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TOPIC: RV Driving

INSTRUCTORS: Jerry Ray, Dick Reed & John Ward

NOTE: This class was intended to be generally applicable to all RVs, but with an emphasis this session on special needs of towing. Most of the class appeared to be fifth wheel owners.

Vehicle familiarization: It is important to know your own vehicle. Most people don't change their own oil, or do basic maintenance. If you don't, make sure all the basics are indeed covered. Air filters, power steering fluid, etc. Trailer tires need to be checked for more than just tread wear. Check for proper inflation. Check lug nuts as well. And check for wear on tire casing.

Check interior of the trailer before departing. Make sure everything is closed & latched. A couple of minutes walk through can save a great deal of time and expense.

Check the hitch for wear, lubrication, etc. before you go. Safety chains on travel trailers need to be strong enough to hold the weight of the trailer -- and MUST be crossed.

Daily checks: oil, water, tires, turn signals. Walk all the way around, looking for disconnected utilities, open outside storage compartments, TV antennas, etc.

Once you're on the road: When you park and go into the mall, etc., do another walk around. See if there are any new cars parked close by; or if you might have picked up something in a tire.

When changing drivers, likely you'll need to change seat adjustment to accommodate the current driver. Same for mirror adjustment.

Note: Proper mirrors are a must. "For every 10' of trailer length you need a separate convex mirror which is 1" in diameter. Thus a 40' combined truck/trailer length requires a separate convex mirror of at least 4" diameter. And "separate" is also a must -- don't stick a convex mirror on your regular flat mirror! But always be aware that you can NOT tell distance in a convex mirror!

Rule of thumb: Set your flat mirrors so that you can see the trailer in the first one inch of the mirror, with the rest of the mirror being reserved for your view backwards and to the sides.

Because the driver is on the left, the view from the left mirror is much better than the view from the right side mirror. Installing the "right" set of mirrors always involves a trade-off: You can have a really great looking truck -- bu t you can't see -- versus diminishing the looks of the truck but improving the safety and vision through adequate mirrors.

After 20 minutes of driving, the average driver has less than 50% of his attention span devoted to the actual process of driving. The more you can increase your attention span, the more safely you can drive. Your focal point should be down the road, not under the front of the rig. Watch far enough ahead to anticipate obstacles. Make focal point on the road far enough out so that you're not constantly making tiny steering corrections -- which are essentially unnecessary. You will find that this technique also keeps you more alert.

Space (between vehicles on the highway) Management: Following distance is important -- one second of following distance for each 10 feet of combined length. Double it for adverse conditions, including night or twilight driving. Thus a tow vehicle and fifth wheel with a combined length of 40 feet would need 4 seconds of following distance during favorable daylight driving conditions, and 8 seconds of following distance during adverse or night conditions.

The class discussed a variety of techniques for proper highway driving and turning, and for backing a trailer. These techniques don't lend themselves to summary notes, but are important. Students taking the "hands on" driving portion of this class have an opportunity to experience these techniques first hand.

Braking: Use gears wherever possible. If speed increases 5 miles per hour in less than 5 seconds, you need next lower gear. Do so by braking gently to get you into next lower gear. Watch your cruise control when climbing -- it is advisable not to use it on steep grades.

Special tip on backing. Most RV parks try to give you a left side (driver's side) backup for parking. This is because it's far easier to see where your trailer is going if you're backing up to the left. But you *always* need someone to provide guidance and direction, because you simply cannot see all that you need to whenever you're backing. If you can't see the person directing you in your mirror, the simple rule is... STOP. Wait 'til you can!

Note: We subsequently followed up with the "hands on" portion of this course. We were highly impressed with both the classroom and "lab" sessions of this driving school. We think that almost any RVer who has not had some professional driving education should consider taking this course.

[Note from Stephanie: I have resisted backing our RV. However, during the course, I drove around corners, down straight-a-ways -- and even backed up! There were some extremely helpful hints from the instructors; and the classes were small enough that every student got as much time behind the wheel as he or she wanted. I highly recommend this class.]