RV Vacations For Dummies
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Driving an RV isn’t difficult, but the experience is different from handling the family car. No special license or driver training is required in most states, depending on the size of the rig. Before hitting the road for your RV vacation, you’ll want to know a few basics and brush up on your road etiquette.

Driving an RV ©Lisa F. Young/Shutterstock.com

Focus on the basics

Wherever you rent or buy your RV, someone will go over all the details with you, from driving the rig to hooking it up at the campground. Don’t nod along, pretending that you know what he or she is talking about. If something isn’t clear, ask questions until you understand.

If you’re a novice RV driver (or even an experienced one), getting accustomed to a different model or type may mean having a round of practice at driving in a large, empty parking lot. After you get into the driver’s seat and adjust your mirrors, ask someone to walk around the vehicle so you can identify blind spots. Most new motor homes have a rearview camera fixed on the rear of the rig with a monitor on the dash; these cameras help when the time comes to back up. In addition, many have side-view cameras that turn on with your left and right turn signal lights — a feature that’s very useful in high-volume-traffic areas.

The increased length and width of an RV makes turning more awkward. Making adjustment is easy: You have to make wider turns. When turning right, keep your vehicle closer to the left of your lane than you would with your car, and drive farther into the intersection before turning the steering wheel to the right. When turning left, make comparable adjustments: Keep your vehicle closer to the right, and turn when you get farther than usual into the intersection.

Always signal your intention to turn or change lanes well ahead of time. Your vehicle isn’t as agile as the ones around you.

When you’re backing into a campsite or getting out of a tight situation at a gas station, you want someone outside and behind you giving you hand signals or, better, giving you directions via a walkie-talkie.

On the road, or in lots or parking lots, check your position often in the rearview, side, and center mirrors or the rearview camera. Always be aware of the relationship of your vehicle to the painted lines marking traffic lanes and the edges of the roadway.

Wind is a special consideration to bear in mind when you’re driving an RV. The large, flat surfaces of a trailer or motor home will rock or sway when a heavy wind blows broadside. Be aware that you’ll feel gusts of wind when large trucks pass you at high speeds. You’ll also be buffeted by wind when you pass another vehicle or when one passes you, so expect a little push, and carefully compensate for it. Maintain awareness of passing vehicles by frequently checking the side mirrors.

The biggest chore is mental. Take it easy on the road, slow down, and allow more room to change lanes or stop. Be aware of how much bigger, longer, and heavier your RV is than the average car or pickup on the road, and drive with that awareness in all actions you take.

Road etiquette

Only the most self-centered RVer is bad-mannered on the road. But like you, I’ve been in the position of following a big, tall, slow-moving RV that doesn’t pull over to let me pass when the opportunity arises. To maintain harmony on the road, I offer these tips:
  • Don’t hog the highway. Pull over at turnouts or into slow-moving lanes so that vehicles behind you have a chance to pass. (In some states, laws stipulate that a slower-moving vehicle must allow following vehicles to pass at the first opportunity when five or more of them are trailing.) Allowing cars to pass not only makes the drivers behind you happy, but also makes you more relaxed.
  • Stay in the right lane except when passing another vehicle. When you do pass, make sure that you have the speed and space to do so quickly and easily. Some motor homes don’t have the necessary power to overtake vehicles on an incline (uphill), especially if the other driver happens to speed up as you attempt to pass. The possible exception to the rule to stay in the right lane applies to expressway/interstate driving. Constantly being in the merge-off or merge-on lane can be problematic for a large, heavy motor home. You’re required to brake or speed up to integrate the cars that are coming up on your right side from the expressway on ramps. This isn’t so easy when you’re driving a 28,000-pound motor home that’s 38 feet long plus 20 extra feet when it has a car in tow It’s much easier and safer to be in the lane to the left of the far-right lane, which can often mitigate the merging-traffic issue.
  • Turn off your high beams. As you do when driving any other vehicle, turning off your high beams for an approaching car is a must. Doing so when you’re driving into a campground after dark is also a good idea.
  • Make a friendly wave to oncoming RVs. This customary practice is especially important when the other vehicle is similar to your own.

Beyond the basics: Expert tips

Having logged many miles in RVs and towing trailers, I consider myself to be an expert on the subject. What follows are just a few of the driving tips I’ve picked up along the way to share with you:
  • Buckle your seat belt. When the vehicle is in motion, everyone inside needs to be in their seats with seat belts fastened. Wait until the RV is safely parked before getting up and walking around, fetching a cold drink from the refrigerator, going to the bathroom, or cooking something on the stove.
  • Drive with headlights on in the daytime. If your motor home isn’t equipped with daytime running lights, turn on your headlights. This safety measure makes your vehicle more visible in marginal light and from a greater distance, especially on long, straight expanses of highway. Many states require the use of headlights during the daytime, and I favor making this practice mandatory. When visibility is hampered in any way by natural conditions, fog, overcast skies, pollen clouds, or smoke from brush fires, I always turn on the headlights and taillights so that my RV is easier for other motorists to see.
  • Memorize your RV’s height, weight, and width. You need to know quickly whether your vehicle fits the parameters when you see a sign ahead, warning about a bridge with a 5-ton limit or a tunnel with 10 feet of clearance.
  • Watch for cautionary road signs. Everyone in the RV, not just the driver, needs to keep a lookout, especially for signs denoting a tunnel ahead and listing maximum clearance. Signs that warn about narrow clearances in construction zones require slower speed and very alert driving. I’ve had to drive my motor home, which is more than 8 feet wide, down many miles of 9-foot roadways in construction zones sided with concrete barriers. You can do this with calm, caution, slower speeds, and ample references to the rearview and side mirrors.
  • Take precautionary actions even if you don’t see cautionary road signs. Sometimes on streets in a town or city, you don’t get ample warning of low-clearance tunnels or bridges. When a road dips to go under a railroad trestle you may have to stop and have the co-pilot get out to make an assessment.
  • Slip on a pair of yellow sunglasses (sold in ski shops as ski goggles). These sunglasses combat glare, fog, snow, and headlights when you’re driving after dark. Some of these glasses are clip-ons that fit over your regular glasses.
  • Scan the road ahead with binoculars. Before you change lanes in heavy traffic, the co-pilot can use binoculars to check out the road signs ahead. Binoculars are useful for trying to determine whether interstate entry/exit ramps require you to be in the right or left lane; they also help the co-pilot read signs at intersections.
  • Try to avoid driving at night. I prefer starting early in the morning and stopping for the day by midafternoon. This schedule enables me to hit the road before most vehicles do and see what there is to see. After all, why drive along the spectacular California coast if you can’t see it?
  • Drive defensively. Other drivers don’t seem to realize that motor homes are like big tractor-trailer rigs; they can’t stop on a dime. Drive a safe distance from the vehicle in front of you in case you need to slow or stop unexpectedly. Many other drivers also make the erroneous assumption that RV drivers are elderly slowpokes when most of us drive at or just below the prevailing speed limit with the rest of the traffic. We’re always half-expecting a driver to pull out of a side road in front of us, and we’re rarely disappointed on that account.

One rule to follow: If you see a pickup truck waiting at a side road to pull into traffic, you can count on it pulling out in front of your RV.

Control your speed

Although exceeding the speed limit is never a good idea, doing so can be especially inconvenient Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. These states aren’t signatories to multistate agreements that provide some level of mutual information-sharing and enforcement when you’re traveling out of your home state. What that means is that drivers with license plates from these seven states are subject to having their licenses confiscated and being required to go to the nearest office of a judge, sheriff, or justice of the peace to post bond and/or pay a fine. If an official isn’t available, drivers may be jailed until a court appearance can be arranged, which may take several hours.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Dennis C. Brewer has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business from Michigan Technological University and is the author of several books. As a self-described traveler and snowbird, Dennis is a lifelong camping and RV enthusiast. He and his wife, Penny, visited 43 states in their Fleetwood Class A Motorhome so far.

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