Filed under: Preparation & Readiness, RV Maintenance, RVing & the Legal System, Safety on the Road, The RVs We Drive, Uncategorized
DRIVE YOUR RV LIKE A TRUCKER!
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!