There’s no better feeling than getting your RV out on the road and pointed in the direction of your destination. Now all you need to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride, right? Wrong! While you may have carefully packed and thoroughly checked over your rig, you still need to stay alert. Watch out for these common road hazards to avoid injury to yourself, your passengers, and your RV.
Types of road hazards
Storm damage. Strong storms with accompanying high winds can cause trees, rocks, and wires to fall onto the roadway. In the days leading up to your trip, be aware of inclement weather that may negatively impact areas along your travel route. If necessary, adjust your travel plans to stay safe.
Important note: The Highway Patrol (for the state(s) you’ll drive through) can provide local information that will help you navigate safely. Google their contact information.
“Alligators.” I’ll admit, having lived in Florida, I assumed that seeing “alligators” on the roadway meant actual gators. Not so! When you hear truckers or RVers comment about the number of “alligators” on the highway, they are most likely talking about large pieces of tires. Sometimes vehicle tires fail, resulting in strips of rubber being cast off the vehicle’s wheel, and onto the road. If you hit a chunk of tire, it can cause you to lose control of your vehicle, damage your rig, and worse. If you travel major interstate highways or busy truck routes, stay alert and watch for “alligators.” More on those pesky non-reptiles here.
Construction materials. It seems that there is more and more construction debris on the roadways lately. Wood and even tools can sometimes fall or bounce from a worker’s truck and cause danger on the highway. Be especially cautious near cities or towns where you see new construction along your route.
Trash/litter. Don’t assume that the plastic bag you see on the roadway ahead of you is empty. Sadly, some folks still litter, and their negligence can negatively impact you and your trip. Slow down. If it’s safe to do so, navigate around the debris.
Sometimes the road itself can be hazardous to RVers. Stay alert as you watch for these road surface hazards.
Potholes. It’s not just daffodils that emerge in early spring. Potholes also appear in the roads. With winter’s freeze/thaw cycle, many road surfaces and sub-surfaces weaken. Then as traffic moves over these weak spots, chunks of blacktop and cement break loose. This leaves a hole—a pothole—in the roadway. It’s easy to damage your tires and your rig by hitting a big pothole. Even a smaller hole can cause a loss of vehicle control. One way to avoid potholes is to reduce your speed and pay attention to the drivers ahead of you. When you see them apply brakes, it’s a signal for you to decrease your speed as well.
Heaved pavement. In the heat of summer, some roadways will heave or rise up, causing a bump. If you suspect the pavement might be heaved by heat, reduce speed and use caution. Again, watch the vehicles ahead of you for brake lights or abrupt swerving of their vehicles.
Rough surface. (You might call them washboards, but young folks may not understand.) These are the rough roads that have been gouged by heavy loads, buckled by extreme weather, or damaged because of surface failure. Whatever the case, slow down. Remember that your RV carries your food, clothes, and supplies. You don’t want all of that bounced out of cupboards and broken.
It’s important to know the total height of your RV. This measurement includes your RV’s height, plus your air conditioner unit(s), TV antennae, and anything else found on top of your rig. Keep this measurement (along with your total length, width, and weight) on a note that’s easily accessible as you travel. Hint: This is important, especially if you avoid Interstate Highways in favor of state or county roads.
Overpasses. If you travel exclusively on the U.S. Interstate System, your RV will easily pass under the system’s overpasses. However, if you avoid Interstate roads, you will need to pay special attention to signage as you approach the overpass. If the overpass’s posted height is equal to or less than your total overall RV height, you will need to turn around, unless there is an exit/entrance ramp that will allow you to drive around the low clearance.
Bridges. Just as with overpasses, you’ll need to be especially careful when driving your RV on state and/or county roads. Heights should be posted. Interstate bridges are engineered to allow the safe passage of big rigs. Hint: RV Trip Wizard will assist you in avoiding low clearances along your travel route.
Road work and more
Road construction zones. For northern regions of the U.S., highway workers perform most road maintenance and repairs during the summer months. However, road construction can occur at any time of the year in regions with milder climates. This work can cause travel delays and also make driving your RV through narrowed lanes challenging. If you have a co-pilot, ask them to help you watch for lane shifts and slow-moving traffic, as well as road workers and their equipment.
Steep grades. Your RV is heavy. A steep grade can strain your vehicle’s engine and cause stress to your braking system. Pay special attention to the grade of the road ahead and use appropriate speed. Move to the right to allow faster traffic to pass you. Do not ride your brakes on downhill slopes. More on grades here.
Animals. In almost every area of the country, you should expect that animals might cross the road ahead of you. Dawn and dusk are prime time for deer, raccoons, and other nocturnal animals to be present. (Once, driving in Michigan, we saw 23 deer near the highway within a 15-mile stretch of road!) A co-pilot can help the driver by keeping careful watch for any animals near the roadway.
Heavy traffic. Morning and late afternoon traffic can be heavy and congested. Distracted or hurried drivers often make frequent and abrupt lane changes. It can be difficult and stressful to drive your RV during these heavy traffic times. It’s a good idea to plan your trip so that you avoid large cities during rush hour.
Tight turns. Unless you have a truck camper, chances are your RV is longer and wider than most other personal vehicles. Navigating tight turns can be challenging and nerve-wracking. Be aware of your rig’s turning radius and use caution when turning. (If you practice tight turns in a deserted parking lot ahead of time, you will feel more confident when navigating turns.)
By staying aware of potential road hazards, you can ensure a safe and enjoyable trip in your RV.
In your experience, what road hazard poses the greatest threat to RVers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
All great reminders, thank you, Gail!
Talks about things coming up fast – A few years ago enroute to Grand Rapids, Mn on a 2 lane state hiway I came over a small hill and at the bottom, straddling the center line, was a doe nursing her fawn! I was traveling at 55 mph in a 34′ Class A and had no time to brake. Two cars were stopped on the opposing hill and could have warned on-coming traffic by flashing their lites; I would have instinctively taken my foot off the gas pedal. I went by the deer between 45-50 mph and fortunately neither one of them moved. My wife was reading a book and missed the whole thing!
I come up over a small hill and I saw a 6-foot ladder laying on the road and I didn’t have a chance to move over to the other lane. I tried to straddle it but my rear wheels hit it and knocked it off of the road so my toad didn’t hit it. I pulled over and looked underneath to see if there was any damage but I didn’t see any problems. I was very lucky.
You forgot the worst potential road hazard out there — morons with a driver’s license.
Some road crews place cones in a very narrow pattern- just barely wide enough for rv’s to pass through. It’s a very white-knuckled drive with the wheel squeezed every second. Cones can do a lot of damage too.
Coming back from Alaska last year heading to Colorado. Traveling through Wyoming tractor trailer threw a tire in front of us. Could not avoid so ran over it. Didn’t think anything about it until we stopped for the night. Turns out it ripped out all of our plumbing for both tanks and damaged front levelers. Be careful out there
In Pa construction is all year long and they don’t know how to handle traffic movement. We’re also known for potholes and high turnpike fees.
About those gators on the highway: a few years ago, I was making a quick trip to the market and zipped onto a local stretch of I75. I soon spotted a large “lump” ahead in my lane and assumed it was a tire. Then I realized it was whitish…who would lose a white tire? As I moved into an adjacent lane to avoid the gator I realized I was seeing. the underside of a large, actual and dead alligator. So sometimes, those road gators can be real gators. Whoever first called tire debris gators recognized the similarity.
Thank you for the reminders, Gail!
My two go-to travel tools: An RV GPS and WAZE. Traffic heading north through Atlanta was a complete standstill during spring break – I mistakenly didn’t start WAZE south of Atlanta and sure enough within minutes I was in a 30 minute delay. Nothing I could do. I was stuck.Turned WAZE on and it routed me off the highway at the next exit, around much of the stopped traffic. Switching Garmin GPS to opting for not travelling highways kept me from taking non-big rig roads. What should have been a 4 hour trip took 5 1/2. If I had simply followed Garmin and totally avoided the highway it would have been a 7 hour trip. WAZE kept pushing me back towards the highway while Garmin kept directing me in a huge loop out and around Atlanta.
In Michigan – it is pothole season all year long!
We just drove east on highway 40 through Northern Arizona yesterday and the road was filled with potholes and uneven pavement for what seemed like 100 miles. The camp host said they’ve had several cancellations and delayed arrivals due to tire, wheel and axle damage on their guests’ vehicle. We will likely take another route back to California.
Thanks for this report, Tony. We were thinking of “changing up” our usual route between Reno and Houston, which is I-10. We haven’t been on 40 for over four years. Now we’ll add more years that we don’t go that way.