The call of the open road. The idea of adventure. The beauty of the USA. This is the dream of RVers – open roads and beautiful campsites. So they buy that big Class A or super long trailer and realize “I’ve got to drive this thing!!!” It’s pretty astonishing that you can just leave the RV lot and hit the road, no special license required (in most states). While that may be the case, you certainly don’t want to be THAT driver. The one who drives like he is the only one on the road and with no special consideration for speed or safety.
We have a few ideas on how you can avoid being THAT driver and keep your safety record and sanity:
1. Take a class or do a boot camp
There are actual RV classes you can take to learn the basics and practice with a professional. Check your local truck driving school or ask the dealer where you bought your rig. While I did not plan on being the primary driver, I wanted to feel comfortable giving my driver a break. Or god forbid, I have to take over for the first time in an emergency. After driving trailers and various vehicles most of his life, he was comfortable driving off the lot. It seemed best (for both our sakes) for him NOT to be the one to teach me, plus it would be nice to get some professional pointers.
We found a truck driving school and met our instructor in a vacant school parking lot. He shared a few key pointers with me (and my husband who came along to “observe.”) We learned the correct way to set up and use the multiple side mirrors, I practiced braking and turns in the parking lot, and got comfortable driving 36 feet of metal before before hitting the roads. We did two sessions of a couple of hours each and I felt much more confident afterwards.
If you can’t find a driving school, you can also look for RV Driving Boot Camps or check with companies like LazyDays.
2. Leave enough space
Never forget – you are driving a large box that weighs more than a few cars together. It does not have the aerodynamics or breaking capacity of your car. It requires more forethought and thinking to turn, stop and maneuver than anything you have driven in your years of driving. Just because you have driven since you were twelve, you have probably not driven anything like this before. Unless you were raised on a farm, but even then, RVs are different!
They need more turning radius so you might have to “borrow” another lane to ensure safety. Remember how your parents harped on defensive driving when you were learning? Now is the time you will really use that skill as you need to be hyper aware of your surroundings. When driving a RVs, remember that those cars around you, especially the guy behind you, are just waiting to pass you so drive accordingly.
It is so important to go at, or in most cases, below the posted speed limit to safely make turns or curves. RVs can, and sadly do, tip over. Nothing like going down the Million Dollar Highway near Ouray, CO to realize it doesn’t matter how many cars stack up behind you, you are taking it slowly. That drop off the cliff will hurt!
Speaking of which…
3. Know your height and weight
Nothing ruins your day like approaching a tunnel and debating if you fit. We have all seen those pictures of RVs that didn’t fit and you don’t want to be them!
We use an app on our phone called Co-Pilot GPS and our RV’s on-board GPS. In both apps, you put in your weight, width and height to ensure you are routed on a path that will work for your rig. Of course, still watch signage as conditions can change.
4. Watch your weight
How your weight is distributed is not just important for your waistline. It is also a key factor in safety with your RV. As you consider what to take in the rig and where to store it, keep in mind all restrictions advised by your manufacturer. Each rig is different so be sure to find the suggested total weight of your RV and keep in mind that it includes gas, water, you, pets and all the stuff you put in the bins or inside. It is also important to evenly distribute that weight to maintain balance and to reduce wear and tear.
Another thing to consider is how you are storing items. While your plates will not likely cause the whole rig to tip over, they can force a cabinet door open when you take a sharp turn. Then not only will you have a large mess, but it could be dangerous as things slide toward the driver or just the startling sound of those crashing to the floor. More than once, our silverware container, which was kept on the counter, loudly scattered to the ground causing me to age considerably from the crash. Now they are placed behind a firmly shut cabinet door for travel.
5. Plan your driving
Plan your drive time accordingly. You should never be in a hurry or trying to meet a deadline when driving a RV. Plan your day to take breaks and to end well before dark. Our RV GPS gives a fairly accurate estimate of drive time, but does not take into account breaks. When we are planning trips and using Google Maps, we add about thirty minutes for every hour it estimates to allow for slower travel and breaks for fuel or comfort.
It is important to take a break from driving your rig and rest for a few minutes to get the blood going and relax your shoulders. Just get out and move around. Go get a snack from the convenience store – you’ve earned it!
Many RVers follow the 3-3-3 rule -Don’t travel more than 3 days.without a few days rest, don’t drive more than 300 miles and arrive before 3 p.m. Of course you can adapt to a 2-2-2 rule if that suits your preferences.
Either way you go, take it easy and try your best to arrive in your campground before dark. Trust us, it makes everyone happier! The campground owners, your partner, your neighbors, and your rig. When you arrive in a new campground after dark, it takes longer and tempers sometimes flare.
6. Take a deep breath
Remember, this lifestyle is meant to be relaxing and fun so take a deep breath and let the other drivers be tense. But also be courteous. You are going to drive slower than the guy behind you on the one lane highway wants you to so be courteous. Maybe he has a reason to go so fast on a winding road? Just pull over in turnouts and allow cars to pass or make room when possible for passing. By taking the high road to allow the cars behind you to pass, you will feel better and avoid having to slam on the brakes when those idiots pull in front of you.
7. Learn to back up the RV
You are going to have to back that thing up at some point so best to learn and get comfortable with it. Candace Rivero, a RV driving school instructor says most of her students say backing into a site is their biggest challenge. And based on our observations, we have to agree.
Chelsea suggested that knowing where your obstacles are and using the GOAL method (Get Out And Look…often) is 1 key to being able to safely and successfully back up the RV. We also recommend getting walkie talkies to assist when you have a partner. Yes, you can use your phone but sometimes the signals are not good so we find the walkies work really well.
The key thing is to practice and get comfortable. For trailers, your hands should be placed at bottom of the steering wheel. Whichever way your hand goes, your trailer will go the same way.
Get out before you back in and walk the site to find where your obstacles are, discuss where you want the hookups to line up on the rig and what is the furthest you want the wheels to back up. Check for obstacles that might impede your slides when you put them out. Will you have room to put your awning out? Are you backing in towards a tree? If so, make sure you have a spotter that you trust watching you so you do not back into several thousand dollars of RV repair by hitting a limb or cement pole you couldn’t see otherwise.
8. Check your tires often
You are driving your home on wheels down the road at 60 mph or more. This means that your tires are REALLY important. So make sure they are safe.
Check your tire pressure, especially on travel days. Using a Tire gauge. Visually inspect them whenever you take your rest / fuel stops. Always do a walk around the rig to look at the tires, tow connection/chains and everything else to make sure all is good.
ALWAYS check your tire pressure on travel days.
Under inflated tires are more likely to blow out. Using a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) is the best way to keep an eye on your rig and any tows you have (we recommend one from TechnoRV). This system keeps a reading on the tire pressures and temperatures of all your wheels and warns you if anything starts to go wrong. It works via a bluetooth sensor that is installed on each tire, including your tows, which syncs to a small digital monitor in the cockpit.
You should also do. general safety check before hitting the road including cleaning your windshields. Develop a good departure checklist and make sure you have cleared it all before hitting the road.
9. Practice makes comfort
The more you drive, the more comfortable you will be in handling the rig. It is important to put in a few hours on a regular basis, especially if you are not the primary driver. It is easy to psych myself out or feel nervous when I haven’t driven in a while so I try to drive for at least a few hours on longer journeys. This keeps up my skills and comfort level, plus offers my driver a break.
10. Set yourself up for a good driving day
Get plenty of rest the night before. Don’t have a late night of drinking. It probably goes without saying, but there aren’t many things worse than having to get a rig ready and driving for hours with a hangover. Get comfortable for the drive, you don’t want to get distracted by tight clothes or shoes while driving so dress for a long drive day. While your parents were just trying to scare you by telling you that driving barefoot is illegal, a solid soled shoe is recommended for maximum safety.
Have drinks and snacks handy so your navigator can easily access. Grab your sunglasses and get your podcasts/music queued up for your listening pleasure. Do whatever you need to ensure that your hands stay on the wheel while driving. Then buckle up and set out.