There are literally dozens of driving and towing tips out there.
However, here, we’re focussing on insights specifically related to driver behaviour and thought patterns while sitting behind the wheel.
Whether you’re new to the caravanning caper or a veteran van owner, these towing tips should help to make your journey safer and less stressful.
And, in many cases, they are beneficial for all road users.
Before departure, it’s important that the vehicle and caravan or camper trailer are in optimum condition. That way you’ve done everything possible to prevent problems en-route.
Try to avoid time pressures by having some ‘fat’ incorporated in your schedule. Allowing more time for scheduled and unscheduled stop-offs means that you don’t have to drive with ‘pedal to the metal’ to get to your campsite before dark.
Reading the road is vital, and this ‘reading’ considers not only the road but also the vehicle you’re driving.
How fast you can travel on good surfaces is usually down to factors other than road quality. A five-tonne towing rig handles differently from an unladen single vehicle, and speed should be trimmed to suit. Braking distances are drastically different, and that’s another reason for slowing down.
Vision is critical for safe cruising, yet many drivers don’t slow down at night-time or when the road is wet. Night driving in the country requires particular caution, as it does at dusk.
Fatigue is a problem on our roads. Speed is a major issue, but fatigue or lack of driver attention is at least as significant. Attentiveness and alertness are paramount.
Research has shown that a high volume of events triggering accidents are attributable to the driver.
Moreover, many of these accidents could have been avoided if the drivers involved noted the critical events prior to the accident, then acted without distraction and with correct driving technique.
Ensuring driver attention is best achieved by taking regular rest breaks – every two hours is a good rule of thumb.
One aspect of fatigue commonly overlooked is dehydration. Sitting in a heated or air-conditioned vehicle is a recipe for fluid loss, but because there’s no physical exertion involved it’s easy to miss the onset of dehydration.
Water is the best cure and coffee and sweet, fizzy drinks are best avoided. It’s essential to carry plenty of easily-accessible water inside your vehicle.
An important contributor to safe driving is leaving sufficient space between your rig and the vehicle in front. If you’re right on its bumper, you’re not leaving enough space to allow for any sudden momentum changes.
What if the vehicle has braked suddenly for a bounding ‘roo?
Dropping back and leaving a three-second gap as an absolute minimum may open the way for others to cut in, but it’s all worth it for a safe journey. Remember, this gap should be increased if driving in the wet or at night.
We’re told that if you ‘see’ yourself in a future situation – on top of the dais at an Olympic medal presentation, perhaps?! – then you can plan how to get there.
Likewise, if you can ‘see’ yourself sitting around the campsite with your family and friends after a long drive, that vision can be constructive while you’re planning and making the journey.
There’s a respected training course for European truck drivers that shows participants about 85% of driving environment information is perceived through the eyes and that their field of view is a generous 180 degrees. But the region of focussed vision is a narrow 10 degrees at most.
Outside that focussed region we’re more likely to notice movement than colour. That’s why drivers are encouraged to move their eyes constantly.
The entire field of forward vision can be broken up into these 10-degree ‘concentration circles’ – usually about eight of them in a typical driving situation at low speeds. As road speed increases, the brain can’t process the incoming information as quickly as it can at low speeds, so the effective size of the circles decreases while the number of circles increases about nine times.
Even within the focussed region, the eyes can miss vital information – for instance, an amber traffic light can be ‘invisible’ if it blends into background colour, or the brake lights on a car can be disregarded by eyes that have turned their focussed region to look at a driver in the back of a parked van.
Eye direction needs to be lower when city driving than when in the country, because hazards are more numerous around town and closer, thanks to lower road speed and higher traffic density.
Our judgment of speeds and distances can sometimes be slightly wrong. We tend to underestimate our speed and overestimate the distance we are from an object. That can be dangerous, particularly when fatigue and speed-acclimatisation are dialled in.
Anticipation properly starts before beginning any trip – even a short weekend run. Drivers need to think about the likely road conditions and the state of the vehicle and its load. Extra care is needed if the roads are wet, or heavily trafficked, or if the tow vehicle or caravan is loaded differently from normal.
The best way to motor smoothly in traffic is to judge traffic flow and blend in. There’s no skill in rushing up to a red light and braking heavily, but there is skill in trimming speed early and judging the right approach speed and gear so that you are still moving when the light turns green.
Traffic lights should always be approached with the idea that a red light is a potential green one, but more importantly, a green one is a potential red one. If you’re looking sufficiently far ahead – and a big SUV or 4WD ute often allows you to do that quite effectively in heavy traffic – then you’ll know how long the light has been illuminated.
Traffic light sequences have been worked out so that a vehicle can stop safely within the amber light period, but that calculation is blown out the window if you’re 20km/h above the speed limit when you spot the change to orange. Try getting off a red light camera charge by saying that the amber light didn’t last long enough!
You can ‘read’ intersections and roundabouts. When approaching a roundabout, for example, it’s best to reduce speed before the intersection to the speed you estimate you’ll be able to use through the intersection.
After you’ve cut speed to that level, select the gear you can use through the intersection.
By approaching a roundabout in this manner you’ll need only to steer and look as you drive through, instead of braking, gear changing, and steering with one hand.