Staying alert can help coach owners to keep accidents or theft from spoiling your traveling enjoyment.
By Karen Mitchell
Traveling by motorhome is a comfortable way to visit different parts of North America. But the cozy confines of your motor coach may cause you to become too relaxed, allowing your natural defenses to slip. Engrossed in the sights, you may fail to recognize a potential hazard that you would notice under normal circumstances, in a familiar environment. In unfamiliar places, you can become so intent on finding your way that you forget to watch for potential threats.
At home, certain precautions become routine; you know areas to avoid or safe times to visit. But travelers don’t have the benefit of this knowledge, and some tourist attractions may be located in older, less desirable areas. While you shouldn’t let an unreasonable fear deter you from visiting the sights, you may need to heighten those defenses you take for granted at home.
There are simple steps you can take to avoid unsafe conditions during your travels. Whether on the road, touring a city, or staying at a campground, a healthy dose of common sense and personal alertness can help you avoid threatening situations.
A motorhomer’s foremost safety concern when traveling should be road safety, which includes driving and stopping while en route to a destination. The most common threats come from excessive speed, road rage, low-light conditions, road hazards, and heavy traffic. Personal safety also should be a concern when stopping beside the road, at a restaurant, or in a rest area.
Before you start your motorhome’s engine, an attitude adjustment is required for safe operation of the vehicle. Leave the white-knuckle driving to the rooster in the roadster and adopt a patient attitude when you’re behind the wheel of your motorhome. While motorhomes have the power and speed to travel at and above the speed limit, because of their weight and size, they should be driven at a slower, steady speed. Longer stopping distances require you to maintain a larger cushion of space around the motorhome. And motorhomers should avoid holding up faster traffic or getting in the way of aggressive drivers.
In large cities where traffic is dense and tailgating the norm, allow additional stopping space in front. This extra space permits you to safely slow tailgaters to avoid a rear-end collision. Do not attempt to disengage tailgaters by applying brakes; this causes accidents. Although it appears you are losing ground as vehicles fill the space in front of you, adjust your speed to maintain your buffer zone. Avoiding an accident is worth the extra time it takes to safely maneuver the maze. In areas of heavy traffic congestion, plan your arrivals and departures to avoid morning and evening commutes and the lunch break between 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
Avoid lane changes as much as possible. Choose a lane and stay in it, adjusting your speed accordingly. It helps to watch how professional truck drivers maneuver in heavy traffic. In states where it is permitted by law, those traveling through will stay in a lane that avoids entrance ramps, merging traffic, and turn-only lanes. This allows them to avoid abrupt speed and lane changes, which are risky maneuvers for large vehicles in dense traffic. Fall in behind one of these trucks and enjoy the ride. But be alert when a big rig does change lanes. Is the driver preparing for a turnoff? If you have a navigator with a map, he or she may be able to help interpret these maneuvers and position you for your desired direction of travel.
On the open road, truck drivers can be great friends. Never cut them off when they are passing slower traffic. The tractors used by truckers are powerful and fast; so, let them go. Adjust your speed and fall in behind. Never tailgate these big rigs. Stay a safe distance behind so the driver can see you in his mirrors. If you can’t see the truck’s sideview mirrors, you’re following too closely.
Aggressive driving and road rage are real hazards. Don’t let the size of your motorhome give you false bravado; many road-rage incidents involve firearms. Avoid provoking other drivers, and don’t fuel an exchange by making eye contact or returning gestures. Err on the side of courtesy. To avoid catching a case of road rage yourself, start by adopting a patient, courteous attitude. The simplest courtesy is to avoid holding up traffic.
Even when traveling at the posted speed limit, use turnouts and shoulders to let traffic pass. When drivers observe your courtesy, they’ll give you a break, knowing you’ll let them by when it is safe. However, if you pass by a good place to pull over, drivers may take unnecessary risks in an attempt to pass you, which can put your less-maneuverable motorhome in harm’s way. So, play it safe: drive defensively and courteously.
Driving a motorhome requires a high degree of alertness to avoid objects in the road and other possible road hazards. Pay attention to highway warning signs, especially those concerning grades, curves, and animals. To avoid unsafe encounters with animals, reduce your speed in low-light conditions. This is especially important when traveling in the early morning or evening, when animals are more likely to be crossing roadways. A collision with an elk, a deer, or a coyote can cause considerable damage to a motorhome.
When time permits, avoid driving in bad weather; stay an extra day or two to wait out a storm, and continue your trip during safer conditions.
Keeping a sense of humor and being courteous when driving makes the roads safer for all travelers. As the pilot of your motorhome, your safety, as well as the safety of your passengers, is your responsibility.
Safety When Stopping
Many motorhomers use truck stops and rest areas for breaks. While there may be safety in numbers, spots near busy interstates and population centers are more likely to attract criminal activity than out-of-the-way locations. Use caution at all times when stopped in rest areas. Dangers can lurk even in broad daylight.
If you feel uncomfortable or notice individuals loitering around the rest area or truck stop, use your motorhome’s toilet instead of the public rest room. You may even need to move to another parking place or leave the rest stop to find a safer place for a break. Use wide turnouts when stopping beside the road, so the motorhome is far beyond the road and shoulder. Never obstruct traffic or block another driver’s view.
Whether you’ve parked in an obscure area or in a public area, do not answer a knock at your door without verifying who it is. If a person claims to be a park or rest area employee or a police officer, ask for identification. No one should ever have to enter your motorhome for any reason. If you must talk with them, do so through a window. Be suspicious of all unexpected interruptions. Ignoring a knock may be your safest course of action.
Always take a minute to look around before leaving your motorhome. Have your keys ready in case you need to re-enter your vehicle quickly, and always keep your motorhome’s doors locked. If the situation doesn’t feel right, find another place for a rest stop. Simple precautions and being willing to take evasive actions should allow you to take a break safely.
Before arriving at an RV park for the night, stop and fill your motorhome and towed vehicle with fuel, preferably before dark. This helps you to avoid stopping in an unfamiliar area at night to refuel.
Use a campground directory and maps to plan your arrival. Be clear about directions so you avoid maneuvering through busy city streets. Drive directly to the resort and park your motorhome. Use a towed car, if you have one, for errands and sight-seeing. If you don’t tow a vehicle, choose parks near shopping and sights so you can walk or use public transportation.
After arriving at the campground, obtain and study a map of the park. Take a walk to familiarize yourself with the area. How can you contact on-site management after hours, and are pay phones available in case of an emergency? Is 911 used to make emergency phone calls?
Whether you leave your coach or remain inside, always keep the doors locked for your safety. Before going to bed at night, close and lock all large windows. Use roof vents and small windows for ventilation. When you do leave the motorhome, close all blinds or drapes. This makes it difficult for a would-be thief to inventory your possessions or determine whether anyone is home.
Do not leave items outside your motorhome. Ice chests, patio chairs, and other such items have been known to disappear. Bicycles should be locked to the frame of the motorhome, even when secured to a bike rack. Portable generators also should be secured to the motorhome’s frame. Lock other items inside the coach storage compartments.
Computers, jewelry, electronic equipment, and guns are portable items that may tempt a would-be thief. Emergency cash and valuables that you carry in the motorhome should be kept out of sight in a safe or unlikely hiding place. While most campground neighbors are not thieves, they are strangers, so avoid discussing possessions. Stick to the weather and your travels. And always report suspicious activity to campground management or a patrolling security officer.
Most parks and campgrounds have leash and clean-up rules for your pet’s safety and comfort. Even cats should be kept on a leash. Keep pets under your control at all times and beware of wildlife such as coyotes or great-horned owls, which are quick and stealthy. Snakes, alligators, coyotes, and other unknown threats may deprive you of your pet’s company.
Adjustable-length leashes are popular, but they can give your pet too much freedom, allowing it to dash into traffic or chase other animals. When using an adjustable leash, keep it short while walking next to roads or in unfamiliar territory. Wait until you are in a safe area before allowing your pet more freedom. And never let your pet off the leash in a strange place.
While some people enjoy relating travel horror stories to an eager audience around the campfire, if you listen carefully, you’ll realize that most incidents could be avoided with a few safety precautions. Take the “safest” way to your destination by being careful on the road, at stops, and in campgrounds, and, with luck, you’ll only have happy stories to share.
Hone Your Personal Safety Skills
When traveling, it’s easy to become mesmerized by the sights and let your guard down in public areas. However, staying alert and using caution and common sense can help to keep you safe. The following personal safety skills are helpful at home and on the road.
Be aware of your environment
- Observe people. Pay attention to your surroundings and look out for loitering individuals. Are they waiting to meet someone or looking for a victim?
- Don’t let strangers get too close to you. Maintain your personal space and be suspicious of strangers who try to invade that space. A flurry of activity may be used as a diversion for snatching a possession.
- A stranger who asks for directions or for the time of day may be using that as an excuse to maneuver closer to you. Always maintain a safe distance, even if it means being unfriendly. If you’re away from your motorhome, keep walking and don’t stop.
- Take evasive action. If you think you are being followed, cross a street or change directions. This may be all that is needed to avoid a confrontation.
- Look around before exiting vehicles. If someone approaches, stay locked inside until they pass. Use main entrances to buildings, malls, and other areas you are visiting. If you know that you’ll be returning to your motorhome after sunset, park near a light.
Use common sense
- When possible, walk and travel in groups. Avoid poorly lit areas, darkened doorways, alleys, and sidewalks with overgrown shrubbery.
- Avoid convenience stores and automated teller machines (ATMs) late at night. During daylight hours, use ATM machines that are located inside businesses, or outside ATMs in areas with plenty of foot traffic.
- Avoid carrying a purse or carrying too many items in your hands. Purchase a money belt or body wallet to conceal and carry valuables out of sight.
- Avoid displaying large amounts of cash or expensive jewelry when walking around or while sight-seeing. Keep a small amount of cash handy in a pocket to pay for tickets, admission fees, and meals. Replenish your pocket money in private, away from curious eyes.
Listen to your instincts
If you feel uncomfortable about a certain situation, don’t try to convince yourself that you are being silly. If a little voice inside tells you this isn’t a good place to stop, move on. Walk away from any situation that makes you feel uneasy, even if it seems inappropriate. Avoiding trouble is the best way to stay safe.