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Preventing Top RV Accident Causes

If you look at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s leading causes of RV accidents, most are avoidable.

Some have to do with driver error while operating a motorhome or towing a trailer or fifth wheel, and some with human error before heading out on the road.

Here are some safety tips that could help eliminate these causes.

Don’t Drive When You’re Tired

It’s so simple it seems almost silly to even list it, but overly tired drivers are a leading cause of RV accidents, according to a 2012 study by the agency.

To avoid adding to that toll, do some really simple things:

  • Get enough sleep. Simple, right?

  • Plan your trip realistically. Trying to meet unrealistic distance or time expectations may make you weary.

  • Be honest about how tired driving makes you, and the effects on you from the number of hours you’re on the road, traffic conditions, wind and weather, dealing with mechanical troubles, or the stress from not being able to find a dump station or fresh water.

  • If you’re a couple, make sure both can drive in shifts.

  • Nap if you’re tired, then get back on the road, or just stop early for the night.

Load Your Rig Properly

Carrying more than your rig’s payload capacity can cause an imbalance. Overweight trailers and improperly loaded trailers are both among leading RV accident causes.

Have your rig weighed on a scale that shows the weight on each wheel. That way, even if you’re not overweight, you can at least distribute the weight evenly. If you’re consistently overweight, do a cleanout. Make three piles: leave at home, discard and donate. Then reload your RV with fewer things and better weight distribution.

Leave enough time to dump tanks so they’re empty when you travel. Traveling with 100 gallons of fresh water and waste adds more than 800 pounds. That may approach half your maximum recommended payload on a modestly sized RV.

Use a Weight Distribution Hitch and Anti-Sway Bar

Rollovers stemming from an RV’s higher center of gravity are another leading accident trigger. Many drivers don’t account for the different weight characteristics of an RV, especially travel trailers. They are either unaccustomed to the top-heavy RV or unprepared to deal with the behavior it exhibits at speed and in crosswinds.

Use a weight-distribution hitch and anti-sway bar. The hitch shifts weight toward the front axle of a tow vehicle. The anti-sway bar discourages the back-and-forth motion that is a notorious prelude to a trailer’s overturning.

Also helpful is a brake controller with an instrument panel-mounted controller that lets you apply the trailer brakes only if you feel or see sway coming on.

Eliminate Blind Spots

Failing to see vehicles overtaking you through blind spots is another top accident cause, according to FMCSA. Install an aftermarket system if your motorhome lacks blind spot monitoring. You can also install one on your trailer or fifth wheel, with a backup camera that doubles as a rear view mirror.

If you’re towing a trailer with a truck that lacks towing mirrors, add them. You can do it inexpensively with oversized clip-on mirrors that attach without tools to your truck’s smaller mirrors. The clip-on mirrors extend far enough from the truck body to give you a clear view of approaching vehicles.

Slow Down

Speeding is another major cause of RV accidents with a simple solution: Drive slower, especially in foul weather, strong winds, and heavy traffic, and on poor road surfaces. High winds, another frequent accident generator, affect an RV more the faster you drive. Sometimes the best way to prevent speeding is to plan your trip well, leaving enough time to reach destinations without having to hurry.

Failing to stop in time, also a major cause of RV crashes, is closely related. Keep a safe distance from vehicles in front of you and travel at a speed that’s appropriate for the gap between you and that vehicle. Remember: A motorhome or RV-towing pickup needs a longer distance to stop safely than a smaller vehicle you may drive daily.

Check Your Hitch, Then Check Again

Runaway trailers also make the list.

Make sure your hitch is seated properly on the ball before locking it up. Cross your safety chains. And make sure the tether that triggers the trailer brakes in a breakaway is not too long—typically no more than 16 to 20 inches. Longer cables delay application of trailer brakes if the hitch becomes disconnected. Check to make sure every latch, pin, lever and chain is properly in place and tightened.

Never Too Late To Learn

If you change RVs, especially if you move up to a Class A or a much longer trailer or fifth wheel, consider taking a driver instruction course, even if you had taken one years earlier. Bigger size changes many factors, including weight, turning radius, handling and stopping distance. You also will benefit from instruction in the many new technologies in today’s RVs.

Mistakes by senior drivers are among the leading causes of RV accidents, the motor carrier association says. If you’re an older RVer, your experience is invaluable, but think about taking a refresher RV driving course.


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