With camping season underway across the US and Canada, lots of RVers will be hitting the road. Some are experienced with thousands of miles and many seasons of safe driving under their belt, while others will be towing for the first time.
Towing an RV is a huge responsibility that requires following safe driving techniques. The responsibility and risk grow significantly when you add towing a trailer to the mix of daily driving, which is statistically the riskiest thing we do. For RV newbies, towing can be a stressful thought, and it must be taken seriously.
However, it shouldn’t scare you away from RVing. Safe driving while towing is non-negotiable, ensuring you and everyone else on the road is safe. With a few key driving techniques and some miles behind the wheel, you will be safely enjoying the open road.
Before you head out with your RV, make sure you’ve mastered these driving techniques.
1. Safe driving means taking your time and enjoying the ride
We have all been passed by a vehicle towing an RV well beyond the speed limit. Often, as people become comfortable with towing, they tend to speed up and start towing much faster than what is safe.
When starting out, you may be the slow vehicle, and that’s okay. The reality is that while towing, your trip is probably going to take a little longer. It can be tempting to rush to your destination, trying to save an hour, but the added risk is far from worth it.
Towing at a safe speed is especially important for less experienced drivers. It is also the number one safe driving technique for experienced towers. Being at the helm of an RV already puts you at a disadvantage in terms of stopping distance and maneuverability. Adding speed to the equation only exacerbates this disadvantage.
Sure, travel days can be long, but it’s part of the RV experience, so slow down and enjoy the journey.
2. Avoid making your brakes do all the work
It’s inevitable that you will encounter hills while towing, and using safe driving techniques here is critical. When descending a slope, the momentum of your trailer can induce your vehicle to accelerate. This can be dangerous, and it’s important to be proactive here.
Your vehicle’s brakes and the trailer brakes can slow you down and stop you. But using your transmission can also help to slow you down and ease some of the work off your brakes. Overheating brakes can fail and/or cause fires. Gearing down helps control the vehicle’s speed without using the brakes.
With manual transmissions, this is the natural thing to do. However, automatic vehicles can also be downshifted to assist with slowing. The key is to start light braking and downshifting before the speed has begun to increase. Instead of keeping the brakes engaged all the way downhill, it’s better to use a technique of controlled braking and releasing.
3. Safe driving means balancing speed and distance
The flow of traffic often dictates the speed at which we are traveling. Sometimes this is a little on the slow side, while other times it’s a little faster. Combining a safe speed with a safe distance from other vehicles on the road is a balancing act you will master over time.
A safe following distance from the vehicle in front of you is the most obvious and one you can control in most situations. When towing, you must increase your following distance to accommodate the extra distance required to stop. Think worst-case scenario here: If I need to stop as fast as possible, do I have enough room?
The vehicle behind you is a little more difficult to control. If you feel you are being rushed or traffic is following too closely, let them pass or move to the right if you aren’t already there. Driving too slowly outside of the right lane can be dangerous, so be aware of the flow of traffic.
Staying in the right lane ensures you only have vehicles on one side of you. Multi-lane highways can be stressful, so keeping right removes one lane of traffic to contend with. Your mirrors are your best friend while towing, so make sure you have towing mirrors or mirror extensions before doing any towing.
Additional ways to practice safe driving
Even with all the safe driving skills mastered, there are more steps you can take to keep the roads safe. Eliminating as many variables as possible and preparing for travel will help keep you safe.
Rushing out onto the road with a trailer in tow is a recipe for disaster and ultimately irresponsible. Aside from being a safe driver, here are a few other things that will help ensure a safe trip.
Tidbit 1: Plan your route and have a copilot
One of the most stressful things while towing a trailer is not knowing what’s ahead. How sharp is the turn? How narrow or low is the bridge? Will you have enough room to turn around? Worrying about things like this distracts you and makes safe driving more difficult.
If you pre-plan your route using RV trip planning tools like RV LIFE Trip Wizard and the RV LIFE App, it is less likely you will be surprised by any of these things, keeping you relaxed and focused on the road. When you have an idea of where you’re headed and possible adjustments you will have to make, the drive is much more enjoyable.
There is a lot happening on the road for you to concentrate on and anticipate. Although not always possible, whenever you can, it is great to have a second set of eyes. A copilot can watch the GPS, give you a heads-up on turns, keep an eye on your right side, and give you a rest if they are also a competent tower.
Tidbit 2: Know your tow vehicle and trailer
Not only do you have to be safe on the road, your vehicles do as well. Taking an unsafe tow vehicle or trailer on the road can have serious outcomes, regardless of your towing skills.
One of the most important factors to keep in mind when towing an RV is knowing your Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). This rating tells you the maximum amount of weight your RV can handle, including passengers, cargo, and fluids. It’s crucial to ensure that your tow vehicle is suitable for your RV’s weight and towing capacity. Towing an RV with a vehicle that cannot handle the weight can lead to dangerous situations on the road. Always check your vehicle’s towing capacity and ensure that you are using a safe tow vehicle before hitting the road with your RV.
Proper maintenance and pre-trip inspection of your tow vehicle and trailer can significantly reduce the likelihood of facing issues that could lead to an accident. Checking tire pressure and condition, brake function, and lighting are key tasks, but you should be aware of any potential issues before setting off. Using a tool like RV LIFE Maintenance can help streamline this process, ensuring your RV and tow vehicle are in the best possible condition for your journey.
The more you tow, the more in tune with the feel of your setup you will be. At first, any slight movement of your trailer or noise from your vehicle can alarm you, but you will become more comfortable as the miles roll on.
Get RV-safe directions
For help mapping out your route for your next RV getaway, look no further than RV LIFE Trip Wizard. This online planning tool makes it easy to plan an RV-safe route. It can also locate interesting sites along the way, all according to your travel preferences. Get RV LIFE Trip Wizard with its accompanying RV LIFE App, and start planning your adventure today!