You love driving. That’s part of the reason you so strongly considered getting an RV in the first place.
You adore the freedom of the road, the feeling of the wind as you roll down the window, listening to your favorite songs as you traverse the wide-open road. You love seeing new places and making fantastic memories along the way.
By now, you’re so adept at driving your car or truck that you could do it in your sleep (which is just a figure of speech, of course). You know every part, every lever, every component. Making huge turns, parallel parking, and doing other tricky maneuvers is no problem for you at all. You’re a pro at this.
If you’ve ever driven a friend or family member’s car for a while, though, you quickly find that everything is totally different. It’s almost foreign at first, right? You have to relearn everything all over again. It takes a little while until you feel comfortable driving this other vehicle.
It’s the same way when you commandeer an RV, but doubly so. Everything is different. The vehicle is much bigger, so the driver’s seat sits much higher. The wheels have a different placement, too.
You have to learn how to push the bigger, heavier accelerator and brake pedals. You have to learn when to put on your turn signal and how many feet ahead to hit the brakes so your vehicle rolls to a stop at the right time. Then there are turns, overpasses, and parking spaces to deal with.
In short, it’s a lot of relearning. That’s why we’re discussing RV safety today. You cannot assume that just because you’ve driven for decades in a car or truck that you can hop into the driver’s seat of an RV and be good to go.
Instead, you should read these 10 tips before you head out.
1. Plan What’s Coming up
When you drive your car, you’re always aware of your surroundings. If something suddenly changes, though, like a lane merge or a street closure notification, you can quickly make a U-turn or plan an alternate route on the fly.
It’s not that easy when you’re driving an RV. As you’ll learn, making stops, turns, or well, any sudden movement is practically impossible when you’re controlling a hunk of metal that’s sometimes several thousand pounds.
You will have to plan your trip to the letter. Whether you use a good, old-fashioned paper map or you look up your route online, you should have a clear picture of the distance as reasonably far ahead as you can.
Experts recommend that when you’re driving, you should be able to perceive what’s going on at least 12 seconds in front of you. This may sound difficult, but the more you practice it, the better you’ll get. Eventually, you can even shrink down that time to the preferred 10-second gap.
This lets you prepare for the unexpected, such as the aforementioned merges, lane changes, road closures, accidents, and other events you may need to maneuver away from. You can then continue on safely.
2. Keep the Steering Wheel Stiller
Since you’ve been driving for many years, you may prefer a one-handed grip on your car’s steering wheel when you’re doing simple, straight-ahead driving like on a highway or freeway. You’re innately comfortable in your car, and steering is no big deal.
Well, once you start steering a hulking RV, you’ll find that is no longer the case. These heavy vehicles will require both hands on the steering wheel fairly often, especially at the beginning as you get used to driving.
In fact, you may attempt to overcompensate at first, turning the steering wheel this way and that on your journey. This is to your detriment, as these herky-jerky movements could lead to an accident.
What you should do instead is peer down the road by angling your head higher. This augmented view should allow you to get the view you need to stop turning the wheel so often. You’ll feel more relaxed and confident in your driving as well.
3. Watch Your Speed
Ah, the speed limit.
This is not just a recommendation for your speed, but rather an enforceable law. The high speeds you often reach in your car (like 70 or even 80 miles per hour in some instances) are not necessary when driving an RV.
Actually, most of the time, you’ll find yourself driving slower than what you’re used to. You’re not going to feel hindered by this, though, as you’re going to be concentrating more on maneuvering your heavy vehicle than your speed.
That said, you should always make sure you’re driving close to the speed limit if not matching it. On highways, it’s okay to go slower, such as 65 miles per hour, but don’t drive in the fast lane unless you want to irritate your fellow motorists.
It’s okay to let the speed demons go by you on either side. It can be a little scary and make you feel like you’re being left behind, but do not try to match them for the safety of yourself and your passengers.
Eventually, you will get comfortable with your slower, easier pace. It will let you to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, and what’s wrong with that?
4. Mind the Driving Gap
This is different than planning what’s ahead of you. In addition to that planning, you also want to create a driving gap to protect the other motorists on the road (as well as yourself). You should hang back at least six seconds from the driver ahead of you.
Why six seconds? It turns out this amount of time (and you’ll want to count it slowly, so maybe add a Mississippi or two in there so you don’t rush the count) creates a distance of about 400 to 500 feet. If you need to suddenly pump the brakes of your RV for any reason, that’s enough of a distance that you shouldn’t have to worry about tapping the backend of the driver ahead of you.
Practice narrowing your driving gap to six seconds. Once you get comfortable doing that, narrow the gap even more to four seconds. This will give you the most reaction time to avoid accidents.
5. Master Turning While Steering
Turning is a driving basic, but don’t get too comfortable behind the wheel of your RV, yet. Remember, most of the easiest, most basic driving tasks are the one’s you’re going to have to learn all over again, and turning while steering is no exception.
The front wheel placement of your RV is very different than that of a traditional car or truck. In those vehicles, the wheels are way ahead of you. In your RV, the wheels are right below you. Therefore, even though you could execute a turn exactly the same in the two vehicles, your RV would take the turn completely differently than your car would.
That’s why you have to relearn turning. Instead of worrying about where the front of your RV is when you make the turn, you have to focus on the backend instead. You must ensure the rear has adequate room to make the turn without colliding with curbs, parked cars, signposts, or motorists.
The safest way to handle turns is to drive slowly straight until the back end similarly straightens out. You can then gradually begin moving the steering wheel to execute the turn.
Slow and steady wins the race here. Before you navigate this technique on the road, it may be best to go to an empty parking lot and practice there. Set up traffic cones as markers and try not to hit them as you turn.
6. Change Your Mindset about Intersections
Intersections can be dicey in a car or truck. Once you’re behind the wheel of an RV, things can get even more dicey.
Many drivers want to rush through an intersection, but you will not be able to do that. In fact, you’ll have to kind of lumber through. This may be a pain to motorists around you, but you’re doing your best to be safe.
First, you have to make sure you have adequate room to perform the turn. If a car is right behind the rear of your RV, you might have to go straight for now and wait for another chance to turn off on the next road so you can recalibrate. You do not want to risk accidentally swinging the rear of your RV at other drivers.
If you’re making a turn in an intersection, inch up to the stop line as much as you can. Avoid bumping the curb, fire hydrants, signs, or other vehicles. This should give you ample room to maneuver the turn without hitting anyone.
7. Prepare for Overpasses
You do not want to end up on the five o’ clock news because you overshot an intersection and thought you could make it when you clearly could not. Before you drive anywhere in your RV, read the owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer to ask for the overhead clearance limit. This may be between 10 and sometimes even 13 feet.
Whatever the overhead clearance limit for your vehicle is, abide by it. Do not try to squeeze into overpasses or tunnels in which the clearance limit is smaller than your RV. There’s a risk you could get stuck and/or tear off important parts of your vehicle, such as the roof or side mirrors.
If you plan your trip like recommended above, then you shouldn’t come across any surprise overpasses or tunnels. What if you do, though?
Read the overhead clearance limit as you approach. If your RV can make it, then great! If not, then don’t panic. Just go another way.
8. Practice Parking
If you’ve ever driven up to a packed parking lot and slyly slid your way into one of the last spots available, be prepared to say goodbye to those days when driving your RV. The spots you’re expected to fit a car or truck are the same ones in which you must park your RV, so parking can be a challenge, especially if you’ve never done so in such a lumbering vehicle before.
It’s best to practice parking in an empty lot before doing it for real. This allows you to learn how to best maneuver your vehicle so it fits in the spot without worrying about hitting any nearby cars.
When you do actually park your RV somewhere, remember again that slow and steady wins the race. You do not want to try to squeeze into a narrow spot where two cars on either side are over the white lines. Instead, look for an empty space where there are few other vehicles and park there.
When parking, you may just want to drive into the parking spot rather than backing into it, but do whatever makes you most comfortable. Either way, back up to the point where the nose or rear of your vehicle is as close to the curb as possible.
Chances are, your RV is going to be slightly over the white lines on either side of you. This is practically unavoidable. Other motorists are not likely to try to park near you when they see that, though.
9. Back up Very Slowly
Okay, you parked your RV, went and did what you had to do, and now you’re ready to get on the road again. It’s time to back up.
It can be difficult to do this in a car, especially in a busy parking lot. Backing up in an RV does have an extra challenge to it, but it’s nothing insurmountable.
This is when you’re going to strongly rely on your mirrors. If your vehicle doesn’t come with one, you might also want to consider getting a backup camera. This way, you can see what’s happening on either side and behind you.
Now, move very slowly, making sure your path is clear of other vehicles at all times. You’re probably going to have to back out more than you’re used to so you can fully fit the front or rear of your RV out of the parking space.
Like most of these RV driving tips, it’s recommended you take your time and go as slowly as you can. Make sure you’re not in a rush, so that if it takes you a few extra minutes to back out, so be it.
10. Rest Stops and Truck Stops Are Your Friend, So Use Them!
Rest stops and truck stops aren’t just for truckers. It’s not exactly like you can pull over to the road’s shoulder in most cases if you need a break (these are often too narrow for your vehicle and not necessarily safe, either), so be sure to take advantage of rest stops when you come across them.
You don’t need to stop at every single one you pass by on your journey, but if you’re feeling fatigued, it’s a good idea to take a break for a little while. It’s recommended you stop on a two-hour basis and rest. Whether you stretch your legs, clear your head, or switch seats so someone else can drive, almost anything suffices.
Driving your RV is a new experience, even for seasoned motorists. The good news is that you’re going to get used to it. The bad news is that it will take a while.
You might feel like you’re back in driver’s ed going over all these driving basics from scratch, but it’s necessary. Turning, parking, backing up, making lane changes, and other driving maneuvers are entirely different when you’re in an RV versus a car or a truck.
It’s strongly recommended you practice the above maneuvers in the safety of an empty parking lot until you feel you have a hold on them. This will ensure not only your safety and that of your fellow passengers but also the safety of other motorists on the road.
With time, driving your RV will become as comfortable and second-nature as driving your car is. Until that happens, though, these tips will help you navigate the exciting world of RV ownership as safely as possible.