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Safety, Sanity and Insurance: Learning to Drive Your RV | Frommer's Brian Adams

Safety, Sanity and Insurance: Learning to Drive Your RV

It might seem like a monster on wheels, but an RV can easily be put under your control. Read on to become a master of the highways and byways.

It might seem like monster on wheels, but an RV can easily be put under your control. Read on to become a master of the highways and byways.

Driving Tips

To combat glare, fog, snow, or oncoming headlights when driving after dark, slip on a pair of yellow glasses (sold in ski shops as ski goggles) or clip a pair over your regular glasses.

Binoculars for the navigator solve that ever-present problem of changing lanes with a large vehicle when approaching an on-ramp for an interstate. It's easy to look ahead to see if the entrance is from the left lane or the right lane, or to read the street names at intersections.

Defensive driving is always important. Many drivers pausing at an intersection when we have the right-of-way don't seem to realize that motor homes are like big tractor-trailer rigs; they can't stop on a dime. Many also make the erroneous assumption that RV drivers are elderly slowpokes, when most of us drive at the prevailing speed limit with the rest of the traffic. So we're always half-expecting a driver to pull out of a side road in front of us, and are rarely disappointed. One rule of thumb: If you see a pickup truck waiting at a side road to pull into traffic, you can count on him pulling out in front of your RV.

Speeders Beware

While exceeding the speed limit is never laudable, it can also be extremely inconvenient for residents of California, Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Michigan, and Wisconsin-states that are not signatories to the Non-Resident Violators Compact. What it means is that drivers with license plates from these seven states are subject to having their driver's license confiscated and being required to go to the nearest office of a judge, sheriff, or justice of the peace to appear before an officer, post bond, and/or pay a fine. If said officer is not available, the individual may be jailed until a court appearance can be arranged, which may be several hours later.

Keep your headlights on. More and more states are requiring the use of headlights in the daytime. We think it should be mandatory throughout the country. It's amazing how some cars can blend into the roadway and suddenly appear headed your way, particularly when you're planning to pass another car. Headlights on in the daytime can be a life-saving factor. We also try to avoid driving at night, preferring to get an early morning start when leaving and stopping for the day by midafternoon.

Road Etiquette

1. Don't hog the highway; pull over at turnouts or into slow-moving lanes to let vehicles behind you have a chance to pass. In some states, it's against the law for a slow-moving vehicle not to allow following vehicles to pass at the first opportunity when five or more are trailing.

2. Keep in the right lane except when passing a car, and when you do pass, make sure you have the speed and space to do it quickly and easily. Some motor homes don't have the power to easily overtake vehicles on an uphill route, especially if the driver speeds up as you attempt to pass.

3. As with your car, dimming your RV headlights for an approaching car is a must. It is also a good idea to do the same when driving into a campground after dark.

4. It is customary to make a friendly wave to an oncoming RV as you meet, particularly if it's a make and model similar to your own.

5. Always signal your intention to turn or change lanes well ahead of time so the driver in back of you has plenty of warning. Your vehicle is not as agile as those around you.

6. Use binoculars to check out the road signs ahead to make it easier to change lanes in traffic. They are especially useful when trying to determine whether the interstate entry ramp will require being in the right or left lane, since changing lanes in a big vehicle takes additional time and distance.

Learning Your Vital Statistics

As beginners, our lack of technical knowledge was most frightening the first time we encountered a narrow, rickety, one-lane bridge near New Harmony, Indiana, with a small sign noting its weight limit was 5 tons. But how much did we weigh? We didn't know. Finally, since there was no way to turn around and go back, and the traffic was beginning to build up behind us, we gingerly inched our way across, holding our breath until we made it.

Later we studied the brochure that detailed our floor plan and learned that our maximum weight fully loaded and with passengers, could be just over 12,000 pounds, or 6 tons. The moral is, memorize your height, weight, and width before getting behind the wheel.

The following terms are standard on the weight information sheets provided with new vehicles:

  • GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight): Total weight of a fully equipped and loaded RV with passengers, gas, oil, water, and baggage; must not be greater than the vehicle's GVWR.
  • GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating): The amount of total loaded weight a vehicle can support; determined by the manufacturer, this amount must not be exceeded.
  • Dry Weight: The weight of the RV without fluids such as gas, oil, and water added.
  • UVW (Unloaded Vehicle Weight): The weight with full fuel, water, propane, driver, and passengers.
  • CCC (Cargo Carrying Capacity): The maximum permissible weight of all pets, belongings, food, tools, and other supplies you can carry in your motor home. This is the GVWR minus the UVW.
  • GAWR (Gross Axle Weight Rating): The maximum permissible weight that can be carried by an axle with weight evenly distributed throughout the vehicle.
  • GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating): The maximum allowable loaded weight of the motor home with towables.

RV Insurance

We were pleasantly surprised to find our RV insurance was very affordable, even in costly Southern California. Safe driving records, a shorter use period during the year, and slightly older drivers on the average mean less risk for the insurer. Before buying, check your own automobile insurance carrier as well as specialized RV insurance carriers, such as Good Sam Club's National General (tel. 800/234-3450;, Foremost Insurance Company (tel. 800/237-2060;, AARP Insurance (tel. 800/541-3717;, RV Alliance America (tel. 800/521-2942;, and for Mexican insurance, Sanborn's (tel. 800/222-0158;, or Oscar Padilla (tel. 800/258-8600;

Driving Schools

While most confident (or overconfident) drivers pick up RV-wrangling fairly quickly, if you want to acquire some certifiable professional RV driving skills, contact the RV Driving School (tel. 530/878-0111; Instructor Dick Reed has more than 20 years of RV driving experience as well as being a teacher of truck and RV driving. He and his associates cover use of mirrors, driving defensively, courtesy, backing into campsites, safety checks, and braking and control. Students may learn on their own rigs or his. He also offers driving seminars at the Los Angeles RV Show each October at the Fairplex in Pomona. Classes are taught at his training locations in southern, central, and northern California, Arizona, and Oregon. One private lesson is two days long; each day consists of 4 hours of training, and costs $330. A combination private lesson (two people, same vehicle) lasts 2 days and the instructor works with each person for 3 hours during the 6 hours of each day's training. This costs $475. Discounts are available to members of certain organizations (such as Good Sam, Escapees, FMCA, AAA, AARP, and SMART).

Your local RV dealer may also provide such instruction or be aware of an RV driving school in your area.

Every year RV writer Gaylord Maxwell offers his Life on Wheels RV conference at places such as the University of Idaho, Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania, and Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Seminars cover everything from RV maintenance, safety, money making, photography, computing, and anything else you might want to know about RVing. In addition, Dick Reed will be conducting his driving lessons at most of these conferences. Check the website for specific dates. For information and reservations, call 866/569-4646 or log onto