Those of you reading this from outside of South Australia, might not know of a fatal crash that’s got quite a bit of press here in recent days, after the court case acquitting the driver of the vehicle, a Lambo no less, of dangerous driving, has prompted the State Government to consider implementing a new, high-performance vehicle license category, that will require new levels of training.
The driver of the Lambo, Alexander Campbell, decided it was a good idea to reach for the stability control button and turn traction and stability off on a suburban street, then press the go-pedal… and guess what happens next, when a Huracan, now unencumbered, and in the hands of someone with little experience and skill, goes nuts?
The death of young Sophia Naismith (15) and the injuries inflicted on her friend, as they were walking past a Chinese Restaurant, at precisely the wrong moment, are a tragedy and so easily avoided, but it got me thinking about the weaponisation of our roads and I’m not thinking just about performance cars.
This is a rare event. Seldom do you hear of vehicles costing hundreds of thousands of dollars being booted into oblivion. It happens, but not that often. What I do hear of and see almost daily, are horror stories of people walking into car dealerships, buying a 4WD and then visiting their local RV supplier and hooking up to the biggest fuck-off caravan they can buy and think that’s a good idea.
It is even more nonsensical when the driver(s) have got nothing more than a car licence and have likely never towed or reversed a trailer in their lives!
I’ve been a driver trainer for nearly all of my working life (thirty years) at a business my wife and I started, and called Adventure 4WD. In that time we’ve taught a lot about towing, so I reckon I’ve got some skin in this game.
I reckon if the current SA Government (and for that matter, every other State in the country) really want to make a difference to road safety, then we need to get serious about vehicle classifications and vehicle suitability for certain jobs and ensure drivers are up to the task. Nothing in life is easy, this challenge especially.
The Great Weight Lie – 3,500kgs Towing Capacity
Only a dill would believe the line peddled by most 4WD makers in this country that straight off the showroom floor, your typical 4WD dual-cab ute or wagon can pull 3,500kgs and safely. It is total BS!
When you’ve got a towed vehicle weighing more than the lead vehicle, you’ve got a major imbalance going and a fail raring-to-go.
It won’t matter that you’ve got your fancy GVM upgrade going, or your airbags or whatever other towing paraphernalia you’ve got attached, because these vehicles are unsuited to being a reliable tow-tug. They are under-braked, under-powered, under-suspended (big time) and under-tyred.
So many times I see folk heading off into the wild blue yonder with that typical malaise of mis-matched holiday wheels; arse-end of the 4WD dragging on the ground and nose pointing to the heavens. Stiffly rigid with their GVM upgraded suspension and other accoutrements, to the point where there’s no flex at all, and you know the ride quality will be non-existent and the car’s chassis is doomed to break on the first big bump.
I read with a mixture of amusement and horror in the Facebook forums, where the believers claim that their Hajimoto Super-Cruiser dual-cab ute, happily towed the length and breadth of the country with their Sunseeker 3.5 Deluxe and with gay delight. They just got lucky. They ducked the bullet of having a really bad day.
Ignorance is bliss when you have zero past experience of what a vehicle might handle and steer like when it has been setup correctly… and it’s not when towing 3.5 tonne.
The RV and Auto Industries Need a Kick Up the Arse
They’ll claim they are only responding to the needs and wants of their market and they build vans and trailers that match National vehicle licensing requirements. But it’s the Unholy Grail of pursuing the mighty dollar ahead of road safety that really sticks in my craw.
Just because the consumer wants something, doesn’t mean it should be made, but when Mum and Dad want their air-conditioned king-bedroom, their en-suite bathroom, their lounge room with TV, a kitchen with cooktop, oven and microwave and all the junk that goes with it, it is a package impossible to pack compactly. Anything over three tonnes is an accident (???) waiting to happen.
Those regulators making the decisions on letting this fly are likely leaving their decision to be informed by the applicants. Self-regulation works in so many environments doesn’t it when Government ducks its obligations to enshrine safety based on their own independent evaluation?
The RV industry sees an opening to sell increasingly bigger vans and starts lobbying, the carmakers see an opportunity to sell a vehicle to tow that bigger van and add their weight to the argument and before you know it, bam, it’s enshrined in law.
Consumers Need to Learn the Art of Downsizing
You, yes you, are a guilty partner in this folly, because you are the ones demanding everything and the kitchen sink.
I reckon the whole essence of exploring this great country of ours is lost with the purchase of something so big it can’t be free-camped. Jammed cheek-by-jowl with a bunch of similarly afflicted caravanistas in a caravan park is so far removed from my reality of going away, it’s definitely not funny. Where’s the serenity in that, when it’s just another version of suburbia, squeezed into a regulated town-site slot and costing a nightly fee approaching what you’d pay for a motel room?
With reduction come benefits.
There are plenty of hybrid caravans or camper trailers that offer way-better potential. A compact footprint affords greater potential for exploration and greater freedom in getting away from it all. Sensible hybrids offer a reduction in mass that’ll make towing more reliable and match, or come under the tow vehicle’s weight.
Less weight equals less drama.
If you’ve just retired and it’s just you and your favourite life-traveller, get off the teat of thinking that a suburbia-on-wheels is for you, because you don’t need all that crap.
The Road-Reality of Towing Big Stuff
Instead of having a tow package that can’t be stopped in an emergency, with something smaller you’ll have half-a-chance.
I’d like a dollar for every time I’ve been slowing for a set of lights and left a decent gap ahead of me based on my load and length, only to see some dropkick in a hatchback slot into my space and shorten the braking zone dramatically. All the while I’m listening to the chime and whirr of my ABS going to work and praying that I’m not going to smack him in the arse and push him into someone else, because in the eye of the law, I’ll be the guilty party. There’s no fun in travelling around the country trying to anticipate that every day.
Nor is there much fun in tackling the highways, and at your newly imposed 80-100km/h, making yourself a mobile chicane for faster road users. Unless you’re really keen on the mirrors and being considerate of other road users, you’ll be holding them up and with that comes risk-taking, as the conga-line behind you tries an overtaking move borne out of frustration.
The flipside of that one is where you come up behind a slower vehicle and you throw caution to the wind, pop the indicators on and go for it, just as your asthmatic turbo-diesel runs out of torque right when you need it most, leaving you out in the middle and with nowhere to go.
If that wasn’t enough, big vans have a silhouette the shape and size of a block of flats and are affected by the Bernoulli-effect, where two passing vehicles, perhaps your caravan and a semi-trailer, cross paths at 100km/h. The turbulent disruption to the airflow will upset the aerodynamics and now sends your van on a mighty-old wag, taking you off the road, and living the dream ends in tears.
If training becomes mandatory, who will be paying for it and how will it be implemented?
You will. One way or another you’ll be footing the bill.
If we need an endorsement on our licence, there are a few models that might be pushed our way…
User Pays – you’ll find a provider and undertake a course delivered by a practitioner with the necessary skills.
RV maker pays – where a savvy caravan maker works out that there’s some gain to be had in cutting a deal to subsidise the user-pays model, or it is part of the purchase package to offer a course within the price of the van. Either way, you’ll still be paying for it.
Vehicle maker pays – where a car-maker packages a course into the purchase price of the vehicle, or offers a subsidised price post-sale. Again, it’ll be coming out of your wallet.
Understanding the models above is the easy bit, the really hard bit is making it happen.
I’ll talk about my home State of South Australia first.
Facilities will become a major road-block, as too the availability of instructors knowledgeable enough to deliver it, because a mandated program to include anyone and everyone interested in towing, will take decades to process.
Teaching attendees how to do this stuff requires a facility that ideally is done off-road. I mean, not on public roads, rather, a dedicated facility like a car race track. We have a couple of race tracks in SA and they’ll work, except the cost to hire them for a day is prohibitive, when a towing program is an intimate thing and needing small participant numbers to have any lasting effect.
Some States have retained a Government-owned driver training facility. Mt Cotton in Queensland springs to mind, a location where just about every driving parameter can be replicated. Being in the Government’s care makes its use for the betterment of society more achievable, and at a cost, a private provider unlikely able to, or willing to replicate.
Will it ever happen?
This pains me greatly, but I doubt it. I reckon the legislators will look at everything I’ve just considered and say it’s too hard. I reckon the horse has bolted, there are too many potential applicants and forcing them into a course when they might have to wait a year or much more, will be akin to getting gun-ownership controls in place in the USA.
What we might end up with is a dumbed-down version, something offered online, where you’ll have to watch an hour’s video and then answer a bunch of questions. Better than nothing, but falling short of what is really required.
You’d think the vehicle makers would seize the moment and see the opportunity here.
Offering a dual-cab ute or a wagon as a proper tow machine, like the new “Hajimoto Supertow”, with a minimum 500Nm of torque, decent brakes (drop the pretence that drum brakes have any place on a vehicle in 2022), a decent suspension kit with no sag, a tow hitch and chassis that won’t fold under pressure, proper light-truck tyres and the best safety electronics going, would have huge appeal.
That at least would fix a tonne of loss-of-control moments caused by inferior vehicle design, the other moments we can probably only pray our way around the country, with the tow-Gods keeping an eye on us!
Getting people downsizing and getting their van’s ATM’s under three tonnes and closer to two-and-a-half would likely fix the rest of it, because this whole 3,500kgs tow business is the equivalent of a nuclear arms race, it is the weaponisation of our roads!