Caravan Industry Appears at Joint Senate Committee for Road Safety

< Date: 04 November 2021

Caravan Industry Association of Australia CEO Stuart Lamont recently appeared at the Joint Select Committee on Road Safety. This committee is chaired by Darren Chester MP (Nationals) with Matt Thistlethwaite MP (ALP) and Maria Vamvakinou (ALP) also on the committee.

This was an excellent opportunity to highlight the role of the industry in road safety solutions and commitment to working with government to reduce road trauma. A transcript of his opening remarks are below.

Thank you, Chair, and good afternoon. I’ve been the chief executive officer of the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, the peak national body for the Australian caravan and camping industry, since 2012. We have responsibilities and oversight for the entire supply chain—suppliers, manufacturers of recreational vehicles, retailers, rental product, repairers and caravan parks both short and long term.

Unusually for an industry association we also have a proud history in marketing and promoting the lifestyle benefits of a caravanning and camping experience and regularly communicate to over half a million Australian consumers on our database who are interested in caravanning and campaigning.

Road safety is very important to us as an organisation—so much so, we carry the word ‘safe’ in our corporate vision. We very much believe that one caravan accident is one accident too many, and we’re eager to make sure our consumers complete their caravanning journeys and return to their loved ones safely. Thank you for the opportunity to present to the committee today.

We value the continued focus around road safety, and we support positive and ongoing discussions around safer roads, safer drivers and safer vehicles. I would like to bring to the attention of the committee the role of the recreational vehicle sector within Australia. Collectively there are over 6,000 businesses and 50,000 workers in the industry ecosystem which depend on Australians travelling the country safely, staying in caravan parks and visiting regional communities.

The industry contributes over $23 billion worth of economic activity to the Australian economy annually. It’s estimated that the caravanning and camping community travels more than one billion kilometres in Australia every year. A large percentage of that is with a caravan or a camper trailer in tow. Importantly, over 90 per cent of this travel is conducted out in regional and rural Australia. Caravans also remain Australia’s last bastion of automotive manufacturing, with over 150 local businesses still proudly manufacturing local RV products. In fact, you will not find a larger cluster of caravan manufacturers anywhere in the world than you will find in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.

Building caravans is one of the things Australia does incredibly well—and we need to be, as Australians are much tougher on their RV product than anywhere else in the world. Indeed, we’re now seeing export opportunities in the United Arab Emirates and Africa due to the robustness of our RV products. We are, by market, the third-largest builders of caravans in the world, after the US and Europe, and are globally regarded not only for our construction standards but also for our towing technology. For example, the world’s first ABS for caravans was recently released by AL-KO and Bosch in Australia. Sway technology, weight management and load distribution are also advanced in Australia.

We are seeing strong developments in these spaces. In 2020 the Caravan Industry Association of Australia established the Caravan and Trailer Road Safety Alliance to better understand and harness our industries role in promoting positive road safety outcomes. Thirteen businesses have joined so far—spanning industry suppliers, manufacturers, insurance companies, consumer groups and industry associations—all with a specific interest in improving road safety within our industry. The core issues that we wish to raise from the alliance included, firstly, improved data. Currently, RVs that are registered in Australia are only captured annually through the motor vehicle census, which is coming to an end this year.

We’ve previously engaged with BITRE around a replacement for the motor vehicle census. You can take state data through NEVIDIS and cross-reference this with data coming out of the newly created Register of Approved Vehicles, or RAV. RAV is part of the road vehicle standards legislation, which is currently being transitioned. The RAV data captures, at the point of manufacture, many crucial pieces of information, including the weight of low-ATM trailers and this in real time can inform government and stakeholders about the low-ATM trailers which are making their way onto Australian roads.

We firmly believe that the RAV data, at the point of birth, can have additional uses beyond solely acting as a register of vehicles, and this data should be made more broadly available to industry and government agencies in aggregated form. Secondly, we’re grateful for a small active Federal grant under the Road Safety Innovation Fund to investigate the adoption of existing technologies. We believe, on initial investigation, that there are some great opportunities to import these technologies, mainly out of the heavy vehicle industry, into the caravanning space.

Thirdly, in terms of RV and road infrastructure the No.1 cause of caravan fatalities is head-on crashes. This is mostly caused through driver error and frustration. They have the potential to cause significant injuries to those involved and also long delays on key transit routes. Consideration must be given to better funding for appropriate rest areas away from local communities, on known thoroughfares, for fatigue management purposes and without turning them into quasi caravan parks or overnight stopovers, as well as an increased number of passing lanes and slow vehicle turnouts. Fourthly, we’re seeing a whole new cohort of Australians looking to take up caravanning and camping.

With international borders closed and cruises off the radar, the year ending June 2021 saw a record number of caravanning and camping trips taken, despite border closures and lockdown threats. We’re also expecting, by the end of December, that the calendar year will see the largest number of new RV products into the Australian market in any historical 12-month period. This is locally manufactured product and imports combined. Yet it’s estimated that, annually, less than 10 per cent of purchasers of RVs undertake a towing course. There need to be better incentives to encourage and promote driver training. I think that’s consistent with what the Motorcycle Council was advocating earlier today. Finally, we have the opportunity to make a significant difference around safer vehicles through the enforcement of new powers by the federal department within the Road Vehicle Standards Act.

As an industry association, we’ve been supportive of an improved regulatory framework and strongly advocated for the RVSA for over seven years. We continue to work closely with the vehicle safety standards on how this will be implemented by 1 July 2022, and we provide strong resources and education for industry and businesses on how they’ll comply with what is the most significant regulatory change in 30 years for our RV manufacturers and importers. We have significant resources allocated to vehicle inspections at the time of manufacture, supplemented with specific one-on-one corrective education, opening up over 1,000 vehicle audits on an annual basis in a normal year.

That’s resulted in a 40 per cent reduction in compliance issues identified through this audit process, based on ADR interpretation. This is the opportunity to broaden the risk matrix for the department in looking at low-ATM trailers in the future and creating efficiencies in the federal department when looking to better assess future breaches of the legislation. In summary, what we’re calling for is better data, better education, better road and RV infrastructure and a better interface between government and industry in compliance and education programs.

Thank you for listening to my opening statement. I’m happy to take any other questions on these points or on our previous submission to the committee.

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For a full transcript of the committee hearing including questions from the committee – see here.