those towing heavy vans – not unlike like that required of drivers of large, truck-based motorhomes.