Mandatory Smoke Alarms a No-Brainer

Lionel Mussell — 26 March 2011

I GUESS I SHOULDN'T be surprised that a law is required to enforce what is obviously a matter of great concern, or that owners wilfully ignore the simple safety measure of installing a smoke alarm in their RV.

To put it bluntly, anyone who objects to the recent NSW legislation making smoke alarms mandatory in RVs has rocks in their head. Recent statistics provided from fire services show not only tragic loss of life from caravan and other RV fires, but many devastating injuries as well.

Yes – the alarm sounding when you burn the toast can be annoying. But new technology has resulted in a thing called a "hush button". You no longer have to furiously wave a tea towel at the alarm to shut it up or, worse still, take the battery out.


A few years ago I read of a tragic incident in which two Canadian dentists died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a motorhome. They had damaged their generator exhaust system when crossing a nature strip, and consequently run the gennie to power their "furnace", as North Americans call heating systems.

It turned out that the motorhome was fitted with a carbon monoxide detector, but the man who hired them the vehicle had taken the battery out.

The same tragic consequences could result if someone was so incredibly stupid as to remove the battery from their smoke detector.

Many years ago, we lent our caravan to a young couple with a little baby. This was in the UK where vans were made with solid fuel stoves to heat the interior during the severe winter weather. The flue usually ran up through an airing cupboard.

Hubby got up and, before going to work, opened the damper so the fire would heat the van for when his wife and infant daughter awoke. They slept on, however, and when they finally awoke the van was on fire and they were very lucky to escape with their lives.

Detectors hadn’t been invented back then. In that instance, a working smoke detector would have raised the alarm much earlier, resulting in far less risk and trauma.


From March 2011, RV owners have a six month period to fit a smoke alarm in any moveable dwelling in which people sleep, regardless of its roadworthiness. After this grace period, owners will be liable for fines of up to $550.

With or without this new legislation, RV owners are crazy not to fit a smoke alarm, whether in NSW or not. Leave the battery in, keep it serviced, and it might just save your life – or the life of someone you love.

Lionel Mussell is a long standing contributor to Caravan World.


danger legislation laws RV smoke alarm NSW opinion From the road


Lionel Mussell