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DRIVE YOUR RV LIKE A TRUCKER!

January 13, 2012 by · 33 Comments 

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I would like to ask you a question.

It is a tough question – not only to answer honestly, but for me to ask because I KNOW it could be interpreted (wrongly) as an insult to your inner ego.

Are you really qualified to safely drive your RV?

And if you answered yes (or even no :)), the next question is:

Do you always adhere to the rules and regulations that outline safe driving practices for RVs?

If you are still with me and not totally insulted by my suggesting that you just might not be fully qualified (from a safety viewpoint) to drive your RV – take some time to consider the following discussion and then process the content with an open mind.

Once a driver moves from a family type automobile to a motor home or even a 26-foot travel trailer pulled by a 1/2 ton pick-up, everything changes.  Your stopping distance, passing range, acceleration time, and visibility are only the beginning of what is different.  There is a reason statistics show that the percentage of rear-end collisions involving RV’s is considerably higher than non-RV vehicles.

How many drivers can tell me, right now, what is the true stopping distance of your RV on a dry road traveling 65 mph when it is fully loaded and ready for a camping trip?

Your stopping distance is a number you absolutely need to know.  Finding this number can be tricky, but with modern GPS units, you can get a fairly accurate answer simply by recording the position of the vehicle when you put your foot on the brake and then the position when you come to a full stop.  The difference is, of course, your stopping distance.  The same can be done for acceleration and passing distance.  Just be sure that these tests are conducted on a traffic free roadway – we don’t want to create havoc by doing this in the middle of a busy Interstate.   Until you actually know the stopping distance of your RV, you can safely figure on the length of a football field.  That’s right – 300  feet!  That’s a lot of distance and translates into slow down and back off – not to mention constant attention to surrounding traffic, signage and pedestrians.   I know – as soon as you open the space between you and the vehicle in front a little four wheeler will whip in front of you.  No one really likes to follow an 8 foot square wall – they want a view.  It’s a challenge, but tailgating to avoid cut-ins is not the safe solution.  The car in front can stop in a shorter distance  – meaning YOU are going to run over them before you can stop unless that extra space is present.   I have been known to  pull off at the first Interstate exit for a few minutes when traffic bunches up rather than continue to fight a “grasshopper” (driver that passes, cuts in and then slows down – over and over.)  Driving a RV takes patience and anger management as well as skill.

Big trucks and their drivers live by some of the most stringent highway safety rules imaginable.  New drivers are required to successfully complete a certified driver training school.  They must pass a comprehensive test covering safety, mechanical aspects of their vehicle and traffic laws.  A medical exam certifying that they are drug free and physically ready to drive a big truck is part of the process.  A portion of the licensing test is behind the wheel with a requirement to successfully back up a tractor with a trailer and park it in a predetermined spot.  The certification and testing are tough – not every applicant passes.

Once behind the wheel of a big rig, (any vehicle over 10,001 pounds gross – which most all RVs exceed) drivers have rules that require them to thoroughly inspect their vehicle before and after each drive period.  They must record the inspection process in a logbook; the actual time they may drive is limited to 11 hours with a mandatory 10-hour rest period in between driving time.  You can review all of the drive-time rules here.

Conversely, drivers of RVs (not involved in Interstate Commerce) weighing 10,001 pounds or more have no training or drive-time restrictions beyond those of standard automobile licensing. RV drivers can legally (not safely) drive 14-16 hours straight and ignore pre-trip safety inspections.  If you are physically capable of driving a car, getting behind the wheel of a larger RV is legal.

This means that RV drivers are solely responsible for their training, vehicle condition, and drive times without any special enforcement policies.  Yep, someone that has never driven a truck with a trailer or a motorhome can buy or rent one, jump in the driver’s seat and take off cross-country any time they want as long as they have a valid automobile driver license.  No experience necessary!

As a “big rig” RV driver, my advice for new (and often current) operators of recreational vehicles is:

First - RV drivers, old and new, should begin by reading the safety rules established for commercial vehicles (i.e. heavy & big) and applying them to their own RV driving situation and practices.

Second – They should know the true weight, length, height, and width of their RV (fully loaded) along with the actual stopping distances (both wet and dry surfaces) and acceleration times.  You should always be aware of your rear most wheel “tracking” path and vehicle turning radius.  You simply cannot safely operate a RV without this knowledge.

Third – Each RVer should thoroughly conduct a safety inspection on their RV before every trip and immediately correct any issues before travel.  This includes tires, lights, brakes, mirrors, engine fluids and belts, trailer connections, brake controllers, distribution of load, steering system, suspension, brake fluid level and signs of leakage, windshield wipers and washer fluid, exhaust system (no leakage), and be sure their load is secure (bikes, coolers, etc.)  Additional safety inspection criteria may be necessary depending upon the RV type and if another vehicle is being towed behind a motor home.  The addition of propane cylinders on RVs may be considered a hazardous material – knowledge of proper handling of compressed LPG will be needed.

Lastly – Each beginning RVer should spend at least six hours on the road with an experienced RV driver learning how their RV handles and how to properly control and maintain the vehicle.

Keep your drive times short – the suggested intervals are 3 to 4 hours at a time with a 30 minute break and no more than 10 hours per day before getting a good night’s sleep.  No one should drive an RV while tired, sleepy or impaired by medications.  On the road, stay alert, and drive defensively.  If for some reason you should become drowsy, are affected by medications or simply do not feel like you are at 100% concerning reaction time and attention, pull off the road and stop.  Keep in mind that while ignoring these safety rules is unacceptable for even drivers of conventional “four-wheelers”, ignoring these safety rules in a RV is like disaster times ten.  Your added size and weight magnify the probability of being involved in an accident if adjustments to your driving are not properly made.

Actually, none of this is difficult to accomplish.  All you need to do is drive like a trucker. Please, never think that driving a RV requires no more training, skill, or attention to mechanical detail than driving an automobile.

I hate to throw this one in here – but if you are a guy reading this we, as males, seem to have a harder time accepting that we may not be fully qualified to safely operate an RV without some additional training, study and experience than our female counterparts.  WOW – the lady riding with you will eat that statement up – especially if SHE is the driver.

HAPPY AND SAFE CAMPING TRAILS TO ALL!

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Comments

33 Responses to “DRIVE YOUR RV LIKE A TRUCKER!”
  1. Janet says:

    Prof,
    Great article until you got to the last paragraph! Sorry but it implies that only men are going to read your article and/or drive the RV. Not True!
    I have been certified as a CDL-A (commercial truck driver) for more than 13 years. My husband is also a truck driver but with less experience.
    Another thing that ALL drivers should learn are ways to regain traction on snow and wet roads. STAY OFF THE BRAKE!
    They should also learn ways to regain control of a trailer in the event that it starts swaying back and forth in the lane too much!
    If you start to get tired and are on a long stretch of highway with no place to get coffee, at a minimum, pull over onto a wide shoulder. walk around the unit several times and take some deep breaths. By getting the blood flowing again it can give you the boost to get it to a safe place for a nap or caffiene. It is better to be late to your destination than to not arrive at all!
    And finally, your following distance should be a minimum of 1 second for every 10 feet of total vehicle PLUS add 1 second for any adverse conditions like rain, fog and night time driving. If your total length is 40 feet and you have rain, fog and it is night time, your following distance should be at least 7 seconds!
    Thanks for your article Professor.
    Happy and Safe Trails to Everyone!

  2. eric says:

    I’ve always considered myself a safe driver, even while RVing… but I can see, based on your post today I have some room … okay, LOTS of room… for improvement.

    One minor point… a football field (assuming you were talking American football) is 120 Yards, or 360 feet, not 300 yards/900 feet as you post. I say minor because I think I see where you transposed!

    Thank you for this post! Maybe it’ll improve my own driving and thereby save a life… or perhaps someone else will read it… and save MINE!

    Eric

  3. Professor95 says:

    eric – Thanks! Fixed the error. Not sure why I put those numbers in because I do know better.

    Janet – I did not intend to imply all HDT or RV drivers were men – only that our breed can sometimes be more reluctant to admit we might be wrong when it comes to driving. Your comments and additional advice are greatly appreciated. Are you aware that Nancy and I pull our fiver with a class 8
    Volvo VNL670? Air brakes and air over electric for the trailer take an additional second of take-up vs. hydraulic – something else that has to be computed into the safety formula.
    Again, your additions are greatly appreciated!

  4. Gail Duykers says:

    As an ex-trucker and now RV owner/driver, I think your article really hits the mark. Even though my RV doesn’t bend in the middle like my tractor/trailer used to, I feel my truck driving was a great asset to my safety. Remember, you not only have to drive your vehicle, but you have to be ready for any crazy moves the other traffic around you makes. One of the greatest safety lessons to follow is….leave a large space (following distance) between you and the vehicle in front of you. This gives you more reaction time. Don’t tailgate! Also, by driving 60 mph on open highways, you not only have more reaction time, you also increase your fuel mileage.
    Good job Professor 95!
    Keep the dirty side down.

  5. butterbean carpenter says:

    Howdy Randy,
    YOU SAID A MOUTH FULL AND THEN SOME!!!!!!!! Your BIG WHITE THANG sure is purty!!!

    As a driver of ALL types of trucks, The most important safety recommendation you give is SLOW IT DOWN!!! Even if you have ALL of the knowledge of weights and spaces, if you OVER-DRIVE YOURSELF
    YOU ARE IN A HEAP OF TROUBLE, BOY!!!!!! DAY OR NITE!!!
    The people who you see driving or towing RVs at the maximum speed limit or over ARE IDIOTS who have no understanding of HOW TO DRIVE AN RV!!!! I see it all of the time, especially when I’m ‘forced’
    to drive on the ‘Super-Slab’!!! A 40′ Fleetwood will run 80-100mph, but does it really NEED to!!!!

    What the Professor has to say is VERY IMPORTANT: STUDY THE RULES AND DRIVE ACCORDINGLY

  6. Patti faustini says:

    Hi there! I am positive my RV driving stinks big time! And my hubby is… Adequate. Great blog!

    Happy tales,

    Patti

  7. jimjan says:

    Great article Randy!!!!
    I learned to drive a tractor trailer combination before a specific ‘A’ licence was a requirement in Ontario. And, as you suggest quite rightly, if we all apply the same techniques to driving a recreational vehicle, whether class A, 5th wheel or otherwise, the open road will be a safer place.

    On another note. I haven’t seen your rig since November and that picture makes me wonder if I really ‘saw’ it. Has there been further modification?

  8. jerry b says:

    Good post Randy. I’m sure that we all have to admit to shortcomings in driving our RV’s. I know that my training to drive the RV was about 10 minutes long and most of that was how to hitch/unhitch.

    And you are certainly correct that driving an RV requires a lot of patience – if you leave much room between you and the vehicle in front of you, some (or may 2or 3) fool will pull in there.

  9. Professor95 says:

    jerry b wrote: “And you are certainly correct that driving an RV requires a lot of patience – if you leave much room between you and the vehicle in front of you, some (or may 2or 3) fool will pull in there.”

    Yep – that is what we call a grasshopper. Most 4-wheelers have no clue about how dangerous this. Just another reason to be attentive, defensive and practice good anger management. Thanks for your excellent response!

    Randy (Prof95)

  10. Jay Carnes says:

    As a card carrying cdl driver, with updated medical card, I could not have written a better piece.
    Good article.
    Thanks

  11. Jim says:

    Very good article. My only negative comment and I’m sure I will get blasted by the truckers on here is this. I have barely seen any “truckers” that adhere to the stopping distance while traveling down the highway. I have seen them bumper to bumper with other tractor trailers, I have seen them right on the butt of other vehicles, and at no time would they ever be able to avoid rear-ending the vehicle in front. So using the analogy of “drive like a trucker” would not be my first choice. However, overall a very well written and informative article.

  12. Old Colonel says:

    Great article. As a CDL-A experienced truck driver, I agree completely. However, I think a BIG ISSUE has been left out. Big Rig drivers will tell you that the roads are made for cars and big trucks are allowed to use them. Unlike your car, a truck driver has to drive in 3D, that is, HEIGHT. Which explains why you see so many RVs with roof damage. An eye to bridge heights, covers and trees is essential to safe driving. Personally, I would like to see a license category for RVs of a certain size.

  13. Glen Jones says:

    Great article I something for all of us to remember.
    My Father-in-Law was a long haul trucker for 30 years and once told me he would not be afraid to crawl
    into a sleeper behind me at the wheel, of course I was 20 years younger then and in better health.
    I do find myself driving to fast at times while towing my trailer.

  14. beachcomber says:

    I have a commercial license, which I have maintained since retiring. Have this license does not make you a safe driver. Many times over last few years, I have seen a lack of good judgement by big rigs, when I can see the rivets in the grill of the truck behind me, they imbody all that is wrong with the new drivers. There was a time when the big rigs were the best of the best, not any more.

  15. DocL says:

    The one thing I constantly remind myself, and anybody else that drives my motorhome, even just from the camp office to the site, is that NOTHING happens quickly. You cannot take off like a jack rabbit, you will not turn on a dime, nor will it stop NOW!

    Great article, thanks.

  16. Gary Smith says:

    Then again, there are just as many truckers that I don’t want to copy. Especially the ones that come up from behind when I’m in my car and all I can see in my rear view mirror is the huge grill just a few feet from my rear bumper. They’re not all great drivers.

  17. Ron Butler says:

    Great article! I was a driver ed instructor while I was teaching high school. Had driven truck and horse trailers when I was growing ujp hauling our show horses, but that was years ago! We got our first RV – a 33′ Class A in ’04 and had a good friend that was a city bus driver come out with me several times. We did a lot of practicing in a new development that just had the streets in close to our neighborhood as well. That gave us great experience dealing with turning radius, rear end swing and the like.

    As a driver ed instructor, I always stressed following distance and scanning ahead. That’s why we settled on a Class A, for the visibility. I know that as I am in my early 70′s now, my reaction time has slowed down from what it was even 20 years ago, so I am very content to leave lots of room with traffic ahead of me. The only problem is when we are in heavily congested areas of a freeway, that’s why we try to never hit rush hour traffic times through large cities!

    Sorry 5ers, but I have noticed a lot of them roaring down the highway at 70+ and then wonder why they complain about their tires not lasting!

    Great reminders for all of us.

  18. Jon says:

    Nice article have to agree there are good commercial drivers and rv drivers and bad in both. My wife says I am a very good RV driver. I always leave plenty of space in between me and the guy in front of me. I am the slow guy though drive at 55 MPH all the time. Slow and stead wins the race. Take a break every 4 hours for at least 30 min to get out stretch the legs walk around the RV to see what is going on. Never more than 5 -6 hours per day.

  19. vet66 says:

    Having worked for the railroad in freight and passenger service in the cab of a locomotive one of the things I remember most is; You can always speed up but you haven’t lived until you have to slow down quickly and safely especially going downhill. On trains we had dynamic braking. I cannot imagine driving our 36 foot Country Coach without some sort of exhaust or engine break. It keeps me honest and mindful of my speed in traffic when I remind myself that the faster I go the less effective my brakes are.

    Just like a train, based on the weight of the rig and the type of brake shoes being used, there is a coefficient of adhesion, heat and speed that once crossed will render your brakes useless. Check out the runaway truck ramps for a reminder of what could happen to you.

  20. Paulie says:

    This is an outstanding article on the subject! The best I have read in all the years of RVing! I am a CDL driver with over 25 years of “over the road” – carrying 40 – 55 passengers at a time. And if you don’t think that has it’s responsibilities – think again! There are many points made by those ahead of me here – both pro and con. But, what the reader needs to understand is the INTENT of this article. If you want to be technical you can go to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations nearly 400 pages long and get the safety details we all should know! The intent is what ALL RV’ers need to realize.

    If I would add any of my “two cents”, it would be to take a refresher course or at least sign up for one. I always find that there is some small obscure point I have forgotten! Further, I would recommend that ALL RV Dealers across the nation copy this article and make it part of the paper work you get when you make that important purchase. I just purchased my 2012 motor home and with ALL that paper work there wasn’t anything relative to the proper safety operations of a vehicle used for RVing.

    As Roy Rogers would have said: “Happy Trails to You”………….Paulie

  21. JW Wall says:

    I think there are states where a different license is required for certain sized RVs, not just an automobile driver license. It isn’t correct, in every jurisdiction, to say that, “If you are physically capable of driving a car, getting behind the wheel of a larger RV is legal.”

  22. Russ Short says:

    I have been driving commercial vehicles for almost 50 years and currently I’m the transportation director for a school district. I drove Greyhound buses, Jefferson buses, semi’s with single and double trailers, gasoline tankers and just about anything else that required a commercial license. I’m more comfortable driving a big rig than I am driving the family sedan. There’s just something about driving the big rigs that excites me. I always use caution when driving our nations highways and I always try and look beyond the vehicles ahead of me and try to see whats in front of them. I know my limits and when I reach them, I stop.

    This is a great article and I hope it opens some eyes about capabilities when driving RV’s or anything else for that matter.

  23. Roger says:

    I have no problem driving any size rig. I have even driven a tractor pulling a 53′ trailor. I do not drive a big-rig/18-wheeler for a living. I believe that anyone purchasing any vehicle should be given some sort of driving “test”, or operation how to, INCLUDING, HOW TO JUDGE YOUR DISTANCE ALL THE WAY AROUND THE VEHICLE, front, back, AND sideways. There are way too many people who drive smaller rigs, as small as a larger SUV, that cannot park them in a Walmart, or any other type of parking lot safely. I would have NO problem taking any sort of preliminary test, to show any salesperson, that I (you), can handle AND JUDGE DISTANCE of a vehicle that I (you) are about to purchase. I live in the country where some of the roads are, or seem a bit “thinner” than the normal road size. THIS IS WHERE FOLKS NEED TO BE TESTED. You shouldn’t go left of center. You shouldn’t be anywhere near that center line. You shouldn’t be ready to fall off the edge of the pavement onto the shoulder either. You should be right in the middle for the most part. At least BETWEEN THE LINES OF YOUR OWN LANE. Thank you. I hope all will agree

  24. David says:

    I am a somewhat concerned about your statement “There is a reason statistics show that the percentage of rear-end collisions involving RV’s is considerably higher than non-RV vehicles.” There is a reason but it may not be what we would think, based on the statement. I pull a 34 foot RV and know several folks that pull both smaller and larger. The one thing we all agree on is that those “non-RV vehicles” act as though the RV does not exist. Because the RV is usually driving slower, the drivers of the “non-RV vehicles” tend to get frustrated and want to let the RV driver know by cutting in front of the RV with little or no room for error and only to find the traffic stopping. This greatly reduces the control the RV driver has over the stoping distance and it is reasonable to assume this has a bearing on many of those accidents. To thake it a step further, I know from experience that it does not matter what you drive, if you drive slower, many driver will act the same as with the RV, cutting you off, blowing horns as they pass, etc. There are few courteous drivers left on the road and an even smaller amount that follow the rules and laws of the road.

  25. Larry Clark says:

    No arguement with the article for RV drivers. However how about talking to the Semi drivers about safe stopping distances. They almost always travel in pairs or more and seldom have more than 2 truck lenghts seperating them. We all know it takes more than 120 ft. to stop on of those dudes.
    I’ve been driving a 38 ft MH for 12 yr and although I haven’t actually measured all those distances by GPS , most of them are intuative, as they are in a car.

  26. Don McVee says:

    Well written article on an important subject. In British Columbia you need ( or at least DID need) a special endorsement on your driver’s licence to pull a trailer over 10,000 pounds. To get this endorsement you had to take the same driver’s test as an 18 wheeler would take, including information on drivers logs, pre trip inspections etc. I believe they now have a modified test for RV trailers which excludes the drivers’s logs and hours of work, rests, etc. Some of the professional driver schools now run short courses for RV drivers to qualify for this endorsement. The driver’s test was uncompromising; run over a curb and you fail, stop too close to the vehicle in front and you fail, forget to do frequent rear-view mirror checks and you fail. This test helped to ensure that RV haulers at least knew what they were supposed to do – whether they did it after getting the endorsement was another matter. Unfortunately, in my opinion, there was/is no comparable requirement for drivers of large motor homes, except for an air brake endorsement if your motor home is air brake equipped.

  27. Sweetp says:

    There are bad drivers of every kind of vehicle and yes drivers in all of them have tailgated, changed lanes too often or too quickly, cut people off, accidentally or on purpose etc.
    I do not defend any driver with bad manners.
    But we as a society have forgotten the courtesy of waving a thank you when someone lets you change lanes in front of them (or flashing your 4 ways). How about waving someone on when 2 people arrive at a 4 way stop at the same time…?
    There was a time as I was growing up when truck drivers had the best manners on the road but that is long gone, sadly, so is holding the door for someone, holding an elevator, saying thank you or even hello!
    Good common courtesy, I’m afraid, is a thing of the past. But we need to remember that the Prof talked about how WE, as RV drivers, can take precautions to be prepared for the bad behavior of others!
    It is not about getting there first. It is about getting there safely. And if the others on the road are acting like morons, use that pedal in the middle, it is called the brake! Slow down, create the space that they just took from you!
    To state the obvious, there are more accidents going forward than backwards… why? because you’re going slower when you back up then when you are going forward. Going slower in the forward direction gives you more reaction time.
    So the next time a 4 wheeler, big rig, RV, 18 wheeler, motorcycle, scooter or whatever you want to call the vehicle, cuts you off, at a minimum, take your foot off the fuel and be prepared to put it on the brake. Sometimes just easing up on the fuel is enough to create the space you need to travel more safely. You may even arrive less stressed and be able to enjoy your stay more!.
    Keep the shiny side up as I say!

  28. newbedr says:

    Great article. We purchased our 40′ MH a year ago and off we went across the Rocky Mountains in BC. Came upon the Salmo-Creston pass which is the highest and longest grade in North America. Well, a 5th wheel passed me on the way up and when we reached the crest, I proceeded to follow the 5er. All of a sudden I realized that I could not slow down, my brakes were smoking LOUD and I was shittin. Came to a runnout and decided to take it. Lucky for us, we landed safely and no damage done. BIG lesson. Don’t go down any faster than you can go up and most important, Don’t pump the air brakes. Stand on them hard till you slow down and get your speed control back.
    Thanks for the article. Happy trails to all.

  29. Robb Rowe says:

    Informative article…one correction: North Carolina requires a class B license for vehicles over 28,000 #

  30. JimM says:

    In California a trailer over of 10,000 lbs 10 14,999 lbs requires an endorsement to the standard Class C license. It’s a trivial 20 question test. Go over 14,999 lbs however and it requires a Non-Commercial Class A. Basically a CDL without the air brakes and hazmat stuff. Almost the same driving test. Medical report must be filed every two years.

    Most CHP and police are not aware of the requirement so you probably won’t get cited. Have an accident and you can be sure your insurance company will check. You will not be covered if you are driving a rig for which you are not licensed.

  31. JimM says:

    Previous comment should have read “10,000 lbs to 14,999 lbs . . .”

  32. Art Doyle says:

    I agree with most of the article about driving like a trucker, but not all. Here’s a few where many of the truckers today fail (in other words, mistakes commonly made by truckers today regardless of how they are trained): always use turn indicators to signal your INTENTION to turn (not after you have already moved into the turn lane and/or are already into the turn), always use turn indicators to signal lane changes (and not after your wheels have already crossed the line), NEVER tail gate (factors include vehicle weight, plus weight of dingy or other towed equipment, plus effect of speed (inertia and momentum) put all in danger but especially those vehicles smaller than us, never speed (especially when towing a dingy or trailer) even if its because you want to make the next hill “easier”, never take/force the right of way (we are the large and harder to handle vehicles).

  33. Wayne Cooke says:

    I read this article when it first came out, and was just going through my “saved” emails and came across it again.
    I, like many of the other posters, am a retired semi driver. Forty years and over 3,000,000 miles including single trailers, double trailers, triple trailers (105 feet long and 105,000 pounds), and bus, both tour and city.
    I have been driving Motor Homes (with toad) for the past twelve years.
    The article was a great one, and there were many good additional points bought out. What we all need to remember that what we are driving now is usually much bigger and heavier that what we used to drive. Maintain a safe distance, keep your speed down, watch your turns and don’t go into anywhere you are not familiar with without first checking it out (especially if your are towing something). Just try to back up a set of double trailers, one 35 feet long and the other 28 feet long, around a corner because you trusted someone else’s information.
    Also, I totally agree with the comments about some semi drivers. I am always amazed and disappointed at the way I see some trucks driven. Maybe the article should have been entitled “Drive your RV like a Trucker Should”, or “Drive your RV like a Good Trucker.
    Happy RV’ing and “Keep the shiny side up and the dirty side down”.

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