RV Compliance – Here’s how to know

by | Mar 7, 2020 | Articles, CMB, Legal & Compliance

by Collyn Rivers

RV Compliance – Here’s how to know

This article on RV Compliance – Here’s how to know relates to Road Rules of RVs as of now (2020). These will change around 2024.

Which Australian RV Road Rules apply to RVs

All of Australia’s states, territories and jurisdictions have RV road rules. Additional rules apply to ‘heavy’ and ‘light’ trailers. The trailer weight and/or that of the towing vehicle determines which rules apply. This article applies to trailers and caravans up to 4500 kg (9920 lb).

New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia rules cover tow vehicles under a Gross Vehicle Mass (GVM) of 4500 kg (9920 lb). The Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and South Australia  rules cover trailers with an Aggregate Trailer Mass (ATM) 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).

You must follow the rules of the state or territory in which your vehicles are registered. Also of states and territories which you travel in.

RV Compliance – Here’s how to know – maximum trailer dimensions

The RV Road Rules trailer dimensions are published in Vehicle Standard Bulletin 1 (VSB1). These are:

Trailer width: 2.5 metres

Maximum trailer height: 4.3 metres

Maximum combination length: 19 metres

Most roads bridges and tunnels allow for these dimensions. Some Melbourne bridges do not. Nor do multi-storey car parks.

Vehicle Standards Bulletin 1 (VSB 1) contains information on trailer overhang. Also about projecting items. Download VSB 1 for further details.

RV Compliance – Here’s how to know – roadworthiness

All states and territories have trailer roadworthiness regulations. Each’s wording differs. You are required to comply with Standards and Design Rules. Furthermore, you must comply with their general comments. These require your tow vehicle and trailer to be in good order. It’s illegal for you to use them on public roads unless they are compliant and roadworthy,

RV Compliance – Here’s how to know – maximum towing weights

Where you are most likely to infringe is with trailer weight. You must not exceed maximum weights set by the tow-vehicle or trailer maker. Different regulations apply to older units.

In all Australian states and territories, you must not exceed the following weight limits:

RV Compliance – here’s how to know – tow vehicle weight limits

GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass)

GCM (Gross Combined Mass)

Towing Capacity

Tow Bar Mass

Maximum Tow Ball Mass

Tow vehicle makers set the first three limits. Equipment makers set the last two.

Tow vehicles have additional weight limits. These are tyre and axle loadings. Their makers observe these when setting their limits.

A trailer’s limiting weights are:

ATM (Aggregate Trailer Mass)

GTM (Gross Trailer Mass)

GCM (Maximum Combined Mass)

The trailer maker specifies the Aggregate Trailer Mass and Gross Trailer Mass

The the coupling maker specifies the Maximum Coupling Load.

There are additional trailer weight limits. These include tyre and axle loadings. Trailer makers consider both  ATM and GTM. You need to know the trailer’s GTM. It is not currently required on compliance plates.

See here for weight definitions of all the above.

Australian RV Road Rules – Tow-Bars

Australia has few rules about tow-bars when not towing. All jurisdictions, however, have ‘dangerous protrusion’ restrictions.

Your tow-bar must meet Australian Standards. Moreover it must be of a suitable type and capacity for that which you tow. The Standards stipulate data be ‘clearly and permanently marked’. Data required includes maximum rated capacity and part number. It must include the vehicle model(s). Furthermore, It must include the manufacturer’s name or trademark. Some Australian states prohibit tow bars that dangerously protrude. Or have sharp corners.

Australian RV Road Rules – electrics

All Australian jurisdiction require trailers and tow vehicles to have lighting sockets.

Australian Capitol Territory, South Australia and Victoria specifically mention earth conductors. They also specify types, colours, positions and visibility of lights. This includes brake, night, indicators, hazard, and number plate lights. Also reflectors. Reversing lights are not compulsory.

South Australia requires trailers over 2.2 metres wide to have side reflectors.

The Northern Territory requires trailers to have a white light at the front if they exceed 1600 mm wide and over 4 metres long; or over 1800 mm wide. These may alternatively have side marker lights. They must be amber (front) and red (rear). Trailers over 2100 mm wide must have side marker lights. Furthermore, they are required if over 7.5 metres long.

Australian RV Road Rules – couplings (hitches)

A coupling is a mechanical connection between tow vehicle and trailer.

Couplings must have a positive locking mechanism. New South Wales requires that mechanism to be releasable regardless of vehicle angles. Queensland requires quick release couplings. These must enable you to ‘engage and disengage without tools’. They must also have positive locking. Moreover, they must provide for a second, independent, lock.

Queensland’s and Western Australia’s legislation includes ‘typical approved couplings’. These include 50 mm ball couplings for trailers up to 2300 kg (5050 lb) ATM. Trailers up to 3500 kg (7715 lb) ATM require heavy-duty 50 mm ball couplings.

Trailers up to 4500 ATM must use Pintle couplings. A Pintle coupling has a hook or ball that fits inside a ring.

Australian RV Road Rules – additional coupling requirement

Tasmania and the Northern Territory have an additional requirement. This applies where any part of the coupling or tow bar is removable. All fastenings must have a locking device. This can be a U-clip, split pin, spring washer. Or a nylon lock nut.

South Australia’s ban off weight distributing hitches has been.

Australian RV Road Rules – trailer brakes

In all jurisdictions, your brakes must be operable from the driver’s seat. ‘Over-run’ brakes may only be used on trailers under 2 tonnes GTM. (Such brakes are where trailer momentum activates braking).

Australian RV Road Rules – breakaway brakes

All trailers over 2000 kg (4400 lb) GTM must have automatic braking. These must operate if the trailer becomes uncoupled while towing. A battery must ensure braking for at least 15 minutes. Furthermore, New South Wales requires such trailers to brake all wheels.

New South Wales also requires tow vehicle failure warning. It must warn if your trailer’s battery charge cannot fulfil breakaway requirements. The warning may be visible or audible.

Victoria’s requirements are similar. Additionally, automatic braking must operate for at least 15 minutes. Moreover, it must hold a breakaway trailer on 12% gradients.

Australian RV Road Rules – safety chains

Safety chains hold the tow vehicle and trailer together if the trailer accidentally disconnects. All states and jurisdictions require them. Safety chains must touch the ground if the trailer becomes detached. Also, they must not prevent breakaway protection operating.

Australian Road Rules – mirrors

Mirror requirements when towing have two parts. The first prescribes what they must do. The second prescribes their size. Here, every jurisdiction’s legislation is similar. Victoria’s requires: ‘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’. With all such clauses, ‘vehicle’ includes tow vehicle and trailer.

Most states and territories suggest ‘extra mirrors may be required for towing large trailers’. Rear-view cameras do not meet side visibility requirements. They are not a substitute for rear-view mirrors. Nevertheless, they are useful when reversing.

Your tow vehicle must have mirrors allowing you to see the side of your trailer. If your trailer is wider than your tow vehicle, you need wider mirrors. Mirror width must not endanger other drivers. They must accord with Australian Design Rule 1402. This reads: ‘towing mirrors may project 150 mm beyond the vehicle’s overall width. Or the overall width of the trailer it is towing. 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 makes sense (and its safer) to remove towing mirrors when not towing. Western Australia’s legislation stresses that.

Australian RV Road Rules – load equalisers

Australia’s towing legislation refers to ‘load equalisers’, or ‘weight distribution hitches.’

New South Wales and Queensland allow load equalisers to be used when towing large caravans.

Western Australia states ‘to tow heavy loads some vehicles may need strengthening, and/or special transmission and suspension options. A load-distributing (WDH) device may also be required’.

Australian RV Road Rules – number plates

All jurisdictions legislate positioning and visibility of trailer number plates. Generally, one plate must be fixed to the trailer’s rear. It must be visible from a distance of 20 metres, night or day. This requires its illumination at night.

Increasingly, regulations ensure number plates are readable by speed cameras. New South Wales and Tasmania now require them readable within an arc of 45 degrees. That is from above and either side.

The Northern Territory requirement is lower. For vehicles under 4.5 tonne GVM it requires a 15 degrees reading angle from above.  For vehicles over 4.5 tonne GVM, it requires a reading angle of 45 degrees to either side. And 45 degrees from above.

In all jurisdictions, trailer number plates cannot be partially obscured. This affects spare wheels etc. Number plate ‘visibility arc’ rules are being introduced Australia-wide.

Australian RV Road Rules – towing speed limits

Maximum towing speed for light trailers is generally as for other vehicles. It’s that sign-posted.

There are exceptions. Western Australia’s is 100 km/h. Tasmania limits all vehicles to 100 km/h on sealed roads. And to 80 km/h on unsealed roads. Four sections of highways in the Northern Territory have speed limits of 130 km/h. Elsewhere, its general maximum limit is 110 km/h.

Australian RV Road Rules – general prohibitions

You must not tow more than one trailer, nor carry passengers in a trailer.

learner and provisional drivers towing a trailer.

In most states and territories learner drivers are not allowed to tow. Provisional (P1) drivers may tow a small trailer weighing up to 250 kg (unladen). In the ACT this is 750 kg (1650 lb) GVM.

Victoria’s learner drivers may not tow. P1 drivers, however, can tow a trailer if it’s for work purposes or related to agriculture. They may also tow if accompanied by an experienced driver. If done, a ‘driver under instruction’ plate must be attached to the rig’s front and rear.

If accompanied by a licensed driver, Queensland’s learners may tow a trailer.

The Norther Territory and South Australia allows both learner and provisional drivers to tow a trailer.

Australian RV Road Rules – Long Vehicle rules

A motorhome or coupled tow-vehicle and trailer exceeding 7.5 metres is classified a ‘Long Vehicle’. Their drivers must obey Long Vehicle rules of wherever driven.

There are  three main rules applying to Long Vehicles. They relate to stopping, minimum distance and turning.

RV Road Rules – Long Vehicles stopping.

Long Vehicles may stop on road shoulders outside built-up areas. Unless signs say otherwise, they may stop in built-up areas for one-hour. Or for picking up goods (for the specified period).

Australian RV Road Rules – minimum distances

In some states, a Long Vehicle travelling behind another ‘Long Vehicle’ on a single lane highway that is not in a built-up area, must travel at least 60 metres behind that first vehicle. Unless overtaking.

In New South Wales, that minimum distance applies to roads without street lights. For Western Australia and the Northern Territory, the minimum distance is 200 metres. Tasmania’s minimum distance is 200 metres in ‘road train areas’. But 60 metres otherwise.

RV Compliance – the meaning and implications

Compliance has many meanings. They include accommodating and submitting. With vehicles it means ‘meeting all legal requirements that enables them to be (lawfully) registered for use on Australian roads’.

Many RVs are not fully compliant, especially early imports. This is particularly so with American fifth-wheelers and motorhomes. Some are wider than legally permitted.

A motor vehicle or a trailer over 4.5 tonne ATM has a Compliance Plate. This plate is issued by the Federal Vehicle Safety Standards. It confirms compliance with applicable Design Rules. The VSS is within the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities. It administers new RV certification Australia-wide.

State and Territory authorities administer the use of vehicles, roadworthiness and approval of modifications for vehicles already in service.

Currently, caravans and trailers under 4.5 tonne ATM do not undergo VSS processing. Self-certification is permitted. The maker or importer declares the vehicle complies with the Motor Vehicle Standards Act. New legislation will reinforce this.

‘Oils aunt necessarily oils’

Since 1989, caravans and camper-trailers must have a valid Trailer Plate. Buyers reasonably expect that plate’s information is correct. However, in many instances it has not been.

The Plate is legally required to show:

  • Manufacturer’s or Importer’s Name:
  • Trailer Model:
  • Vehicle Identification Number (17-digit):
  • Date of Manufacture:
  • Aggregate Trailer Mass Rating:
  • The Certification Statement: ‘This trailer was manufactured to comply with the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989’

A legally-required Tyre Placard should be included. Three of the items required on this placard are:

  • the manufacturer’s recommended tyre size:
  • tyre load rating:
  • speed rating:

All information on the Plate, or otherwise supplied, must be correct for that vehicle. Many declarations, however, are known to be false. Severe penalties apply but some vendors have done so regardless.

Vehicle Standards Bulletin 1 prescribes the legal requirements for caravans and trailers under 4.5 tonne ATM. VSBI can be downloaded from the website: https://www.infrastructure.gov.au/infrastructure-transport-vehicles/vehicles/vehicle-design-regulation/rvs/bulletins/vsb1

Australian RV Road Rules – consumer protection

Many RV owner/buyers seem unaware of Australian Consumer Law. ‘Acceptable quality’ and fit for purpose are considerations when issues arise. Honesty and ‘duty of care’ are prime considerations.

Tare Mass issues

Most RV complaints and litigation relate to ‘Ratings and Masses’. The major issues relate to ‘load-carrying capacity’ (maximum legal pay-load). Tare Mass’ is not legally required to be stated on the Plate. It can, however, be argued that it is a ‘duty-of-care’ vendor responsibility.

A very common issue is of the actual caravan Tare Mass being significantly greater than the declared Tare Mass.

Tare Mass is the measured mass of the vehicle ex-factory. Water tanks and gas cylinders are empty. Tare mass does, however, include all contracted equipment and accessories. Problems arise because many caravan makers sell only the basic product.  ‘Optional extras’ are usually dealer supplied and installed. This increases the Tare Mass. Despite that, dealers rarely up-date that declared Tare Mass. Your weight allowance is accordingly decreased.

When buying a caravan or camper-trailer, confirm its Tare Mass. Check it at a certified weigh-bridge. Also measure its (empty) ball-loading.

Ratings and method of attachment of the coupling and the safety chains

  • Braking system
  • Lamps and reflectors
  • Electrical wiring between the vehicle and the tow-vehicle
  • Vehicle dimensions… length, width, height, rear-overhang

The most critical potentially lethal items are electrical and gas appliances. These must be installed in strict accordance with appropriate Standards.

Some states/territories have different interpretations and requirements. The only way to ensure full RV compliance is certification by licensed electricians and gas-fitters.

Non-compliant trailer lights and reflectors

RV lights and reflectors are designed for legally specific functions. Ultra-cheap non-compliant trailer lights and reflectors are sold in Australia. To be legal for vehicle use they must have an E-mark or a CRN.

An ‘E-mark’, used on many components used internationally has a capital ‘E’. There is also small sub-script number, inside a circle. Furthermore, an approval number is embossed. Lamps and reflectors sold only in Australia, may have an ‘E-mark’. They are, however, legally required to have a CRN (component registration number) confirming compliance.

You must ensure your lights and reflectors are correctly oriented. This is particularly so for front and rear reflectors (as seen from the side). You must have the prescribed number of lights and reflectors. They must be in the specified positions.

Legal Disclaimer – RV Compliance – here’s how to know

This RV Road Rules Summary is a summary. It’s information is general only. Furthermore, no liability is accepted for errors or omissions. The absence of a reference to a rule or law here does not mean that such a rule or law does not exist.

In the event of any discrepancy between this guide and federal, state or territory rules or laws, follow those rules or laws. Regulations are subject to change. Please check with the relevant authority for the latest information.

NOTE: In all of the above categories, New South Wales uses the term ‘laden weight’ – not GTM.

Further RV information

See also RV Books’ How to Choose and Buy an RV. This (all-new 2020) book covers every aspect of what you essentially need to know. Moreover, it covers every type of RV. As with all RV Books’ now publications it is available in eBook and paperback version.

Collyn Rivers is a semi-retired automobile research engineer.  He is the author of seven books, five of which are about making RVs and solar work optimally.

The Caravan & Motorhome Book

The Caravan & Motorhome Book covers every conceivable aspect of campervan and motorhome usage. If you own a camper van or motor home, you'll want this book.

eBook versions

Paperback version

The book retailers set their own prices which can vary substantially. We'll aim to keep a selection of the better prices above.

Any bookshop, whether online or bricks and mortar, can order copies of The Caravan & Motorhome Book. Just ask.
ISBN: 978-0-6483190-5-4.

The Caravan & Motorhome Book

The Caravan & Motorhome Book covers every conceivable aspect of campervan and motorhome usage. If you own a camper van or motor home, you'll want this book.

eBook versions

Paperback version

The book retailers set their own prices which can vary substantially. We'll aim to keep a selection of the better prices above.

Any bookshop, whether online or bricks and mortar, can order copies of The Caravan & Motorhome Book. Just ask.
ISBN: 978-0-6483190-5-4.