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Do you know the towing laws in Australia?

With international borders closed, Aussies are taking domestic holidays, with caravan sales booming.

Holidaymakers are buying or renting caravans, camper-trailers, and watercraft for their trips away.

With many first-time trailer towers hitting the road, here are the key laws and safety considerations to keep in mind.

Towing laws in Australia

There are some uniform regulations on light vehicles and towing which apply in all Australian states and territories. A light vehicle is a one which weighs 4500kg or less.

  • A reference to ‘trailer’ includes all towed trailers, ranging from boat trailers to caravans to horse floats.
  • The vehicle and the trailer must be registered
  • The vehicle and trailer must be in a roadworthy and safe condition
  • Trailers must have a rear number plate
  • Towbars, couplings must not obscure the towing vehicle’s number plate or rear lights
  • Towing more than one trailer is prohibited
  • People are not permitted to ride in trailers

Beyond the obvious physical dangers of towing unsafely, you could face legal consequences if you fail to follow these regulations. This could range from a fine, to demerit points, to even losing your license for serious offences. For the exact penalties, consult your relevant Department of Transport.

Checking your vehicle’s maximum towing weight

Before you begin to tow anything, you need to check both your car and the trailer are suitable. Your owner’s manual should list the maximum weight your vehicle can safely tow. Your towbar may have its own rating as to the maximum weight it can safely tow. When determining how much weight your car can tow safely, go with the lower number of the two.

If your vehicle doesn’t list a maximum towing weight, the suggested maximum towing capacity is:

  • If the trailer has brakes — 1.5 times the unloaded mass of the vehicle
  • If the trailer doesn’t have brakes — a maximum of 750kg

Your tow ball will have its own maximum load. The tow ball load is the trailer weight which applies vertically to the rear of your vehicle. Typically, the tow ball load is around 10% of the vehicle’s maximum towing capacity, but it varies between manufacturer so best to check your manual.

Maximum towing specifications may be provided based of the assumption the vehicle isn’t transporting any cargo. If your vehicle is loaded up with heavy gear, or you have aftermarket accessories like bull or roll bars, your maximum towing capability will be affected.

Towing more than your vehicle’s maximum towing weight could affect the handling of your convoy, increasing your chance of losing control. If you do have an accident, exceeding your vehicle’s maximum towing weight could void your insurance.

Towing safety considerations

There are safety considerations to keep in mind when towing, beyond just the legal requirements.

Once you’ve checked your vehicle’s towing weight, remember to:

  • Allow for the extra length and width of the trailer while driving
  • Consider the trailer’s potential to ‘cut in’ when cornering
  • Change speed smoothly to avoid swaying
  • Consider the effect of cross-winds, passing traffic and severe weather
  • Leave a longer stopping distance
  • Check your trailer’s maximum weight, ensuring you don’t overload it

Towing speed limits by state

Western Australia is the outlier when it comes to towing speed limits — the absolute maximum speed limit is 100km/h when towing, even when the signed speed limit is 110 km/h.

In the remaining states and territories, the speed limit for vehicles towing is generally the signed limit, depending on the combined weight of the towing vehicle and the trailer. It’s best to check the weight of your rig against your state’s requirements to make sure you know what speed is legal.

On top of road speed limits, vehicle manufacturers may recommend different speed limits depending on the vehicle’s tow weight. The heavier the weight, the lower the recommend speed will be. If you intend to exceed the speed recommended while towing by your vehicle’s manufacturer, you should check with your insurer first — their policy may exclude you for doing so.

Is towing another car illegal?

When it comes to towing another car, the laws between states and territories are quite different. You should check your jurisdiction’s specific legal requirements if you’re planning to tow another vehicle. The time of day, condition of the car being towed, and the length of the towline are all factors which depend on your state’s laws.

Using a towline incorrectly can have fatal consequences, given the forces involved between the two cars. It is essential drivers using a towline educate themselves about the correct procedure to avoid injuring themselves and others.

Shine Lawyers — here to help

If something’s happened to you or a loved one on the road, our expert motor vehicle lawyers offer obligation-free case appraisals.

Talking to a lawyer is simple — contact us today

Disclaimer: This information is correct and current at time of publishing. Please double check your local state transport authority for any changes to these laws.

Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: February 18, 2021.

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