Australian RV Road Rules
Australia’s RV Road Rules – all you most know when towing a camper trailer or caravan – or driving a campervan or motorhome.
RV Road Rules Summary – Disclaimer
This RV Road Rules Summary is a summary and is intended for general information only. RV Books accepts no liability for any error or omission. The absence of a reference to a rule or law does not imply that such a rule or law does not exist. If there is any discrepancy between this guide and federal, state or territory rules or laws, follow those rules or laws.
These regulations are likely to change in 2024. Check with the relevant authority for the latest information.
In 1998 legislators simplified but only partially standardised RV road rules across Australia. There are still differences and discrepancies. Minor changes, included in this 2020 summary came into force in 2019.
Which RV Road Rules apply where?
All Australian states and territories have RV road rules that drivers must follow. There are additional road rules for ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ trailers. Some depend on trailer weight, or the weight of that towing them.
New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia have towing rules applying to tow vehicles up to a Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) of 4500 kg (9920 lb).
The Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia have rules that cover trailers with an Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) of up to 4500 kg (9920 lb). Tasmania’s towing rules are for ‘Very Light Trailers’ up to 750 kg (1650 lb) and for ‘Light Trailers’ up to a Gross Trailer Mass (GTM) of 3500 kg (7700 lb).
Generally, you follow the rules and regulations of wherever your vehicle and trailer are registered and also where you travel.
RV Road Rules – Maximum Trailer Dimensions
The Vehicle Standard Bulletin 1 (‘VSB1’) details the maximum trailer dimensions. These are:
- Maximum trailer width: 2.5 metres
- Maximum trailer height: 4.3 metre
- Maximum combination length: 19 metres
Roads, bridges and tunnels are built nationally with these dimensions in mind. Melbourne, however, has many bridges that do not conform.
Vehicle Standards Bulletin 1 (VSB 1) contains additional information on maximum trailer overhang and any projecting items. Download VSB 1 for further details.
All states and territories have regulations on the roadworthiness of trailers. The wording differs in each case. All items covered must comply with Australian Standards, and Australian Design Rules. The regulations also require that tow vehicle, trailer and its equipment to be in good condition and working order. If it’s not compliant and roadworthy, it’s not legal.
Trailer weight is the category most likely to infringe. Exceeding maximum weight limits set by the maker of a tow vehicle or trailer is illegal in all Australian states and territories.
Tow vehicle requirements
Australia-wide, a vehicle used for towing must not exceed its Gross Vehicle Mass, Gross Combined Mass, Maximum Towing Capacity, Maximum Tow Bar Mass or Maximum Tow Ball Mass. The tow vehicle manufacturer specifies the first three weight limits. The equipment manufacturer (who may or may not be the tow vehicle manufacturer) specifies the last two weights.
Tow vehicles have additional weight limits. These include tyre and axle loadings. These are derived by the manufacturer when specifying a tow vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Mass and Gross Combination Mass.
For the trailer:
- ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass)
- GTM (Gross Trailer Mass)
- Maximum Coupling Load
- The trailer manufacturer specifies the ATM and GTM. The tow coupling manufacturer specifies the Maximum Coupling Load.
Trailers have additional weight limits such as tyre and axle loadings. These generally taken into consideration by the manufacturer when deriving a trailer’s ATM and/or GTM. It is not legally required to include the GTM on a trailer’s compliance plate. See here for weight definitions of all the above.
In all Australian states and territories, vehicle tow bars must be of a suitable type and capacity for the camper trailer or caravan towed. Tow bars must conform to Australian Standards, which include stipulated information that must be ‘clearly and permanently marked’ on the tow bar. The required information is the maximum rated capacity, part number, the vehicle model(s) concerned, and the manufacturer’s name or trademark.
Some states require that tow bars must not protrude dangerously or have sharp corners when no trailer is connected. There are more general rules about dangerous vehicle protrusions in all states and territories
In all Australian states and territories, trailers and tow vehicles, the electrical sockets for lighting and brakes must accord with Australian Design Rules. Earth conductors (now standard in modern trailer plugs) are specifically-mentioned in Victorian, South Australian and Australian Capital Territory trailer legislation.
Types, colours, positions and visibility of lights are stipulated in detail. The requirements relate to brake lights, night lights, indicators, hazard lights, number plate light and reflectors (reversing lights are not compulsory). Trailers over 2.2 metres wide must have ‘side reflectors’ in SA and trailers over 1800 mm wide or 1600 mm wide, and over 4000 mm long must have ‘side marker lamps’ in the NT.
A coupling is a mechanical connection or ‘hitch’ between tow vehicle and trailer. Standard coupling wording in most legislation either refers to or restates the wording used in Australian Standards. A typical example is that couplings must be ‘strong enough to take the weight of a fully-loaded trailer. The coupling should be marked with the manufacturer’s name or trade-mark and rated capacity. ‘A positive locking mechanism is required and must be able to be released regardless of the angle of the trailer to the towing vehicle’ (NSW).
Queensland requires a ‘quick release’ coupling designed to be engaged and disengaged without the use of tools. It must be of a positive locking type with provision for a second independent locking device’. Queensland and Western Australia legislation also suggest ‘typical approved couplings’ for different trailer weights (50 mm ball couplings for trailers with an ATM up to 2300 kg (5070 lb), heavy-duty 50 mm ball couplings for trailers with an ATM up to 3500 kg (7700 lb) and pintle hook couplings for trailers with an ATM up to 4500 kg [9920 lb]).
Tasmania and the Northern Territory additionally state: ‘Where any part of the coupling or towbar is removable, the bolts, studs, nuts etc., fastening those parts must have a locking device such as a U-clip, split pin, spring washer, or nylon lock nut’.
With minor exceptions, trailer brake requirements are now mostly standardised across Australia. Requirements depend on the weight of the trailer. They range from no brakes for the lightest trailers, brakes on some of the wheels for medium weight trailers to brakes on all wheels for heavier trailers. Heavier trailers additionally need breakaway brakes.
For all states and territories, the trailer brake rules are:
- Trailers up to 750 kg (1654 lb) GTM (and in Western Australia and the Northern Territory) – no brakes required.
- Trailers between 751 -2000 kg (1655 – 4400 lb) GTM – braking on both wheels on at least one axle.
- Trailer between 2001-4500 kg (4401 – 9920 lb) GTM – braking on all wheels plus an automatic breakaway system
For (Victoria, Australian Capital Territory) – in this weight category only breakaway brakes are referred to, not brakes on all wheels.
(New South Wales uses the term ‘laden weight’ rather than GTM in the above categories)
In all jurisdictions, brakes must be operable from the driver’s seating position. So-called over-run’ or ‘over-ride’ brakes (where the momentum of the trailer activates the brake) may only be used on trailers that do not exceed 2 tonnes GTM.
Breakaway brakes operate automatically if the trailer becomes detached from the tow vehicle. The general requirements are in (compliance with ADR 38): ‘breakaway brakes must operate automatically and quickly if the trailer breaks away from the towing vehicle, and remain in operation for at least 15 minutes after a breakaway.’
Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory additionally state ‘breakaway brakes must be able to hold the trailer on a 12% grade while in operation after a breakaway.’
NSW (RMS VIB 6) additionally states that ‘to register a trailer in NSW, a warning device (either visual or audible) must be fitted in the tow vehicle to warn the driver if the trailer battery charge is not adequate to fulfil automatic breakaway requirements’. This requirement does not appear to be for trailers visiting NSW.
Safety chains retain a physical connection between the tow vehicle and trailer if the trailer becomes disconnected from the tow vehicle.
The general requirement is that light trailer safety chains must conform to Australian Standards (VSB 1). The main requirement is that the chain’s minimum breaking load exceeds the ATM of the trailer. Chain dimensions (taken from VSB 1) are stipulated in some states and territories.
Trailers up to 2500 kg (5500 lb) ATM must have at least one safety chain. Trailers over that weight must have two. Chains must cross if two chains are in use. Chain attachments on the trailer side must be permanent. Attachments on the tow vehicle side must use shackles able to withstand the load imposed on them. Rated shackles are not required, but RV Books recommends their use.
Safety chains must not touch the ground when attached and should stop the draw-bar from hitting the ground if the trailer becomes detached. Chains must not prevent a breakaway protection device from operating.
There are two parts to the rules relating to mirrors. The first is what they must do, and the second is their physical dimensions.
In terms of what they must do, ‘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’ (Victoria). Every state and territory has legislation along these lines. For clauses, a ‘vehicle’ includes a tow vehicle and trailer combination.
Most states and territories suggest that for towing large trailers ‘extra mirrors may be required’. Rear-view cameras do not meet side visibility requirements. They are not an acceptable substitution for rear-view mirrors (but are useful when reversing a trailer). Your tow vehicle must have mirrors that allow you to see along the side of your trailer. If you have a trailer that is wider than your tow vehicle, you need appropriate towing mirrors.
Towing mirrors must not be so wide as to be dangerous to other road users. They must be fitted to accord with Australian Design Rules. ADR 1402, states towing mirrors ‘may project 150 mm beyond the point of the ‘Overall Width’ of the vehicle or the ‘Overall Width’ of any trailer it may be drawing. The mirrors may project 230 mm on each side beyond the point of ‘Overall Width’ of the vehicle provided that the mirror is capable of collapsing to 150 mm. It is common sense and safer to remove towing mirrors when not towing. Western Australia points this out in their legislation.
There are three known references to ‘load equalisers’ or ‘weight-distribution hitches’ in Australian towing legislation:
New South Wales and Queensland state that ‘load equalisers’ can be used when towing large caravans’. In 2018, Queensland expanded this: ‘Many towing drivers use a weight-distribution hitch, particularly when towing large caravans. This device transfers some of the load on the tow bar ball to the towing vehicle’s front and rear suspension. This maintains the vehicle’s ride height and steering control’.
Western Australia states ‘to tow heavy loads some vehicles may need strengthening, and/or special transmission and suspension options. A load-distributing device may also be required.’ (The terms ‘can’, and ‘may’ mean that the use of such devices is not legally required).
See RV Books article regarding the adverse effects on cornering when using a weight-distributing hitch.
All states and territories have rules which state that the tow vehicle number-plate must not be obscured by towing equipment (such as tow bars or tow balls) when not towing.
All states and territories have rules on the position and visibility of trailer number plates. Generally, one plate must be fixed to the rear of the trailer and illuminated at night).
The general requirements are that number-plates are all times in an upright position not more than 1.3 metres above ground level.
Increasingly, states and territories are introducing regulations to ensure that all number plates can be easily read by static and mobile road cameras. The latter rules imply that, in these states or territories, trailer number plates can no longer be partially obscured by items such as trailer overhangs, spare wheels or jerry cans.
Towing Speed Limits
Maximum towing speeds for light trailers are the same as for other vehicles (i.e. the posted speed limit) in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia and Tasmania. In Western Australia, the maximum towing speed is 100 km/h. In Tasmania, the speed limit for all vehicles is 100 km/h on sealed roads and 80 km/h on unsealed roads.
The general speed limit in the Northern Territory is 110 km/h. There are, however, four highways that have sections with maximum speed limits of 130 km/h.
You must not tow more than one RV trailer, not carry passengers in the trailer.
In most states and territories, learner drivers are not allowed to tow at all. Provisional (P1) drivers may tow a small trailer weighing up to 250 kg (550 lb) unladen. This weight is increased to 750 kg (1650 lb) GVM in the Australian Capital Territory.
In Victoria, learner drivers may not tow, but P1 drivers can tow a trailer if it is for work purposes related to agriculture, or if an experienced driver accompanies the learner driver. A ‘driver under instruction’ plate must be attached to the front and rear of the vehicle.
In Queensland, learners may tow a trailer if accompanied by a licensed driver.
There are no towing restrictions on either learner or provisional drivers in South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Long Vehicle Rules
If a motorhome, or the combined total length of a tow vehicle and trailer, is over 7.5 metres it is categorised as a ‘Long Vehicle’. It must abide by the Long Vehicle rules of the state or territory in which it is travelling.
The three main rules applying to Long Vehicles which RV owners need to be most aware of relating to stopping, the minimum distance between vehicles – and turning.
Long Vehicles may only stop on road shoulders outside built-up areas. They may only stop in built-up areas for one hour, unless signs say otherwise or unless picking up goods (for the entire period).
If you are driving a Long Vehicle travelling behind another Long Vehicle on a single lane highway that is not in a built-up area, you must travel at least 60 metres behind that vehicle unless overtaking. There are variations to this rule in some states.
In New South Wales, the minimum distance rule applies to roads without street lights rather than non-built up areas. In Western Australia and the Northern Territory, the minimum distance is 200 metres. In Tasmania, the minimum distance is 200 metres in a ‘road train area’ (and 60 metres otherwise.
A Long Vehicle may straddle two lanes to turn left or right. Vehicles behind may not overtake provided that Long Vehicle has a ‘DO NOT OVERTAKE TURNING VEHICLE’ sign or sticker at its rear.
Some narrow side streets have maximum vehicle length restrictions (typically 7.5 metres).
Slowing When Passing Emergency Vehicles
In the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia, drivers passing emergency vehicles, including tow trucks and breakdown assistance vehicles displaying blue, red or yellow flashing lights must now slow to 40 km/h. Drivers must slow to 25km/h in South Australia. Slowing should be in a controlled manner as soon as drivers see blue or red flashing lights taking into account the current road conditions, including surrounding vehicles.
The rule applies to drivers travelling in either direction unless a median strip divides the lanes. Speed should not be increased their speed until a safe distance past the stationary vehicle/s.
In New South Wales, the rule does not apply to roads with speed limits over 90 km/h. Drivers on such roads need to ‘slow down safely to a speed that is reasonable for the circumstance’. They must also keep a safe distance from the stopped emergency vehicle.
The rule also requires drivers to give way to any person on foot in the immediate area of the emergency vehicle.
RV Road Rules – Summary
As this article shows, Australia’s Road Rules are complicated and vary from state to state – often for no conceivable reasons.