The Legal Aspects of Driving a Motorhome

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Taking your prized possession out onto the road for a much needed holiday will mean packing everything you need. As well as being ready for all eventualities and having clothing for any weather, it’s also important to ensure you’re roadworthy.

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There are a number of legal aspects to know about when you own and drive a motorhome; ignore them and you could find yourself with a hefty fine. There are also some sensible thoughts to have which whilst not law in the UK could make a difference in an emergency.

The main areas to ensure you’re knowledgeable of and have checked you’re complying with the law for the UK and beyond are:

  • Seatbelts
  • Payload
  • Equipment needed on-board

Seatbelts

The rules with regards to seatbelts in motorhomes can be extensive depending on whether they were originally fitted at the time of manufacture or are requested as a retro-fit. This is something to check in particular if you have a conversion or self-build motorhome or campervan.

Looking at safety in general, the number of berths specified by the manufacturer may not be the same as the number of seatbelts fitted. This can mean passengers aren’t secure and could be in danger of injury if there is a sudden stop, jolt or veer in the road. If this is the case, the driver must take responsibility for the decision as to how many people travel.

Motorhomes registered between 1 April 1982 and 30 September 1988 and weighing up to 2540kg must have at least a seatbelt for the driver and a specified passenger. If there any other belts they must have a two or three point fixing.

The law changed in 1988 so if your motorhome is after this date and before the next change in 2006, then there must be seatbelts for driver and all front-facing passengers. Three point belts are needed for the driver and passenger; two point is sufficient for others who require one.

There are specific rules regarding children. Those who are in a child seat must be secured with a three point belt.

From 2006, new models have to include the same three point fixings for driver and front passenger but all seats designated for travel must have at least a two point belt. The seats must be officially designated and these must be used during travel – sideways seats in models from 2006 onwards cannot be designated for travel and since April 2012 it has been against the law to travel in any sideways facing seat due to safety – no matter what the age of the vehicle.

Retro-fitting seatbelts to older models is generally prohibited as there are no official fixings and whilst they can be installed, they will not be classed as being able to be designated travel seats.

The number of seatbelts you have could be a question asked by your insurer. If you need to find a policy which suits your particular model, compare quotes here to find the product for you.

Payload

Payload means the weight of the motorhome plus the contents. Every vehicle has a maximum payload and to overload one can mean running into difficult situations if stopped by the police.

It’s not easy to know how much everything you take in your motorhome weighs when you go away; even taking an educated guess could be a challenge. Clothing, food, linen, bikes, barbecue equipment, folding garden furniture and toys for the children and the weight quickly adds up. The solution is to visit a weighbridge after finishing packing everything but they aren’t always accessible and there’s then the question of what to remove if you’re overloaded and where to store it if you’ve already left home.

It’s not only items you regularly pack and unpack to take into consideration. Equipment such as the microwave, television, DVD player and bottles of gas needed to cook with are also part of the equation.  Passengers and pet weight also counts so the more people travelling, the less room for equipment and personal items can be carried.

The solution is to strip the motorhome back to the standard it was when first manufactured and then weigh everything you want to put back in. Add it all up as you go and see what the total is. As a rule of thumb, an adult is on average 75kg when clothed and a child is 30-50k depending on their age; this can obviously vary greatly so needs to be taken into consideration.

If you’ve carried out this exercise and had a shock as to the eventual weight, take the time to reduce everything as much as possible. The next step is to really look at what is absolutely essential and what can be left at home. With the thought of a holiday being marred by a fine for being overloaded, it’s a worthwhile way to spend a day whilst planning the trip to know you can travel light enough to stay within the law.

Health and safety on the road

Rules change depending on the country you’re travelling in and in Europe there are certain items you need to carry by law, but for the UK there’s no legal requirement to carry any specific safety equipment. It makes sense though to protect everyone on board as much as possible and so it’s a wise idea to carry the following items:

  • Warning safety triangle to use at the rear of the vehicle in case of breakdown
  • Hi viz vest for each passenger if they have to leave the vehicle on or near the roadside
  • A first aid kit which is checked after each trip and used items replaced
  • Fire extinguishers; a dry powder one is good for general use – pack one in the vehicle for the living area and one in reach of the driver for engine fires
  • Fire blanket for use in the kitchen

Staying on the right side of legal legislation means that you can have happy and worry free journeys. You’ll know how your passengers should travel to ensure they are secure and how many suitcases you can load on board. Unless you’re on holiday in Europe or beyond and you’re required to have specific additions by law, the added peace of mind that you have taken the sensible option of including some basic health and safety equipment to your staple list of must-have items means you can pull out of your driveway and your holiday can begin.

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