Drive your RV safely!

It’s fun traveling with your home as you explore the different regions of the country. However, it can be dangerous if you are not familiar with the differences that the weight, size, and visibility demands of your RV driving. The transition from driving the family car to driving an RV is different, but not necessarily difficult. The points discussed below will help you to be a safe RV driver.

RV heights
Most RVs are taller than passenger vehicles, so you will need to learn quickly about road clearances, service station canopies and bridge heights, and to watch for low-hanging obstacles such as tree branches. Your owner’s manual, your RV dealer, or the RV manufacturer are the best sources for helping you determine the maximum road height for your RV. Once you know, post the height somewhere on the RV or in the tow vehicle, so it will always be handy as a reference.

RV lengths
Many highways either restrict or recommend non-use for vehicles over a certain length. For example, in California, Vehicle Code 35400 restricts the operation of “housecars” over 40 feet only on specified highways and within one mile of either side of those highways for access to fuel, food, or lodging. These highways include, but are not always limited to, the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and all state routes. For exceptions to this list, visit the Caltrans website.

Maneuvering the RV
The additional weight and size (length) of an RV makes it less maneuverable than a passenger vehicle. A safe maneuver in your family car may be dangerous in the RV. Since it is heavier, the RV may not stop as quickly and you will need more following distance. Defensive driving in an RV requires making changes slowly, braking gradually, and being familiar with its handling characteristics.

Most RVs are heavier than passenger vehicles and require greater braking distances. You must allow more time for the vehicle to slow or stop. If you are towing an RV, you must also worry about brake fade. Brake fade can happen when the brakes are overheated from prolonged use, or the brakes are out of alignment. To help avoid brake fade on downgrades, use the lower gears to allow the engine to help slow the vehicle.

RVs are naturally slower than passenger vehicles. It takes longer to climb a hill in an RV because it’s heavier than a passenger vehicle. Keep this in mind, practice good manners, and observe the law by using turnouts when there are five or more vehicles behind you that wish to pass. The drivers behind you will be able to see ahead more easily if you try not to drive next to the center of the lane. If you are traveling with other RV owners in a caravan, be sure to leave enough space between your RV and the RV in front of you for other drivers to enter when they want to pass.

Safety belts
Always wear your safety belt when driving. Even though many motorhomes accommodate passengers in places where safety belts are not required by federal law (i.e., dining table), if the area has a safety belt, wear it. Riding in a place which is not equipped with a safety belt increases the danger of injury in case of an accident.

Weather conditions
Adverse weather conditions such as winds, fog, snow and ice are hazards to all drivers. A motorhome owner has an advantage over other passenger vehicles because of the added weight over the drive wheels. This gives the vehicle better traction in bad weather. However, its added weight can also make it harder to move if it gets stuck. Plan your trips to avoid bad weather conditions as much as possible. Remember, if hazardous weather conditions require the use of windshield wipers you must also turn on your headlights.

Motorhomes towing cars
Towing small cars behind motorhomes has become popular as a way of providing transportation after the motorhome is parked at a campsite. Towing a car differs from towing travel trailers or fifth-wheel trailers. Very little hitch weight is involved when the car is towed on all four wheels, and only minimal hitch weight is involved when the car is towed on a dolly.

If you wish to tow a vehicle behind your motorhome, you need to consider whether or not your motorhome can handle the extra weight under all conditions (e.g., climbing steep hills or mountains). Your vehicle must have sufficient power to climb grades without holding up traffic, and its braking power must be enough to stop the combined weight of the motorhome plus the car and/or tow dolly effectively. Motorhome chassis manufacturers provide limits on gross combined weight (motorhome plus car).

If you are towing a car, be sure the hitch attachment on the motorhome is secure. Hitch weight ratings are usually stamped on the hitch assemblies. The tow bar attachment is also a concern because of the integrated frame construction used in most small cars. If you use a tow bar, safety chains are required, but a breakaway switch is not required. Fully operational tail, brake and turn signal lights are required on the towed car.

It’s easy to forget you are towing a car when driving a large motorhome because you can’t see it. So remember to allow extra space when entering a freeway or passing another vehicle so you won’t cut off the other driver.