Is this the most significant court case for Australian caravanners, ever?

ByMarty LedwichAugust 29, 2019
7 MINUTE READ
Is this the most significant court case for Australian caravanners, ever?

Many of you would have seen the news story we published on June 25 highlighting the significance of a pending court case that involved an allegedly overweight caravan. A man has been charged with several offences in relation to a fatal crash that occurred near Walcha, NSW in January this year.

That story certainly hit a nerve and was subsequently shared on Facebook more than 200 times. One of the people it reached was a lady called Tracey Wilcox. It was her mother and her brother who were killed in that crash and her stepfather who was the driver. Tracey contacted RV Daily to tell her story in the hope that it would bring a heightened awareness of the dangers, as well as the possible consequences, of driving an overloaded rig.

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There is a lot about this story that we cannot share with you at this time as the case is yet to go before the court. Given that, for the last few years, RV Daily has been heavily promoting the safe towing message, we don’t wish to prejudice a court case where an allegedly overweight caravan is a possible contributing factor in the crash.

What we can tell you is this. Tracey’s mum, Lynette, who was 72 years old, bought her caravan, a Jayco Heritage, in order to fulfil her lifelong dream of travelling around Australia. On January 3, 2019, she, and her 58-year-old husband, her son Stephen and his girlfriend, headed off from Tamworth in her husband’s Toyota Prado with the caravan in tow, bound for Port Macquarie where they had planned a four-week trip. They had pulled over for lunch in Walcha and had resumed their trip when the crash occurred.

Tracey’s stepfather was a former driver in the Army and, in his civilian life, worked as a truck driver. He, along with his son’s girlfriend, survived the crash. He has been charged with multiple offences including: Doing an act intending to pervert the course of justice; two counts of dangerous driving occasioning death; negligent driving occasioning death; dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm, and negligent driving occasioning grievous bodily harm.

According to Tracey, police investigating the crash arranged for the remains of the caravan and its contents to be collected from the accident scene and weighed. As a result of their investigations, her stepfather was also charged with: Towed vehicle weight exceeding the capacity of the towing attachment, and towed vehicle weight exceeding the maximum laden weight.

For all of us who tow large trailers, be they caravans, boats or horse floats, this is the part of the story that demands our attention.

You may have thought if your rig was overloaded, the worst that could happen is that you may have a crash, you’d walk away, perhaps with a few bumps and scratches, claim it on insurance and be back on the road in a new rig in a matter of months. These are dangerous assumptions.

It is absolutely possible that you could kill someone and, in the case of such a serious incident, if the investigating police suspect that your rig was overloaded at the time of the crash, they can and will weigh the remains of the vehicle and lay charges if they believe any limits have been exceeded. Those charges are serious, and a custodial sentence may be the outcome if proved.

It isn’t worth taking the risk.

As the driver of your vehicle, you are solely responsible for ensuring it is not overloaded. To do that you must make yourself aware of its limits, get your rig weighed either at a public weighbridge or by engaging one of a number of vehicle weighing service providers. The information you need is all right at your fingertips. The compliance plates on your car and trailer are not there for decoration or, as one person tried to tell me one day, a guide. They detail the limits of what the manufacturer has determined are safe for that vehicle. Put simply, GVM is the maximum your tow vehicle can weigh. ATM is the maximum your trailer can weigh. GCM is the maximum the combined rig can weigh.

That said, be careful how you interpret the marketing hype around the 3500kg towing capacity of many popular towing vehicles. As we’ve seen in previous articles, by the time you attach a trailer weighting 3500kg, you’ll be lucky to put another 260kg into the tow vehicle before you exceed either its GVM or GCM.

None of us can afford to continue to keep our heads in the sand, unaware of the weights of our rigs with the ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude.

If you do nothing after reading this, at least consider what Tracey told me when I spoke to her. She said she was comforted by the knowledge that the tragic story of what happened to her mum and her brother was getting more publicity. Her only hope is that by telling her story, if it saves the life of just one person, then she would feel that their deaths were not in vain. Tracey wants everyone reading this to know and understand the very real risks that exist with driving an overloaded rig and that the consequences are potentially deadly.

There’s one last detail we want to share with you.

Tracey was at home at the time of the accident. She was scrolling through social media when she saw a post on Facebook about a crash that had occurred near Walcha involving a caravan. The post detailed that two people had been killed and that two others were trapped in the wreckage. At the time she didn’t think too much of it. It was only later that day when police knocked at her front door and informed her of the tragic news that she realised the post was about the crash involving her family.

If, during your travels, you come across an incident or a crash involving a caravan, you may be compelled to post details about it on social media. Perhaps now you will think twice.

There is a lot about this story that we cannot share with you at this time as the case is yet to go before the court. Given that, for the last few years, RV Daily has been heavily promoting the safe towing message, we don’t wish to prejudice a court case where an allegedly overweight caravan is a possible contributing factor in the crash.

What we can tell you is this. Tracey’s mum, Lynette, who was 72 years old, bought her caravan, a Jayco Heritage, in order to fulfil her lifelong dream of travelling around Australia. On January 3, 2019, she, and her 58-year-old husband, her son Stephen and his girlfriend, headed off from Tamworth in her husband’s Toyota Prado with the caravan in tow, bound for Port Macquarie where they had planned a four-week trip. They had pulled over for lunch in Walcha and had resumed their trip when the crash occurred.

Tracey’s stepfather was a former driver in the Army and, in his civilian life, worked as a truck driver. He, along with his son’s girlfriend, survived the crash. He has been charged with multiple offences including: Doing an act intending to pervert the course of justice; two counts of dangerous driving occasioning death; negligent driving occasioning death; dangerous driving occasioning grievous bodily harm, and negligent driving occasioning grievous bodily harm.

According to Tracey, police investigating the crash arranged for the remains of the caravan and its contents to be collected from the accident scene and weighed. As a result of their investigations, her stepfather was also charged with: Towed vehicle weight exceeding the capacity of the towing attachment, and towed vehicle weight exceeding the maximum laden weight.
Web Image 06

For all of us who tow large trailers, be they caravans, boats or horse floats, this is the part of the story that demands our attention.

You may have thought if your rig was overloaded, the worst that could happen is that you may have a crash, you’d walk away, perhaps with a few bumps and scratches, claim it on insurance and be back on the road in a new rig in a matter of months. These are dangerous assumptions.

It is absolutely possible that you could kill someone and, in the case of such a serious incident, if the investigating police suspect that your rig was overloaded at the time of the crash, they can and will weigh the remains of the vehicle and lay charges if they believe any limits have been exceeded. Those charges are serious, and a custodial sentence may be the outcome if proved.

It isn’t worth taking the risk.

Web Image 05
As the driver of your vehicle, you are solely responsible for ensuring it is not overloaded. To do that you must make yourself aware of its limits, get your rig weighed either at a public weighbridge or by engaging one of a number of vehicle weighing service providers. The information you need is all right at your fingertips. The compliance plates on your car and trailer are not there for decoration or, as one person tried to tell me one day, a guide. They detail the limits of what the manufacturer has determined are safe for that vehicle. Put simply, GVM is the maximum your tow vehicle can weigh. ATM is the maximum your trailer can weigh. GCM is the maximum the combined rig can weigh.

That said, be careful how you interpret the marketing hype around the 3500kg towing capacity of many popular towing vehicles. As we’ve seen in previous articles, by the time you attach a trailer weighting 3500kg, you’ll be lucky to put another 260kg into the tow vehicle before you exceed either its GVM or GCM.

None of us can afford to continue to keep our heads in the sand, unaware of the weights of our rigs with the ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude.

If you do nothing after reading this, at least consider what Tracey told me when I spoke to her. She said she was comforted by the knowledge that the tragic story of what happened to her mum and her brother was getting more publicity. Her only hope is that by telling her story, if it saves the life of just one person, then she would feel that their deaths were not in vain. Tracey wants everyone reading this to know and understand the very real risks that exist with driving an overloaded rig and that the consequences are potentially deadly.
Web Image 04

There’s one last detail we want to share with you.

Tracey was at home at the time of the accident. She was scrolling through social media when she saw a post on Facebook about a crash that had occurred near Walcha involving a caravan. The post detailed that two people had been killed and that two others were trapped in the wreckage. At the time she didn’t think too much of it. It was only later that day when police knocked at her front door and informed her of the tragic news that she realised the post was about the crash involving her family.

If, during your travels, you come across an incident or a crash involving a caravan, you may be compelled to post details about it on social media. Perhaps now you will think twice.