Caravan Solar Panel Tragedy: Coroner Delivers Findings

Caravan solar panels - coroner findings

The findings of a coronial inquest in Tasmania serve as a reminder to owners of caravans with solar panels to ensure they are properly secured.

Improperly affixed or secured solar panels subjected to significant vibration and wind forces while travelling can result in a weighty lump of primarily glass and metal with sharp corners launched from a caravan roof or trailer into the path of traffic either behind the vehicle or travelling the opposite way.

Three people lost their lives and four were hospitalised in October 2020 after a driver lost control near Ross in Tasmania while attempting to avoid solar panels that had come off a caravan being towed in the opposite direction.

Since that incident, we’ve reported on a couple of other PV-related near misses on the road. One was a solar panel coming adrift from the roof of a caravan near Eastern Creek in Western Sydney in late 2020 (see the heart-stopping video here). The other involved a ute towing a box trailer containing what appeared be improperly secured panels on the Gateway Motorway in Brisbane.

Back to the incident in Tasmania; coroner Simon Cooper noted there were other factors involved that led to the tragedy, but also acknowledges solar panels flying toward the driver were a “significant factor”. The point remains if the solar panels didn’t become dislodged, these deaths may not have happened.

“Screw And Glue” Caravan Solar Panels

In this incident, it appears the solar panels were installed by a qualified electrician in accordance with manufacturer instructions; but Coroner Cooper found the adhesive used failed.

A bit of good came from the tragedy – it  raised awareness and motivated some to check their installations. For example, a Tasmanian caravan owner was shocked to find his solar panels weren’t as well-fixed as he thought and he suggested a “screw and glue” approach – mechanical fixings such as screws or bolts, plus adhesive.

Others have maintained adhesive-only done right is fine and these types of caravan solar panel mounts are still being advertised online. Better regulations are needed concerning what can be used to affix panels on caravans (and vehicles), how they are affixed and who can perform this work.

According to the ABC report linked to above, pre-registration checks of external equipment on caravans and similar vehicles have been tightened in Tasmania since the incident, and there are national rules around aftermarket accessories in the pipeline in relation to Australian light vehicle standards.

In addition to the ABC report, there is further reporting on the coroner’s findings on Tasmania Talks. At the time of writing, I couldn’t find the report on the Magistrates Court of Tasmania website, but it may appear soon.

Whether installed on a caravan rooftop or stowed in the back of a trailer, there’s enough to worry about when driving on our roads as is – avoiding wayward solar panels shouldn’t be on the list. And for caravan owners, to have something like the Tasmanian incident on your conscience would no doubt be a particularly terrible burden if you had prior knowledge adhesive-only mounting systems may not be safe.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

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