There are lots of things out there relating to caravanning that you can buy, some are useful, some are fun and others, well you have them for a while and you wonder why you spent your money on them. Now and again however something comes along that grabs you attention and the more you think about it the more you want it. When you get it and use it the deal can go in one of two ways; you find it useful and are glad you got it or you wonder why you bothered.
I got one of these things recently and I can confirm that, yes I did think it was a good idea, I did use it and I will be using it every time I go out to tow my caravan.
This product is a sign produced by a company that I came across on Twitter called Maximus Handling Systems Ltd., and it is called the Safe T-Sign. Incidentally Twitter is a great place to join up and to network quickly and easily with others that have have similar interests to you.
The signs consists of magnetic plastic strips that are reflective in artificial light and are high visibility in daylight. They bordered by a black and yellow chevron pattern and the center is white with the work TOWING printed clearly in black. As well as being highly noticeable they also look authoritative.
The arrived neatly rolled in a short cardboard tube which I am now using to store them in the caravan along with the other essential equipment that I use while towing.
It was simplicity itself to unroll the strips and to align them on the nearside and offside doors. It is necessary to thoroughly clean the paintwork and the rear of the signs each time before you use them. This avoids grit getting between the two surfaces and marking the paintwork on your car. It is good practice with these type of signs, no matter how well you clean everything, to remove them fully from the vehicle body in order to realign them. If you push them about while still attached you will get difficult to remove marks no matter how well you clean everything before you start.
Once I had the signs in position on the door I was of course tempted to see just how strong the magnetic bond was. Were these things going to fly off as soon as I reached 50kph/ 30 mph and knock people off their bicycles, frighten babies and cause horses to bolt? The bond didn’t appear hugely strong but I drove on anyway, up to and perhaps slightly over the legal 80 kph/50 mph towing limit. They stayed in place and did their job.
Most obviously these signs are extremely useful when you are emerging from a campsite or a side road. I’m always aware when emerging that approaching traffic may see my car (this being the hope and expectation!). However I always wonder if they realise that I am firmly attached to and being immediately followed by a caravan which is much longer than the tow-car. Are they making allowances for the car and perhaps not for what it is behind it? With this sign there is no doubt that you are towing. The fact that it is highly visible and looks a bit authoritative will help not just to get the attention of approaching drivers but will also help to ensure that they act on what they are seeing.
The need for these things is more complex however than applying their usage to tow-cars emerging to join traffic flow. It is related to how we see. The human eye has evolved for very different purposes than that of simply driving motor cars and keeping a look out for caravans. There is an excellent post over on the safe towing blog which is written by a RAF pilot, air crash investigator and keen cyclist. The thrust of his observations is that the human eye is not designed for driving. This is due to the fact that only the very center part of the retina creates the high resolution image that our brain processes. The rest is peripheral vision. His simple and logical argument is an evolutionary one; ours eyes are good for fixing on antelopes and other prey as we creep up on it. They are not designed for seeing stuff efficiently that is in constant motion. We see and process efficiently only what we are looking directly at. Therefore looking directly at a sign that says TOWING will deliver a message that can be processed quickly by our brains and which will in turn lead to safer driving.
I had two interesting responses while using the signs. The first was a question by the security person at the site where we store the caravan who wanted to know if this was now required by law. The second was a response that happened on the road and involved a driver who was overtaking me in traffic in an urban area. I was driving at the 50 kph/30 mph limit when I noticed that I was being overtaken by a vehicle approaching from the rear on my right hand side. This was traveling significantly in excess of the speed limit. Once the driver noticed the sign on my door she immediately reduced her speed to match mine. Was this to do with the official looking nature of the sign? Did she think that she might get into trouble if she proceeded or did the sign trigger some other more complex thought process? I really don’t know and can only record the fact that she noticed the thing and then slowed down.
The Safe T-Signs signs that I have are courtesy of Maximus Handling Systems Ltd. They are pre-production and when they become available you will be able to get them at the usual outlets.