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Car Towing Regulations & Laws: Do you know the towing laws in Australia?

4 minute read

Motor vehicle accident

Aussies are taking domestic holidays now more than ever. That’s caused caravan sales to boom, along with rentals of camper trailers and watercrafts for trips away. 

But for many of these exuberant holidaymakers, this might be their first time hitting the road with a trailer of any type. So, here are the key laws and safety considerations to keep in mind. 

Car towing regulations in Australia

Many of the car towing regulations on light vehicles and towing apply across all Australian states and territories. A light vehicle is one that weighs 4500kg or less and a ‘trailer’ generally refers to all towed trailers, such as boat, caravan and horse trailers.

Some of the regulations include:

  • 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 and 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 also 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, depending on where you are towing.

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 that 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 manufacturers so it’s best to check your manual. 

Maximum towing specifications may be provided based on the assumption the vehicle isn’t transporting any cargo. If your vehicle is loaded up with heavy gear, or you have after market accessories like bull or roll bars, your maximum towing capacity 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. 

Gooseneck trailer regulations Australia 

Manufacturers set the maximum towing capacity of their vehicles, and in Australia, there are no manufacturers who recognise gooseneck (or 5th wheeler towing) as higher capacity towing.  

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 

Staying accident free and safe on the roads is the most important part of towing a caravan or any trailer. 

Towing regulations by state 

Trailer towing speed limits by state 

The maximum speed limit when towing a caravan or other type of trailer, varies by state. Including the speed limit when towing a trailer in NSW. See the state by state breakdown below: 

  • WA trailer laws are 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. 

  • NT, VIC, TAS, QLD, ACT, SA and NSW trailer laws all set the speed limit for a vehicle 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 recommended 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 from doing so. 

Towing another car 

When it comes to towing another car, the laws between states and territories are quite different. The time of day, the condition of the car being towed, and the length of the towline are all factors that 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. 

You should check your jurisdiction’s specific legal requirements if you’re planning to tow another vehicle. See below for more information in your state: 

Maximum trailer size 

In general, the maximum trailer size and maximum width of a trailer in Australia is set by each state. 

  • Towing laws in NSW and QLD set the overall length of the vehicle and trailer combination including its load at no more than 19m and the maximum width at 2.5m. 

  • In ACT the overall length of the trailer or caravan is limited to 12m and the width to 2.5m.  

  • In VIC a caravan or trailer can’t exceed 12.5m in length or 2.5m in width. 

  • In SA, the total width of a load cannot exceed 2.5m and it cannot protrude more than 15cm from the side of a trailer and cannot exceed a total of 19m in length. 

  • In TAS the length of the trailer or caravan is also limited to 12m and the width to 2.5m. 

  • WA trailer regulations require that a vehicle and its load can’t measure more than 2.5m wide, 4.3m high and extend more than 1.2m in front or 1.2m to the rear of the vehicle. 

  • In NT is similar to VIC, where a caravan or trailer can’t exceed 12.5m in length or 2.5m in width. 

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 initial consultation so you can understand your rights and protect what matters.  

Talking to a lawyer is simple — contact us today

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

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