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My first time driving an RV, and how I nearly killed a cop

By Chuck Woodbury
I’ll never forget my first trip in my first motorhome. Before I had logged two hours, I had nearly killed a Reno, Nev., motorcycle patrolman. “You changed lanes and nearly ran me off the road,” he said as he wrote my ticket.

My problem, I later concluded, was that I did not properly adjust my rear view mirrors on my new rig. If I had, I would have seen the policeman and not changed lanes right on top of him. The point: Don’t be in a big rush to get going.

Driving or towing an RV is a whole lot easier than many newcomers think. Most RVers say that after a few days at the wheel, they feel about as comfortable driving or pulling their RV as they do driving the family car.

Experienced automobile drivers already possess the basic skills to drive or pull an RV. Motorized RVs typically come equipped with automatic transmissions, power brakes and power steering. With proper attention to the differences in vehicle size, height and weight, novice RVers find it fun and easy to take the wheel of a conversion vehicle or motorhome. Towing skills are also readily acquired for the various types of towable RVs.

Recreation vehicles do not require a commercial driver’s license for personal use. In some states, the very largest RVs may require a special test for a different class of driver’s license. Ask your dealer about this.

Whether you will be driving a motorized RV or towing an RV, you should:

  • Adjust and use all rear view mirrors. Before leaving on a trip, sit in the driver’s seat and adjust all mirrors for optimal road views.
  • Account for your vehicle size when turning. The front and rear wheels will track paths much farther apart than those of a car.
  • Allow more time to brake, change lanes and enter a busy highway, since bigger vehicles take more time to accelerate and slow down.
  • Back up with care. It is a good idea to have someone outside the vehicle assist the driver in backing up to avoid any obstacles not seen in the mirrors. If another person is not available, the driver should inspect the area behind the vehicle. By evaluating the situation before backing, drivers can avoid surprises and accidents.

Drivers towing a travel trailers also should:

  • Match the proper tow vehicle to their RV. Most full- and mid-size family cars can pull a trailer; so can today’s popular vans, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and light-duty trucks. Check the owner’s manual to find the trailer types that your vehicle can haul and the maximum load weight it can pull.
  • Use the right trailer hitch and make sure it is hitched correctly.
  • Connect brakes and signal lights. Always check that the trailer’s brakes, turn signals and tail lights are synchronized with the towing vehicle’s.

Whether you’re driving a motorhome, conversion vehicle or other tow vehicle, make every trip a safer one by buckling up your safety belt and making sure passengers are secured too — even though it might be tempting to just let them wander around a motorhome like they’re at home!

According to the National Safety Belt Coalition, wearing a safety belt is the single most effective thing you can do to prevent serious injury and death in a traffic accident.

##RVT907

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Ron Lane
7 months ago

I did almost the same thing when driving for the first time my brand new 35′ dp motorhome. Picked up the mh in Mesa AZ and drove (did I mention I never drove a mh before) through Phoenix and up Hwy 17 to go to Prescott. Once in Prescott I had to turn left to enter the rv park…put on my left turn signal, looked in my mirror (saw nothing) and started turning into the center lane. I suddenly started hearing this beep, beep, beep and happened to glance down at my monitor that was showing the left side of the coach. Lo and behold, there was a Volkswagen bug right beside me that I was forcing over into the oncoming lane and traffic. Yep, turned out I had the mirror adjusted too high and too far in towards the coach. Lesson learned.

Bob P
7 months ago

There is a very easy way to back a trailer if you have trouble with turning the front wheels the opposite way you want the trailer to go. Instead of holding the steering wheel at the top grasp the wheel at the bottom, now if you want the trailer to go to the right with your hand at the bottom move your hand right and vice versa. If the turn requires more turning continue steering from the bottom of the steering wheel.

Bob P
7 months ago

On the subject of mirrors as a former truck driver the proper adjustment of your mirrors is to adjust them to the point where the side of your vehicle is just out of normal view, but by tilting your head a few degrees toward that side your vehicle side will appear. When I first started driving a school bus I was a substitute for when the regular driver was out. Invariably when I got on the bus sitting in the same seat setting I would look in the mirrors and half of the mirror was filled with the side of a yellow bus. When I readjusted the mirror like it should be when the regular driver came back they’d have a hissy fit because I moved their mirrors, I’d just look at them and say I know what color the bus is and I need to know what’s coming up beside me, then I’d tell them don’t take off from work and they’ll never experience that again.

Travis
7 months ago
Reply to  Bob P

” I know what color the bus is” LOL
Thanks I need a laugh this morning.

Tom
7 months ago

I think what helps in vehicle awareness, drivers ed in high school was done on a manual transmission car.

Tommy Molnar
7 months ago
Reply to  Tom

You’re showing your age, Tom. Most high schools don’t even have classroom driving classes anymore, let alone hands on’ experience. Manual transmissions? Ha.

Andy Zipser
2 years ago

Much of what was written in this piece may be true for motorcoaches, but in my experience the same can’t be said of travel trailers and fifth-wheels. Most drivers don’t have the faintest idea of how to back up when towing, and many don’t make much of an effort to learn how–they just keep looking for pull-throughs. When pull-throughs aren’t available, our fences, utility poles, trees, pedestals and hydrants pay the price. . . .

Donald N Wright
2 years ago

Question, should all RV’ers get the little back up alarms for our rig? I have an Aliner popup, I need it too.

Sherri A Eley
2 years ago

WE developed a check list of “to dos” that is laminated and hanging in the cab of the truck. This is useful now that we are getting older and sometimes over confident because of our years of RVing.
Also take issue with the comment that after a few days of driving an RV you get comfortable with it. We owned a Class A at one time and we were never comfortable driving or riding in it. We only owned it a few years before we went back to a truck towing a 5th wheel.

Captn John
2 years ago

Speed, tire maintenance, overweight, over TV specs. I just saw a 3/4 ton pulling 18k. More like a dually needed. Don’t need special licenses just some regulation enforcement.

Steve
7 months ago
Reply to  Captn John

In Texas you do need a non commercial CDL, think it is class A, if your vehicle, or combo of vehicles, is over 26000 GCVW.

Dan
7 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Non Commercial means it’s not a CDL! It’s a class A license for your RV. The only CDL like rule that applies is the test and the physical. The rest, such as automatic license suspension for 2 moving violations do not.

jillie
2 years ago

The real reason for most accidents on most tows is not lack of experience but going way too fast for what they can handle. We never went over 65 or 68 mph. We took our time. As for driver experience? There was a 21 year old who helped us drive and she drove like a pro. I guess it goes without saying. School bus drivers do know how to teach others how to drive like a pro. So a lot of what I am reading is like water down a drain. Unless you really know how to drive a trailer? Stay off the road and maybe find someone to teach you how to drive an RV. IMO

Jj
2 years ago

Something to consider: learn the limits of your trailer’s wheels. Just got off the road after passing yet another fifth wheel blowing a tire. People think they should be able to drive as fast as they do without a trailer, then the little fifth wheel tire heats up and blows. It’s scary to think these inexperienced drivers create such a hazard for the rest of us and themselves.

Tommy Molnar
1 year ago
Reply to  Jj

A friend just got back from another ‘whirlwind’ trip taking in several western national parks. He almost brags about how he always does the speed limit and over just a ‘tinch’, meaning 80+ in some areas. This last trip got him two tires that separated from (I suppose) excessive heat and was noticed by someone else when he stopped for fuel. Two new tires – and he was off again at breakneck speed.

Linda
2 years ago

I wouldln’t trust a dealer to know the specifics about needing a different class of DL for an RV. Check your State’s DMV to be sure!

Tommy Molnar
2 years ago

“Most full- and mid-size family cars can pull a trailer”. Are you kidding? Maybe if it’s a teardrop or at most, a Scamp. This is how folks get into trouble.

Frank Foley
2 years ago

Good article on some solid basics for RV’ers. We’ve been full time for over 4 years now and always try to take the time to get set up properly. Slow down and take your time. Where ever you are going it will be there when you arrive alive.