Devon County Council revealed that random road tests conducted over the past two weekends on one of the main holiday routes found 90 per cent of caravans tested were in an unsatisfactory condition. Most of the those that failed were overloaded.
But Rebecca Rees of the AA yesterday supported a stand by the Caravan Club which has protested that caravanners are not a danger to road safety.
"Of course we're concerned about the results that have come from the spot checks in Devon," she said. "And there is no doubt that some people leave their caravan in the garage and expect it to be fine when they take it out again next summer. But there are over 500,000 vans used by the British public and our figures show that the amount of accidents involving caravans is only 0.1 per cent. Statistically caravans are actually some of the safest things on the road."
She said that caravanners were involved in fewer road accidents per year than coach drivers, van drivers and drivers of heavy goods vehicles.
Christine Ellis, head of public relations at the Caravan Club, believes that the council results are not representative: "We insure 90,000 caravans and if they all had lots of problems then we would have a lot of claims." But, she said, only 4 per cent of claims handled by the club were for accidents related to the problems uncovered by the council. "That means that less than a quarter of a per cent of the people we insure have so- called 'dangerous caravans'."
Steve Butterworth, director of trading standards and consumer protection for the council, said that many of the caravans stopped during the initiative had obviously not been serviced by a professional centre. Caravanners also seemed ignorant about how to load a van: "Some were three to five times over the weight recommended by the manufacturers," he said.
Roadworthiness tests for caravans are compulsory across most of Europe, and caravanners in France and Germany have to register their vans and pay for annual check-ups.
Stuart Craig, editor of Caravan Life magazine, believes that Britain will soon have to come into line with the rest of Europe: "I have said time and time again that we must have an MOT for caravans and other road trailers. If you've bought a nice caravan, then you can afford to pay a little extra to get it checked every year.
"I've been on one of these spot checks and you find that the trailers that fail are not often the real caravan enthusiasts, but even the enthusiasts need to have their vans checked. At the end of the day, if my van ran over a child because of a defect, I could never forgive myself."