You can’t just hitch up and head off without a clear and legally-enforceable view behind you.
Words & images Marty Ledwich

Ask someone who spends a lot of time on the roads what is their biggest gripe about drivers towing large trailers like caravans and boats. They will all tell you they cannot understand the number of vehicles without mirrors wide enough for the driver to see past their trailer. Apart from being extremely dangerous to them as well as other road users, it is against the law not to have sufficient vision of the road and traffic behind and to each side of your vehicle. If you’re one of those drivers who tows a large caravan or boat and you don’t think you need to fit extension mirrors… then you need to read this.

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The Australian Design Rules (ADRs) are national standards for vehicle safety. They detail the minimum requirements for vehicle design. They are produced and administered by the Federal Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development and are made under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989. The Act enables the Australian Government to establish nationally uniform standards for road vehicles when they are first supplied to the market in Australia – whether they are manufactured in Australia or imported as new or second-hand vehicles.

The Act is Legislation that has been made and enacted by The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia. Put simply, it is the law. In order to register a vehicle in Australia, it must comply with the ADRs. Any modifications, alterations or additions to a vehicle have the potential to affect its compliance with the ADRs, rendering it unroadworthy.

If you need to cure your insomnia, you can read all the relevant ADRs; but the one that is most applicable in this case is Vehicle Standard (Australian Design Rule 14/02 – Rear Vision Mirrors) 2006 Amendment 1. It details the minimum field of vision required from various types of mirrors fitted to all classes of vehicles. The rules are very complex and deciphering them is probably best left to the experts in vehicle design and engineering.

In simple terms, they set out the field of vision that the vehicle’s mirrors must provide. The vehicle must not be constructed or equipped in a manner that inhibits that field of vision, or have anything attached to it that inhibits that view. This is enforced by the Australian Road Rule – Reg 297 Driver to have proper control of a vehicle… which states ‘A driver must not drive a motor vehicle unless the driver has a clear view of the road, and traffic, ahead, behind and to each side of the driver’.

The diagram above shows what the ADRs set out and how a caravan or large trailer interferes with the required field of view. It also shows how extension mirrors correct the driver’s vision.

Assuming that your chosen tow vehicle complies with the ADRs, it is your responsibility to maintain that compliance. When you hitch up a caravan, boat or other trailer to your tow vehicle, you potentially block your vision of the areas specified in the ADRs. If the trailer is no wider than your tow vehicle, then it is likely that your standard mirrors will be sufficient; but if the trailer is wider, then you will need to fit extension mirrors.

A simple test would be to attach your trailer to your tow vehicle and stand directly behind each of the rearmost corners of the trailer at a distance of about 20m from your side rear-view mirrors. If you can see each mirror in its entirety, then you are likely to be compliant. If the mirrors are partially obscured or completely hidden behind the trailer, then you must install extension mirrors.

Some people will argue that they have a camera fitted on the back of their van and that it provides the additional area of vision required. This is not the case. A camera will show you what is directly behind the trailer but not the crucial areas alongside the trailer and its rearmost corners. You need to have vision in these areas when changing lanes or merging into traffic in order to avoid a collision.

Some drivers will choose to ignore this and continue to tow without fitting extension mirrors. Apart from the obvious safety issues, there is a very high likelihood that they will be pulled over by the Police and issued with infringement notices. In Victoria, the infringement is RR 297(2) – Fail to have a clear view of the road and traffic, ahead, behind and to each side of the driver and it will set you back $233. Given the low cost of a good set of towing mirrors, if you avoid just one fine by fitting them they’ll have paid for themselves.

Finally, when you disconnect your caravan, remember to remove the extension mirrors before driving the car on its own.

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