Safe driving starts before you even turn on the engine. Make sure your coach is maintained and ready to go with the right equipment. Check tire pressures, oil, transmission fluid and coolant levels. Winter driving requires you carry a snow scraper and brush, flashlight, extra blankets and booster cables, plus a shovel, sand, tire chains, and flares or emergency triangles.
Check on road conditions and the weather, and bring a cell phone for emergencies. You can find up-to-date information on road conditions, travel conditions and more at www.travelforecast.com. And if you’re looking for Canadian info, it’s also available there.
It’s so easy to just jump in the motorhome, turn the key and speed off to your destination with the music playing. That mentality, though, sometimes ends in disaster. Being in a familiar area doesn’t make you immune to accidents; three out of four crashes occur within 25 miles of home, according to AAA, and carelessness in your own driveway can invite the possibility of tragedy. Every time you get in your motorhome, get in the habit of running through a series of safety checks before you put the motorhome in gear and set out.
Before you get in the motorhome, do a quick walk-around check every time before you get back in to drive away.
• Look at tires for signs of tread separation and to see if they look under-inflated.
• Check safety chains or cables.
• Open storage compartments, etc.
• Look for children, pets, toys and other objects. Check for any precious possessions that you may have set down on the roof or back area while loading.
Insist all passengers buckle up before setting out. Remember, buckling up reduces the chances of fatal injury in an accident by nearly 50 percent, and it is your responsibility as the driver to assure your passengers’ safety. Making certain that children are snug in properly anchored child restraints is also of utmost importance. Supply the kids with things to do so they don’t distract you.
Adjust Driving Position and Mirrors
Check and set all of your mirrors, and adjust your seating and steering-wheel position if needed. Having to adjust any of these things while driving can be a dangerous distraction.
Turn Down the Music
Get in the habit of turning down the volume of any music you’re playing before you park; that way, it won’t come on and distract you when you get in the motorhome to go somewhere else. Loud music may prevent you from hearing cries for help or another motorhome’s horn.
Don’t put the motorhome in gear until you have good outward visibility in all directions. Scrape snow and ice off windows, and clear fogged-up areas. Set the climate-control system and rear defogger to avoid more ice and condensation. Remember that using the air conditioner on damp days helps prevent windows from fogging on the inside.
Rather than staring directly ahead of the motorhome, look farther down the road, which will give you more time to anticipate and adjust to changing traffic conditions. Keep your eyes moving — and scan. Shift your eyes every few seconds, and check your mirrors frequently. Be observant. Knowing what’s ahead, beside and behind you can help you make safe driving decisions in an emergency situation.
Sharing the Road with Trucks
Never pass a truck on the right or when the truck is turning. When passing, only pull back in front of a truck when you can see the whole truck in your right rearview mirror.
When large vehicles (such as a motorhome) are passing a big truck, the truck driver will often flash (or briefly shut off) the headlights as soon as it is safe to pull back in. Acknowledge by briefly blinking the clearance lights.
Avoid the trucker’s blind spots. If you can’t see the rearview mirrors, chances are the driver can’t see you. Don’t drive alongside a truck and stay there. It blocks other vehicles, and the trucker may have to change lanes quickly to avoid a merging vehicle.
Trucks need much more time to stop and to pick up speed. Anticipate this and allow them more room to merge or slow down. Always signal your intentions far enough in advance so that trucks may take appropriate action.
Avoid Run-Ins with Wildlife in the Road
• Be wary of wooded areas with a lake or stream on one side of the road, particularly after sunset and in the early morning.
• In areas posted as Open Range, look out for vehicles ahead that are braking suddenly.
• When traffic is light, drive nearer to the center of the road. This gives you more time to react.
• Avoid letting your attention become fixed on that spot where your headlights meet the darkness.
• Sometimes animals will freeze in the road mesmerized by your lights. Flicking your lights might break that spell.
• If you sense something moving at the side of the road, act on it as it might save critical reaction time. If one animal is present, watch out immediately for any following.
• Be careful with avoidance maneuvers that you don’t lose control when swerving. It’s better to maintain control than to crash trying to miss a squirrel.
Never drive while fatigued; stop every two hours or about 100 miles and take a short rest. As a driver, it’s your responsibility to pull over to rest when you’re tired. Get a good night’s sleep before starting out on a trip. Stop every two hours for a break. Walk around briskly. According to accident data, those who fit the profile of the most frequent drowsy drivers include those who have varied work hours, drivers who insist on driving through the night or drive long distances between breaks, and those who take medication (or alcohol), which causes drowsiness.
Frequent drivers, and those who drive alone, also are more often susceptible to drive with a dangerous level of fatigue. Have your passenger watch for these signals of fatigue: weaving, confused behavior, restlessness, fidgeting. tailgating, driving onto Botts dots and rumble strips, jerking neck, frequent yawning, shallow breathing, and eye blinking that becomes less frequent are sure signs of fatigue. If these occur, find a safe place to pull over, and take a short nap.
In hilly terrain, if you have to stop for a driver change or to read a map, etc., the safest place to pull over is at the crest of a hill. This affords vehicles approaching from either direction a good view, plus allows you to brake going uphill and accelerate downhill.
Watch out for “tailswing,” which occurs when a motorhome with a long rear overhang is turned sharply. As the front steers one way, the “tail” end swings the other. This often occurs when entering or leaving a campground or a filling station, and it can lead to serious damage. When possible, have a “spotter” assist or carefully watch your mirrors, especially down low where posts, curbs, rocks and other obstacles are located.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data, more people are killed in accidents on Thanksgiving weekend than on New Year’s weekend, and nearly half of the accidents involve drunken drivers. Don’t drink and drive — and watch for drunken drivers. Also, overeating may leave you groggy on the drive home.
Yield as soon as possible to emergency vehicles that are using flashing lights and sirens by moving to the side of the road. As soon as you hear a siren, shut off your stereo (if applicable), look around and try to determine where the siren is coming from. At night, you can dip your headlamps to parking lamps when you are stopped, to indicate you are yielding.
We recommend RV driving courses, especially for new motorhomers. Life on Wheels seminars, held throughout the country each year, offer group instruction. Visit www.lifeonwheels.com, or call (866) LOW-GOGO. RV driving seminars are also held at some rallies and shows. Private lessons are offered through the RV Driving School, a training facility that specializes in RV driving instruction. Call (530) 878-0111, or visit www.rvschool.com.