The technical guide for driver side habitation doors

By: Bill Savidan

This month, NZMCD takes a look at the topic of driver side habitation doors

Kiwi RV’ers have been getting in and out of doors on the right-hand side of motor vehicles ever since we started driving. We know the inherent dangers and have learnt how to deal with them.

Margaret Cooney with her European Carado

So what are the issues involved using a habitation door on the right-hand side of an RV?

As far as I can establish, in New Zealand, there is no specific legislation or rules stipulating where habitation doors can be located on an RV. They can be fitted either side, or in the rear panel.Alt TEXT HERE

The UK-built AutoTrail has a LH habitation door

Fred Fellows, recently retired long-time advisor to the NZMCA on NZTA matters, commented that while there are some at the NZTA who would prefer that habitation doors on all new motorhomes and caravans should be on the kerbside, he believes the Authority was unlikely to alter the current situation in the near future.

Motorhomes with right-hand habitation doors sold in New Zealand originate from either Europe or North America. European RVs, in particular, have become popular in New Zealand.

This has eroded the dominant market position once held by RVs built in New Zealand, the UK, and Australia. To counter this European popularity, their sales pitch will often include the topic, ‘habitation doors: kerbside v driver’s side’ implying driver’s side doors are unsafe and that rule changes to have them banned are imminent. But the dust settles and nothing changes.

The issue is not confined to New Zealand. It is just as active in the UK where buyers of European RVs are warned (as they are in New Zealand) they will lose money when they come to resell their European-built RV because the habitation door is on the wrong side.

However, TradeMe tells a different story. Sensibly priced pre-owned European built motorhomes sell well.

This NZ-built Coastal Chateau has the habitation door on the left

Australia is different. It appears they have legislation banning habitation doors on the driver’s side of an RV. However, it may not have been implemented as a vehicle safety measure, but as part of a raft of measures designed to protect their own manufacturing industry.

Long-time motorhomers Russell and Marg from the Kapiti Coast recently replaced their old motorhome with a near-new German built Carado. When they started looking, a kerbside habitation door was near the top of their list of ‘must haves’. After six months searching, they relented and bought the Carado.

Mostly, they use the cab doors to get in and out and if they need to use the habitation door while on the roadway, they check to make sure it is safe to do so.

"You check before getting out of the driver’s door and you do the same for any other door. It’s just common sense," Russell says.

It is basically the same rational Paul Cook of RnRV, Silverdale uses when buyers raise the issue when considering one of his European brands.

"We have young kids and the danger management we teach the kids around exiting cars also applies to exiting RV doors," he explains.


This Italian-built Ci Triaca 32Xt has a RH habitation door

Paul adds that when a dealer takes on an RV agency, there are many aspects to consider before deciding which one is the best match for their business, including which side the habitation door is on.

He concluded the location of the door was a small piece of the overall picture. It had little or no influence on the brands he chose to represent in New Zealand.

Fred Fellows raised more valid points for European RV owners to consider. "It’s not just those exiting a European RV who are in the line of fire. Save a thought for passing cyclists and motorcyclists. If they collide with the RV door, they could suffer serious injury in an accident that need not have happened."

Fred adds, "RVs, unlike cars, don’t have a lot of windows that allow you to see what is happening outside before opening the door. In such cases, strategies need to be created and followed to avoid accidents and injury. Simple things such as applying yellow and black striped tape to the trailing side of the steps and opening the door slowly and checking before fully opening can make a world of difference."

My conclusion is there is no right or wrong side for the habitation door. Kerbside is more convenient, but which side the door is on is only one of the areas of compromise all buyers have to wrestle with. Russell and Marg found that out and the driver’s side habitation door is not an issue for them anymore.

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