Growing up I was always fascinated with driving and “hooking things up.” From my matchbox cars and play tractors to riding 4-wheelers and driving tractors/trucks on the farm. Thus, the day of my 16th birthday I was at the license office to get my permit on a Tuesday, did eight hours of mandatory driver’s ed training over the next two days, and then took the driving test on Friday. The state highway patrol officer who conducted my driver’s test said, “To drive this well on a manual transmission only three days after getting your permit you have either been driving illegally or you grew up on a farm.” (I grew up on 40 acres.) So after getting my new ID, I headed home and promptly hooked up a 35-foot gooseneck horse trailer to my family’s one-ton truck and drove five hours away to attend a horse show by myself that weekend.
When I share this story, Kristin still sways between being impressed and being aghast that my parents let me have this much responsibility when I was still such a new driver. Life on the farm definitely gave me many opportunities to hone my driving abilities, but everything I really knew about driving and towing I learned from a UPS driver: my dad.
Dad drove UPS package cars and semis (what they call feeders) for 35 years. UPS maintains high safety standards for their drivers and has one of the safest driving records as a company in the entire industry! And before I even took my driver’s test, my dad had instilled in me how to drive using the UPS training standards.
I am going to apply the “5 seeing habits” and “10-point commentary” to explain how to drive your motorhome or tow your camper. Some of this may seem rather simple or just plain common sense. But these are essential safety strategies when you consider that you are now going to be driving/towing something that weighs much more than what you are used to driving. That means two drastic differences: 1) stopping will take a much longer distance, and 2) you are no longer able to make quick, sharp changes in direction as there is too much mass to react that fast.
5 Seeing Habits
- Aim high in steering:
- This refers to making sure that you are looking ahead and keeping your camper in line with where you want it to go. This will involve keeping your camper centered in the middle of your lane.
- Get the big picture:
- Know your surroundings and the road ahead.
- Don’t get distracted by billboards and other things outside of the driving “window.”(This is a big struggle for me as I love to look at the scenery!)
- Stay back from the vehicle in front of you so that you can see what is happening on the road ahead. This is especially important when you are behind semis!
- Keep your eyes moving:
- SCAN, DON’T STARE: Since the vehicle can’t react as fast when towing, it is essential to know what is going on all around you.
- Dad trained me to do a 15-second cycle:
- 3 seconds forward
- 2 seconds left
- 3 seconds forward
- 2 seconds right
- 3 seconds forward
- 2 seconds dash/gauges
- Leave yourself an out:
- If at all possible make sure to park where you don’t have to back up to leave the area. (This often means parking far from store entrances.)
- Scope out gas stations BEFORE you enter and make sure there is adequate space to get in and out at the pumps. This often means I will either choose truck stops OR go by the gas station first to survey the situation and then come back to it if I am sure I can get in and out.
- Don’t pull into fast food restaurants unless there is a sign that shows RV/Bus/Truck parking.
- If a road says “Dead End” or “No Outlet” NEVER ASSUME there will be room to turn around!
- Make sure they see you:
- Always use turn signals several seconds before you do any action!
- Don’t be afraid to use your horn or lights to get the attention of a vehicle or person moving into your path.
- I always drive with my lights on (not just daytime running lights because they will not turn the camper tail lights on) so that others have a better chance of seeing you.
- At intersections, before you proceed (especially at four-way stops) make sure to make eye contact with other drivers before proceeding. This will help to avoid you and another car moving into the intersection at the same time.
I am not going to add too much to these, but I share them as they will give you some great advice and tips for driving in general.
- When stopped in traffic always leave one car length between you and the car in front of you.
- When starting up at an intersection, look left, look right, look left again, and check mirrors before proceeding.
- Count one-two-three once the car in front of you starts moving into an intersection before you start to move as well.
- When driving, leave space between you and the car in front of you: 4-6 seconds when driving under 30 mph and 6-8 seconds when driving over 30 mph.
- Check your mirrors every 5-8 seconds, always looking forward after each mirror check.
- Before moving, check and scan the steering wheels (i.e. make sure there are no kids or animals under or around your vehicle before you move).
- Stale green lights: If you did not see the light turn green it could be changing to yellow/red soon. Make sure you are prepared to stop if that occurs because you can not stop nearly as fast with all that camper mass!
- Be looking 8-12 seconds ahead of your vehicle when driving so you have the big picture.
- When pulling out of a location or shifting lanes, complete the three “L’s”: Left signal, left mirror, and left shoulder (checking your blind spot).
- Use horn, lights, and signals to get attention and make eye contact with those around you.
Following these guidelines will make you a much safer driver–with or without the camper in tow. (And if you have never towed a camper or driven a motorhome before, you could also consider taking a basic driving course–check with your local camper dealer to see what programs may be available in your area.)
I’m just so thankful that I had such a great teacher to prepare me for driving and hauling our camper. Thanks Dad for setting me up to be who I am today!
What other suggestions do you have for safely driving a motorhome or towing a camper?
The content of TheTouringCamper.com is intended for entertainment and information use only and is not to be construed as providing professional advice. Your situation is factually specific and you should accordingly make decisions based upon your specific needs and situation. Extra precautions, additional expert input, and additional research are always advised.
Tracy Quoka says
My dad was also a feeder driver for 35 years with UPS. He taught me to drive the same way, your dad did. I had my permit about a week when he handed me his dad’s chevy crew cab duallie and gooseneck trailer. I will however admit 35 feet is about the end of my comfort level, and prefer to leave most of the driving to my husband with our current 41 ft fifth wheel.
Hi Tracy! Thanks for stopping by and reading! That’s awesome–it sure was quite the way to cut the teeth! 🙂 Happy camping!