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I'll never forget my first trip in my first motorhome. Before I had logged two hours, I had nearly killed a Reno, Nev., motorcycle cop. "You changed lanes and nearly ran me off the road," he said as he wrote my ticket.

My problem, I later concluded, was that I did not properly adjust my rear view mirrors on my new rig. If I had, I would have seen the policeman and not changed lanes right on top of him.

The point: Don't be in a big rush to get going before you learn the ropes.

Driving or towing a recreational vehicle is really a whole lot easier than many newcomers think. Most RVers say that after a few days at the wheel, they feel about as comfortable driving or pulling their RV as they do driving the family car.

Experienced automobile drivers already possess the basic skills to drive or pull an RV. Motorized RVs typically come equipped with automatic transmissions, power brakes and power steering. With proper attention to the differences in vehicle size, height and weight, novice RVers find it fun and easy to take the wheel of a conversion vehicle or motorhome. Towing skills are also readily acquired for the various types of towable RVs.

Recreational vehicles do not require a commercial driver's license for personal use. In some states, the very largest RVs may require a special test for a different class of driver's license. Ask your dealer about this.

Whether you will be driving a motorized RV or towing an RV, you should:

  • Adjust and use all rear view mirrors. Before leaving on a trip, sit in the driver's seat and adjust all mirrors for optimal road views.
  • Account for your vehicle size when turning. The front and rear wheels will track paths much farther apart than those of a car.
  • Allow more time to brake, change lanes and enter a busy highway, since bigger vehicles take more time to accelerate and slow down.
  • Back up with care. It is a good idea to have someone outside the vehicle assist the driver in backing up to avoid any obstacles not seen in the mirrors. If another person is not available, the driver should inspect the area behind the vehicle. By evaluating the situation before backing, drivers can avoid surprises and accidents.

Drivers towing a folding camping trailer or travel trailers also should:

  • Match the proper tow vehicle to their RV. Most full and mid-size family cars can pull a trailer; so can today's popular vans, sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and light-duty trucks. Check the owner's manual to find the trailer types that your vehicle can haul and the maximum load weight it can pull.
  • Use the right trailer hitch and make sure it is hitched correctly.
  • Connect brakes and signal lights. Always check that the trailer's brakes, turn signals and tail lights are synchronized with the towing vehicle's.

Whether you're driving a motorhome, conversion vehicle or other tow vehicle, make every trip a safer one by buckling up your safety belt and making sure passengers are secured too -- even though it might be tempting to just let them wander around a motorhome like they're at home!

According to the National Safety Belt Coalition wearing a safety belt is the single most effective thing you can do to prevent serious injury and death in a traffic accident.

by Chuck Woodbury


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