By Skip Skipper, F119793
National Vice President, Eastern Area
From a personal perspective, the most interesting and applicable seminar I have attended at an FMCA convention or rally was offered in 1995 at the first Great Eastern Area Rally (GEAR) in Nashville, Tennessee.
The subject of the seminar was highway safety, and the presenter had driven commercial buses for more than 20 years. He spoke with a great deal of experience and authority. His main objective was to teach us how to get along with other large vehicles — such as transit buses and 18-wheelers — on the road.
Whether we realize it or not, motor coaches have much in common with other large vehicles. As motorhomes become larger and heavier, the similarity becomes perhaps more significant than we realize.
Following are some of the points that I recall from the seminar, plus a few tips I have learned over the years while driving one large motorhome or another. (I have logged approximately 160,000 miles.) Most of these tips pertain to sharing the highway with tractor-trailers and buses.
- When driving on a two-lane road with steep grades, follow the “500 to 700 rpm” rule. Note the rpm reading when you top the crest of the hill and use that as your base. As you travel downhill, let the rpm increase 500 to 700 rpm and then apply the brakes until you’re back to your base rpm. Let another 500 to 700 rpm build again, and reapply the brakes to return to your base rpm. Repeat this cycle until you’ve reached the bottom of the hill. I have found that this really works and saves wear on conventional braking systems. It also reduces the possibility of overheating the brakes. Of course, this strategy is of more benefit to drivers of gas-powered motorhomes that don’t have exhaust brakes to assist with downhill braking.
- Observe the driving habits of those who handle the big semi trucks and transit buses and copy their good behavior. It is rare to see one of these professional drivers commit an unsafe act.
- When passing another large vehicle near the crest of an upgrade on a multilane highway, remain in the passing lane as you descend if the volume of traffic permits, because it is likely that the other vehicle will gain speed on the down slope and pass you in the right lane. This prevents “lane swapping” and is convenient to the other driver. Professional drivers notice and appreciate small acts of courtesy such as this.
- When you are being passed, give the passing vehicle sufficient distance to pull back into your lane, then flash your headlights to indicate that it’s safe for them to do so. This is an act of courtesy, and most professional drivers will flash their clearance (ICC) lights to thank you in response.
- When you are passing another vehicle, always use your turn signals prior to pulling back into the lane in front of the next vehicle. This will probably alert that driver, and he or she will flash the headlights as a signal to you. Remember to flash your ICC lights (if you have them) in thanks.
- Always use your directional signals when changing lanes or making turns.
- Move to the left lane when approaching on-ramps or weigh stations if traffic is merging.
- Move to the left lane if possible and reduce speed when approaching a law enforcement or emergency vehicle parked on the right shoulder of the road. This is the law in many states and it is a good, safe idea. In fact, it’s a good practice to move to the center or left lane whenever you approach a vehicle parked on the right shoulder, as you are never sure what could possibly happen.
- Unless it’s prohibited at that particular travel plaza or truck stop, pull away from the pump after you’ve finished refueling, so another vehicle can use the pump. Always pay for fuel and move your coach as soon as possible. If we pay with a charge card, the receipt is quite often on the small metal turnstile at the cashier counter (at least this is so at Flying Js). Finding the receipt, signing it quickly, and returning it to the cashier saves time.
If you would like to shop in the store at the travel plaza, be sure to move your motorhome to a parking space first.
- Please remember that if we are using the truck islands to refuel, we should consider ourselves guests, since those spaces were built for trucks. I have never had a problem using the truck islands as long as I’ve kept these thoughts in mind. And courtesy is actually contagious.
- When we use the truck parking area at rest stops, I quite often talk with the truck drivers parked beside us. They seem to appreciate the conversation and many ask questions about our motorhome. Many of them also own motorhomes. Once at a Flying J Travel Plaza in Carmel Church, Virginia, I returned to the coach after paying for the fuel, and a trucker approached me and wanted to know how he could join FMCA. He had photos of a beautiful Silver Eagle bus he had just converted. We admired the photos, and I gave him an application for membership. A few weeks later I was notified by FMCA that he had joined.
- If you miss or are about to miss an off-ramp, do not do anything unsafe while attempting to compensate. Drive to the next exit and circle back. I have had to do this a few times. It is a harsh reminder when we see another driver commit an unsafe act while trying to compensate for this error.
- When being passed by a flatbed truck, beware of the possibility of TFOT — things falling off trucks. Many of us are aware of serious or tragic examples of accidents caused by things falling off trucks. Most trucking professionals properly secure their load, and can be seen in rest stops checking their rigging, but unfortunate things do happen. An acquaintance of mine was severely injured after a pipe fell from the back of a truck and came through the windshield of his car.
- Beware also of rocks and other objects that can be wedged between the dual wheels of trucks and motor coaches you are following. Such objects can be thrown off without warning. Allow ample distance between your motorhome and the rear of the truck.
- We should be conscious of objects lying in the traffic lanes, particularly pieces of steel-belted tires, commonly called alligators. Whenever possible, do not run over these objects with your coach tires or with your towed vehicle’s tires. When struck by a tire, alligators usually become airborne and can cause serious damage to your coach or towed car. They may even become airborne because of turbulence created by the airflow of the coach as you drive over them and could do serious damage to the undercarriage of your coach or towed vehicle.
Safe travels and happy trails to you and yours.