Fitting and re-fitting tow mirrors is a pain in the neck. I’m fine without them. Right? Actually, if you tow a caravan without them, you are probably breaking the law. Here’s why…
If you tow a caravan, it’s probably fair to say you’ve been frustrated by tow mirrors (also known as extension mirrors) at some point. It’s also fair to say that we’re not all as careful as we should be about using them. How many 4WDs without tow mirrors have you seen towing caravans? More than one, I bet. The fact is, though, the use of tow mirrors is not an optional accessory designed to make your life easier as you tow your caravan. Rather, they are an accessory designed to satisfy a legal requirement that applies to all motorists.
TOW MIRRORS: THE LAW
The field of vision provided by a vehicle’s external mirrors are required to meet the standard set down in Australian Design Rule 14/02 – Rear Vision Mirrors. It states: The field of vision must be such that the driver can see at least a 4m wide, flat, horizontal portion of the road, which is bounded by a plane parallel to the median longitudinal vertical plane and passing through the outermost point of the vehicle on the driver’s side [and passenger’s side] of the vehicle and extends from 20m behind the driver’s ocular points to the horizon.
In addition, the road must be visible to the driver over a width of 1m, which is bounded by a plane parallel to the median longitudinal vertical plane and passing through the outermost point of the vehicle starting from a point 4m behind the vertical plane passing through the driver’s ocular points.
This all sounds confusing but hopefully figure 1 will help your understanding. The area marked ‘ground level’ represents the area of vision that you must maintain, even when you have a caravan hitched up. So if your van is wider than the vehicle towing it, which almost all are, tow mirrors – or large mirrors designed to permanently replace the vehicle’s factory mirrors for people who regularly tow – are legally unavoidable. Police don’t have a preference for the type of mirror that you use – they care only that you have the required field of rearward vision.
MIRRORS WHEN UNHITCHED
A common question that caravanners have is weather or not they have to remove their tow mirrors once unhitched. The argument goes that it is a pain in the neck to have to re-fit and
re-adjust them – much easier just to leave them on. But doing so will very likely breach ‘over-dimensional’ laws, which are taken from the Australian Design Rules. Around the country, nothing is allowed to protrude more than 150mm from the side of a vehicle.
For the purposes of this rule, a caravan/vehicle combination is considered ‘one’ vehicle, which is why tow mirrors can extend more than 150mm from the side of the vehicle when
hitched up. Hefty fines can be issued by police to motorists who fail to remove their tow mirrors when their vehicle is not hitched to a caravan.
Rear-view cameras are a fantastic addition to caravans. Their benefit, especially when reversing a caravan, can not be under-stated. They are even fitted as standard equipment
and, if not, can be readily included as an optional accessory when having your van built.
However, under no circumstances should a rear-view camera be used as a substitute for tow mirrors (assuming your vehicle/van combination requires tow mirrors).
Mirrors are mandatory. Cameras, however, are not.
At the end of the day, a rear-view camera will only provide a view of the rear – they do not provide that all-important side view. They will show you if there are any motorists behind
you, but if any of those motorists decide to overtake, they will suddenly be in your blind spot.
SETTING UP YOUR TOW MIRRORS
Without adequate rearward vision when towing a caravan, you are effectively driving blind.
They will help you to negotiate traffic and road obstacles, such as making a right-hand turn around a roundabout, and allow you to change lanes with confidence.
But how to set them up? Once the tow mirrors have been installed, it is a good idea to set them up wide enough so that when you stand at the back corner of the van and look along
the side of the van, you can see that the very inside eye of the tow mirror is line with the side of the van.
Then, jump into the driver’s seat and, with the van and vehicle straight, check that they provide a wide enough field of vision, and make small adjustments as necessary.
Police enforce towing rules and regulations more than ever nowadays, and this especially includes the use (or lack thereof) of tow mirrors. Missing tow mirrors are an immediate
reason for a police officer to pull you over to check the compliance of your rig.
That aside, they are crucial safety equipment – for you, your passengers, and for all all motorists.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Max Taylor has been caravanning since he was a kid and was the editor of some of Australia’s most well-known RV publications for almost 10 years.