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What The Person With The Caravan Wishes You Knew

Summer is the time of year when you’ll see a lot of people out on the road going to their favourite holiday destinations – or making the journey the holiday. Some of them have caravans behind them. Others have similar large trailer-type things behind them, such as horse trailers or even furniture trailers (which don’t have to contain furniture – they can carry all the camping equipment, the bikes, the kayaks and so forth). We won’t consider trucks in this article, as they’re a different story altogether.

It’s easy to get frustrated when you barrel along the road without anything attached to your towbar and see a caravan on the road ahead of you, getting gradually closer and closer (as you travel at the legal speed limit, of course). You may grit your teeth and start scanning the road ahead, looking for an opportunity to overtake. Why do they do it? Why do caravans go so slowly? Are they that heavy? And why don’t they just pull over and let people pass as soon as a line starts forming?

Well, I’m going to answer your questions. As you may have guessed, I have sometimes been that person with the caravan, and I can tell you exactly what’s going through the mind of a driver with a caravan. Believe me, we’re not going slow on purpose and holding everyone up just for the sadistic pleasure of annoying people.

Why Caravans Are Slow

There are several reasons why the person towing a caravan goes more slowly than you do. In other countries, the speed at which you can tow anything, including a caravan, is different from the maximum speed limit (usually lower, of course). However, that’s not the case in any of the states of Australia, where a caravan can be towed at the full legal limit, as long as the driver can do so safely.

And there’s the point of it: as long as they can do it safely. Because they’ve got that extra thing on the back, their car handles differently when it comes to corners and things like that. Strong winds can also affect how a caravan sits on the road, meaning that a driver towing a caravan may have to slow down when you don’t have to. What’s more, even a modern caravan has quite a bit of drag, which puts a lot of extra demand on the engine – even the most powerful engine. Nobody really wants to wring the guts out of the engine all the time, as this makes even the most frugal car into a thirsty beast. This means that the caravan has to go slower than you do, especially when going into a headwind and/or uphill.

In the case of horse trailers, the driver has to make sure that he/she drives smoothly without anything sudden. Horses are sensitive creatures, and travelling in a trailer is something that they hate. Anything surprising or startling will freak them out, and there’s a risk that they could hurt themselves in that confined metal box. This is why the drivers of horse trailers often go a little bit slower. They definitely don’t want you to honk your horn. Seriously – don’t do it.

Why Don’t They Pull Over?

While you’re looking at the back of the caravan and wondering why the heck the driver won’t just darn well pull over and let you pass, said driver is probably scanning the side of the road. You see, a caravan driver can’t pull over just anywhere. They have to look for a place that allows enough space for their vehicle and their caravan without taking out any of the “road furniture” (signs, markers, barriers, etc.) or any vegetation. They also don’t want to drive onto anything that they can’t get out of again, such as ditches or boggy patches. What a vehicle (and the associated caravan) can get into and out of will depend on said vehicle and whether or not it’s got 4×4 capacity.

A good place to pull over has to be a good place not just for the caravan driver but also for you. It’s no good if the caravan driver pulls over just short of a blind corner where you can’t see what’s on the road ahead (we’re not talking about lay-bys, passing bays and slow vehicle lanes here; they’re another story).

In short, it can take a while for the driver of the caravan to find the right place to pull over that’s good for both of you. It won’t happen the instant that you appear. The driver won’t start looking for a good place until you appear in his/her rear vision mirror.

If you are the caravan driver, make sure that you do look out for a good spot to pull over and let others pass to avoid a long snake of traffic building up behind you.

When You Overtake A Caravan

OK, so the driver of the caravan has found a place to pull over and now you can overtake. This driver may or may not have come to a complete standstill. Sometimes, the driver of the caravan will stop completely, especially if the road is winding and a lot of traffic has gone past. However, sometimes, the caravan driver will crawl along half on and half off the road, especially in the case of a long straight. Now is your chance to pass. You can also get a chance to pass if the road has a passing lane.

When your chance comes, here are some things that the driver of the caravan would like you to know:

  • If the road ahead is clear for, say, 500 metres, then please go ahead and pass as soon as you can. Don’t leave it until the last 100 metres to make your manoeuvre. This doesn’t happen, you say? Well, it happened more times than I cared to count last time we were out with the caravan behind. I or whoever was driving edged over when the long empty straight came, but did that car that had been tailgating overtake straight away? Nope – he/she waited until the last possible moment to do it safely and then overtook. Nuts!
  • Use your indicators, from when you start your manoeuvre until you’re back on the proper side of the road and ready to roar away.
  • Make sure you actually do overtake, especially if you have been behind the caravan for ages.
  • Use all the usual safety precautions when overtaking, like checking you have a clear view of the road.
  • Don’t make rude hand gestures or angry honks at the caravan driver. He/she can’t help being slower thanks to the factors mentioned above.
  • Feel free to wave and/or give a “thank you” honk!