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Campervan Safety Guide

Wednesday 26th February 2020
By Laura Canning
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By Laura Canning
Welcome to Camplify’s ultimate guide to campervan safety, where we cover essential issues to be aware of when buying a used campervan. 

In this guide, we’ll look at campervan safety and how to ensure you and your van are safe when on and off the road. You’ll also need to ensure your campervan conforms to UK legal safety requirements. 

What do you need to look out for?

Buying a used campervan means you need to consider several safety aspects as well as the more obvious ones of vehicle type, size and mileage. Gas safety, fire safety and driving safety are all vital parts of safe campervan ownership, maintenance and driving. Driving a campervan or motorhome can be very different to driving a car, especially if you’re not experienced.

Campervan safety and the law

In the UK, all recreational vehicles must comply with official government regulations relating to their construction, their contents, the number of passengers allowed and the number of seatbelts required. There are also regulations to adhere to if you’re converting a van for recreational vehicle use.

The main regulations relating to campervans, motorhomes and motor caravans cover:

Converting a van to carry passengers in the rear 

These regulations relate to:

  • fitting seat belts and using side-facing seat belts
  • the number of passengers you can carry
  • carrying children
  • transporting goods and passengers
  • vehicle checks

Under Regulation 100 of The Road Vehicles (Construction & Use) Regulations 1986 (SI 1986 No. 1078), a motor vehicle plus all its parts and accessories is required to cause no danger, or be likely to cause danger, to any person in a vehicle or on a road.

In other words, all passengers (and any load the vehicle is carrying) must be transported safely.

The use of seat belts in campervans

You’ll need to adhere to regulations on the carriage of passengers in campervans. The relevant guidance covers:

  • the number of people you can have in your camper van
  • seat belts and seats
  • driving with children younger than 12 years old

It isn’t illegal to carry a passenger in the accommodation area of a campervan, and there’s no legal requirement for seatbelts to be fitted in the rear of a van. However, the driver needs to ensure that the carriage of any passengers conforms to the Regulation 100 above, where the vehicle and its accessories must not cause a danger to any other vehicle or any person.

Official government advice (note: not regulation) recommends that passengers are safest in a forward-facing or rear-facing seat fitted with a three-point seatbelt, and therefore that the best way to comply with road safety regulations is for all passengers to travel in a proper seat with a seatbelt fitted. 

The exception is if a van is carrying a child aged 12 or under, in which case they must wear a suitable restraint at all times. Bear in mind that child restraints can’t be fitted to side-facing seats, only forward or rearward facing ones.

You’re not legally required to have your seatbelts professionally installed and fitted (eg by a garage or seatbelt specialist), but this is strongly recommended.

Number of passengers allowed in a campervan

Again, this is a matter of guidance rather than official law, but you must comply with Regulation 100 above. The vehicle manufacturer will likely specify the maximum number the vehicle is designed for – if this is exceeded, Regulation 100 could apply. 

Your van’s safety – conversion fixture and fittings

Although legally you don’t have to fit seatbelts in the accommodation part of your vehicle, there are four elements relating to internal fittings that you must comply with if converting a van to a recreational vehicle:

  • seats and table: must be permanent and mounted
  • sleeping accommodation: must be a permanent fixture of the van 
  • cooking facilities: the van must have at least a single gas ring or a microwave, mounted as a permanent feature. Different rules apply for the type of gas fitting used.
  • storage: the van must have a cupboard or locker, which again must be a permanent feature and mounted

Your van’s safety – campervan gas 

It should go without saying that you need to be rigorous with gas safety in your campervan. The first part of that is knowing exactly what you’re dealing with.
If you’re travelling in the UK and Europe, remember that all countries have their own gas bottle suppliers, all with their own regulations. Campingaz is available throughout Europe, but as it comes only in small bottles, it might not be suitable for your trip.

For bigger gas bottles, the type that’s used most in campervans and other Rvs is liquid petroleum gas, or LPG. You can buy this as either butane or propane:

Butane

  • more efficient than propane, so you can boil kettles, heat food etc more quickly
  • denser than propane, so you’ll get more gas in a bottle of the same size
  • can’t be used at temperatures below freezing (it’ll freeze). It’s worth taking this factor into account for UK winter caravanning!

Propane

  • operates at temperatures down to -40°C, which will certainly cover a UK winter trip
  • lighter and less dense than butane
  • normally used with several appliances running off one bottled supply

Regulations on campervan gas and the Gas Safe Register

The legal standards applying to gas regulation and fitting in campervan and motorhomes is BS EN 1949: 2001 + A1:2013, covering “gas safety in caravans, including leisure accommodation vehicles and residential park-homes”. Government guidelines on campervan gas safety are here.

You don’t have to stick to these standards if you’re fitting your gas appliances yourself, and only using your van for personal use. However, if you plan to rent your campervan out, you MUST ensure it adheres to the same legal standards as any other dwelling, ie a flat or a house. (Not sure how to go about letting out your van? Have a look at how it all works on Camplify.)

It’s also worth knowing who the official regulator is gas are in the UK – this is the Gas Safe Register. Its website gives tips on gas safety and holds the official list of the country’s gas engineers. 

If you want help on or advice about your campervan’s gas supply, make sure you only use a registered engineer. You can – legally, at least – fit your own gas supply as long as you’re “competent” to do so, but we strongly recommend using an engineer, especially if other people will be using the van. Factor the cost of a gas engineer into your general setting-up budget.

Campervan gas safety tips

Once your gas is safely hooked up and fitted correctly, it’s time to hit the road. Follow these tips to stay gas-safe in your campervan:

  • turn off the gas while you’re driving
  • don’t carry more than the legal amount (two 10-litre bottles in the UK)
  • fit a carbon monoxide alarm – this is essential
  • fit a fire extinguisher and fire blanket, and take a few minutes to familarise yourself with how to use them. You don’t want to be reading the instructions if a fire breaks out.
  • take exceptional care when fitting a new gas bottle to the regulator – this is not the time for anyone in the van to use a naked flame

Driving your campervan safely

Most of the rules that apply to cars and smaller vehicles apply with campervans and other RVs: 

  • drive an at appropriate speed
  • don’t drive when tired
  • don’t tailgate the vehicle ahead
  • leave plenty of room when overtaking or turning
  • remember that country driving is different than city driving: the roads are narrower, there might be sharper bends and you’re more likely to see wildlife on the road


Pic credit: Airstream Inc. on Unsplash

But there are several extra safety rules specifically for campervans, especially if you’re new to driving. Follow these tips to be extra safe:

  • brake sooner than you would in a car – bigger vehicles take more time to stop
  • accelerate slowly and steadily
  • build up your confidence gradually – don’t rush it at first
  • look for a satnav that can take your vehicle’s weight into account
  • consider taking a campervan driving or motorhome manoeuvring course
  • be aware of high winds and adjust your driving accordingly
  • look out for overhanging branches
  • take as wide an angle as possible when turning corners
  • fit catches to cupboards and doors to keep them shut when driving
  • as above, turn off the van’s gas when driving
  • if you’re using a motorhome park or campsite, look into public transport options/bike hire when there, so you can leave your van safely on site and avoid narrow local roads

Above all, take extra care and leave extra time! You won’t get to know all the ins and outs of driving your campervan until you’ve used it for at least one trip.

Planning a campervan trip

As mentioned, allow for extra time on your trip, especially if you’re new to driving a campervan. Remember too that rural areas such as Cornwall will have small roads and lanes in many places, which won’t be suitable for your vehicle; you might have to plan a new route.

Other campervan safety tips include:

  • checking that satnav is working before you set off
  • cleaning and refilling the clean water tank
  • emptying and cleaning the grey water tank
  • fully checking the interior and exterior bodywork of the van, as well as lights, brakes, windows and seals
  • checking all tyres including spares
  • checking the weather – don’t drive in torrential rain if you’re inexperienced with campervan driving
  • making sure your insurance is up to date

Following all these rules and guidelines will ensure you and your van stays safe on the road. And if you’re thinking about buying a campervan but are a little nervous about driving it, or overwhelmed by all there is to consider, your next step should be to try before you buy. Camplify is the UK’s largest caravan and motorhome RV sharing community, so it’s easy to find a van that suits.

We work with van owners as well! Find out how you can make up to £10,000 a year hiring out your van.



To find out how Camplify can work with you and your RV, register today here.

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