RV Etiquette Part Two (of three)


In Part one we discussed why you need to be “in control” of your RV… not just being unafraid of it, but you have to be responsbile for it as far as cleanliness, maintenance, and knowing how to properly operate it. We’re all out traveling because we enjoy traveling… not spending hours going out of our way to help someone make repairs, get his rig out of a mud-hole, get dirty or be jammed up by him because he got into an accident and is blocking traffic!

Many people don’t think of any of those things as “etiquette”, but in reality, they are. If you are careless about your RV training, your driving, your RV repairs, or how you operate your RV in traffic, and we have to go out of our way to bail you out of problems, then you are being “impolite” to us. When you can manage your own affairs, including making enough income to sustain the lifestyle, to keep your rig in proper repair, to keep your insurance paid, to have emergency coverage for towing and breakdowns, then you can afford to hire someone who is in the business of supplying those services, and he will be glad to accept your money (or your insurance company’s money, as the case may be). The rest of us are volunteers.  Don’t think that just because we are fellow RV’ers that you can count on us as “free labor”. You take care of your problems and the rest should take care of theirs, and then everyone will get along better.

Now, as for actually operating your vehicle in public, rule number one…

(1) Buckle up!

OK, that one explains itself.

Another rule that I remember from one of the driver’s manuals was in regard to passing the driver’s test. Basically it said that if you do ANYTHING during the test that causes another driver to slow down ever so slightly, or avoid a collision, you have automatically failed the driving test. Great idea!

When are they going to start enforcing it in real life?

Gee, why is it that so many people are guilty of pulling out in front of us, not only making us slow down, but on top of that, they also continue to drive slower than we were going, forcing us to STAY slowed down? That is some of the most careless and rude behavior I have ever seen from drivers!

If they are in that big of a hurry and insist on pulling out in front of us, then the least they can do is stomp on that accelerator and get the heck out of our way! But it also works the other way. We (in our big RV’s) are the slow and ungainly vehicle, and yet I have seen RV’ers also pull out into traffic, causing everybody coming at them to come to a near standstill until they get up to speed, which in many cases never happens! So the second rule is…

(2) NEVER, EVER pull out in front of other traffic in such a way that they will have to slow down even the slightest amount to avoid hitting you!

If you’re in that big of a hurry that you can’t wait, then at least stomp on that gas so you won’t make people wait any longer than necessary for you to get up to speed! Just because you may be retired and can take your time, other people are still working. They have limits on their time, maybe they have to get to the hospital to an injured relative, maybe they have someone in their car that needs to get to the hospital… or maybe they just have to find a bathroom real fast! In other words YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON IN OTHER PEOPLE’S LIVES, nor does it matter… and you don’t have the right to interrupt their progress, no matter what the reason is!

Either be prepared to go with the flow of traffic or stay out of its way! And speaking of traffic, an RV doesn’t really belong in heavy city traffic.

We drove our 34-footer pulling a tow car through downtown Atlanta in the late 1980’s, during rush hour, right in the middle of one of biggest freeway construction projects the city had ever seen! Sharon did the driving (by chance, not choice), and many times it looked like we were only six inches away from barricades on either side! Thank God she got us through it, and thank God again that it was only an hour. I don’t think either one of us could have taken much more of it! So that brings us to rule number three…

(3) Stay out of heavy traffic unless you absolutely HAVE to be there!

The other traffic doesn’t want you there, you don’t want to be there, so why put yourself through it? Plan your traveling time for the off hours if you have to go through town at all. Between 10 AM and 11:30 is the best, or between 1 PM and 3 PM is a reasonable second choice. It doesn’t let up until after 6 PM, and remains slow through the night until about 5 AM, if you don’t mind driving at night. Any time other than those in any major city, and the traffic is going to be terrible!

Maneuvering in heavy traffic can be a nightmare, especially if you are towing another vehicle or trailer and have to change lanes, so…

(4) ALWAYS use your turn signals… 100 feet ahead of time!

I see so many people drive like they have their head in a storm cloud (or some other dark place), or drive like they think they are the only ones on the road! We’re ALL out there together, People! We’re not mind readers! We NEED to know when you are going to change direction! The way some people drive they act like it’s going to cost them extra to turn the signal light on!

Talking on your cell phone is no excuse! You shouldn’t even have the phone on in heavy traffic, let alone be talking on it! You’re supposed to have 100% of your mind on your driving at all times!

Some people can multi-task and do it quite efficiently. I am one of them. I never get so engrossed in anything that I put all else out of my mind. Sharon is the same way. She can be playing a classical piece on the piano and carry on a conversation and never miss a note! The majority of people can’t do that, and that is why they have inacted laws to stop you from hurting yourselves… or us!! Some of you are so engrossed in your own little world that you don’t even realize how close you are to the vehicle in front of you, and can’t move when the light changes to green!

I lived in Mesa for ten years and drove all over the Phoenix Valley at all hours of the day for my job! It was nothing for people to drive around the 101 loop doing 70 MPH or more and following the next car at one car length away! Are you guys out there out of your ever-lovin’ minds? If the car in front suddenly jammed it’s brakes on, your reaction time wouldn’t even get your foot on the brake pedal before you covered that much distance! You would be a trunk ornament, as I’m sure many of you have already found out… the hard way! So to remind you again, rule number five is…

(5) NEVER, EVER follow closer than one car length for every ten MPH of speed!

That’s the law in most states! In an RV, you need to leave one RV length OR MORE for every 10 MPH, and even that may not be enough!

One of the things we did in driver’s training is to test that rule. Our driver’s training car had a 22 caliber dye gun attached to the front bumper. At any moment the instructor would pull the string and set it off. As soon as we heard it we had to jam the brakes on and stop as quickly as we could, even if we slid the tires! Then we measured the difference from the yellow dye mark on the ground to our skid mark, and also to our front bumper. At a measly ten miles per hour, I can attest to the fact that the car travels more than twenty feet before a person can even get their foot on the brake! At 30 MPH, it takes more than 60 feet, and at 60 MPH your car will travel (roughly) 120 feet before you can get your foot on the brake pedal! You haven’t got a chance of stopping in time! SO DON’T TAILGATE!

I’m sure some of you are going to tell me that YOU CAN do it… because your left foot is (wrongly) on the brake pedal all the time… because that is the way you (improperly) learned to drive. I can gurantee you that there isn’t a driver’s training instructor in the country who teaches that! My brother-in-law happens to be one! I don’t care how much you think it reduces your reaction time, the harm that it does is much worse!

Not only does it cause premature wear on your brakes, but you can be flashing your brake lights at the car behind you without even knowing it! Also, the fact that you do it at all only gives your mind the false sense that you can actually tailgate people and get by with it! If your mind actually would realize that it has to take your right foot off the gas and move it to the accelerator, it would also make you realize that you need to leave more room in front of you! It’s not just physics, it’s a psychological thing!

I can’t tell you how many times I have driven behind people who flash their brake lights constantly, even going uphill, and I would bet everything I own that they are riding with their left foot resting on the brake pedal. Since they moved the dimmer switches to the turn signal stalks now, the only thing that your left foot should be used on is a clutch… and from everything I have read lately, the auto industry is seriously thinking about doing away with stick shifts in everything but trucks. So unless you still have a clutch, your left foot belongs on the floor… NOWHERE ELSE!! If you want to argue that, then go find a driver’s instructor that agrees with you… if you can find one! Otherwise, as Lincoln said “It is better to remain silent and “thought” a fool… than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt”.

When you start flashing your brake lights for no good reason, you dull the senses of the person behind you… sort of like the old adage of crying wolf. When the time comes that you really do apply your brakes, his reaction time is going to be slower because his mind first has to decipher whether you are really serious this time! If a car can travel three car lengths (60 feet) during normal reaction time at only 30 miles per hour, it’s anyone’s guess how far it will travel before he decides to take your brake light seriously! Are you willing to take that chance on getting rear ended because of your own improper operation of your vehicle?

One thing that I would make mandatory if I were an automotive manufacturer is that there would be a pair of little red lights on the dashboard that would come on with the brakes, so that the driver could see them. One would be for left and one would be for right, and if a brake light burns out, the dash light would also go out. When working properly they would assure the driver that his brake lights were working when they were supposed to, and also tell the driver to get his foot off the brake pedal when he wasn’t stopping! That’s a simple fix for a problem that has been around way too long!

OK, rant over! The next rule is a very dangerous one, and easy to mis-judge if you don’t have a rear camera, and that is…

(6) ALWAYS make sure when passing another vehicle that you are far enough out in front of him to not cut him off when you pull back in! 

I have seen this happen so many times with big trucks. Sometimes they will signal each other to let the guy ahead into a tight spot, but that’s OK, because they have communicated by CB and know what the other is up to. But when a big rig of any kind (not necessarily a truck), or ANY size vehicle does it to another vehicle with which he has NOT been in communication, it can startle the other driver, cause him to hit the brakes, swerve, and possibly cause another vehicle to rear end him, or worse yet, get into a serious accident! If you can’t judge distances enough to know when the back of your rig has DEFINITELY cleared the front end of another vehicle enough to be safe… then go spend the money on a rear camera for your rig! A rear camera covers a wide enough area that you can see things on either side as well as down to the bumper and a great distance to the rear… so you can actually see the other vehicles as you pass them, and KNOW that you are safe… and not just guessing!

So how much room do you leave? Again… one car (or RV) length for every 10 MPH! If you have to pull in any sooner, like to avoid oncoming traffic, then maybe you shouldn’t have tried to pass at all! You can’t pick up speed with an RV like you can with a car, nor will it maneuver like a car. Pulling back into your lane too quickly can easily cause your rig to get out of control. It’s not worth taking the chance just to save a few minutes of travel time. Relax, take your time, and enjoy the trip.

(7) It is common courtesy for slower vehicles to ALWAYS move to the right… EVERYWHERE… posted as law or not!

I don’t care what the law says, whether it’s posted or not, but it is that way in EVERY state in the nation, plus Canada and Mexico! But do people do it? Not even when it’s posted… unless the cops are pulling them over! Why is it that people can’t follow such a simple rule of courtesy without arguing about it? Probably because they have never had driver’s training and can’t understand the importance of it!

Here in Arkansas, near us, they finished a new four-lane road between Hardy and Ash Flat a few years ago. But near Hardy, and all through Highland, the “powers that be” decided to put curbs in… within 6 inches of the outside white line! What were they thinking? This is on a stretch of road with a 55 MPH speed limit!

Not only is there no place to pull out to avoid an accident, but there are no turn outs, even for the mail man, who still is expected to deliver mail to boxes on that road! I would be scared to death to stop along that road for ANY reason, flashing yellow lights or not!

Even getting too close to the side of the road, which too many driver’s are guilty of, can cause a front wheel to ride up on the curb and cause a loss of control!

And besides those safety factors, many people around here (that I’m sure are some of those people “afraid” of their own driving abilities)… refuse to use the outer lane! They will go out of their way to stay in that center passing lane, even if they’re only doing 30 MPH! It doesn’t matter if you come up behind them and flash your lights, blow your horn, or whatever… they’ll motion you to pass on the right… which is illegal in most states, and definitely not something we learned in driver’s training! And yet, the state refuses to post a sign or make it a law that says slower traffic has to stay to the right!

People even pull out from driveways, and contrary to everything driver’s training teaches, they will CROSS the outer lane directly to the inside lane and then poke along while 55 MPH traffic is forced to pass on the right! It’s an accident waiting to happen!

But as I said, law or not, it is a commonly known fact that is taught in every driver’s training course in the country… that people pulling into traffic stay in the closest lane (the outside lane), slower drivers ALWAYS move right, and you should always pass on the left! If you just follow those simple rules, you can’t go wrong! I have driven in most of the lower 48 states, from Maryland to southern California, and from Washington State to Florida, and have never found anything in contradiction to it! And of those who have argued about it, I haven’t found a one of them yet that has ever taken a driver’s education class! Most of them still don’t know that it’s the people on the right that have the right of way! So unless you have studied the books and the laws, and driven as many states as I have, don’t even think of spouting your opinion. Show me written facts that are different, and then I’ll believe you! And this rule also relates to the next rule…

(8) If you are the slower driver on a two lane road where other vehicles can’t pass safely… PULL OVER!

You don’t own the road, and you don’t have the right to hog the road and be a safety risk to other drivers! If there’s a wide burm, or a driveway that you can swing in and out of without too much difficulty, then let the faster drivers go around safely without making them get into oncoming traffic! I don’t care if you ARE doing 45 MPH which is the legal minimum in most states for state highways… it doesn’t give you the right to hog the road! If other traffic is moving faster, then stay out of their way!

My dad had an old family friend at one time that drove an old ’52 Chevy… in 1966. He went up to Michigan one time to visit a daughter, and decided to take the toll road. The problem was, he would never drive any faster than 30 MPH… for ANY reason! He came over to our house afterward and was complaining because the state cops gave him a ticket… for going too slow, and then they told him to get off at the next exit!

I told him that I didn’t feel a bit sorry for him because he deserved it, and the cop was only trying to save his life!

The traffic on that toll road (in the 1960’s) typically drove about 15 MPH over the speed limit, at 80 MPH. I reminded him that the difference between his speed and theirs was 50 MPH. That’s the impact effect if one of those cars hit him in the rear end at those speeds!

It would be like a car moving at 50 MPH hitting another car that was stopped dead- still in the road! I still don’t think he could comprehend it, as he was not the brightest bulb in the package, if you know what I mean. I think he did stay off the toll road after that, but I doubt he ever did drive more than 30 MPH! Even on the gravel county roads these days, that’s still a hazard! And speaking of hazards…

(9) If you are involved in a minor accident, where your vehicle is still driveable, move it off the road and away from traffic.

It isn’t necessary that you leave it “in place” as evidence. The police aren’t stupid, They can tell from talking to the drivers and looking at the evidence as to what happened.

Some people say that if it happens on private property that the police don’t “technically” have to be called, and that’s true, but if anything doesn’t seem right about the other driver, I always prefer for them to come out and fill out a report, just so there’s no mix up with the insurance companies. And if the other driver tries to tell me he would prefer the police not be called… guess what! THAT is when I am going to DEFINITELY call them! Anyone who doesn’t have anything to hide has no reason not to call the police to write up a report! So like Nike says… just DO it!

(10) Never park in such a way as to block someone in… for ANY reason!

Maybe you think you will only be there for two minutes, but things happen that are beyond our control. An incident could arise that could keep you from getting back there when you planned to move your vehicle. To the other person, you could have a heart attack and die, and it still isn’t his problem! All he knows is that he can’t get out until your vehicle is moved! You wouldn’t like it if someone did it to you, so don’t do it to other people!

THINK, and be considerate of others, and you won’t have too many problems on the road. And for your own convenience, use your head to think what “could” happen. For example, you might see a scenic view pullout where no one is there, so you pull off at the very beginning of it, vehicle facing in. Suddenly you get preoccupied and a bus pulls in at an angle in front of you. Another tourist pulls up behind, and suddenly… you’re boxed in!

These people don’t think about the problems of a RV, and that you can’t just turn on a dime and wiggle out of there! They couldn’t care less!

If you are the first one to arrive at something like this, pull to the far end, facing out, so that when you are ready to leave, you can pull right straight out onto the highway and be on your way! It is highly unlikely that anyone can, or would box you in, if you use a little common sense!

(11) ALWAYS set your emergency brake when leaving your vehicle!

I don’t care if you are on level ground! Things happen! RV’s can be very heavy, and what seems like level ground to you might be a 2% slope. Sometimes in the mountains it’s hard to tell.

I have less than that on my garage floor and can’t keep the tool boxes from rolling out the door without locking the casters! (No, I would never have built it that way!)

Without your emergency brake, the only thing holding your vehicle is a little pin in the transmission, called a parking dog, sometimes no bigger than a pencil. Are you really going to trust an 8,000 pound truck and 40,000 pounds of 40-foot fifth wheel with four slides, to a pin the size of a pencil?

If nothing else, using it will keep the parking brake cable from rusting up and becoming totally inoperative! You know what they say…”Use it or lose it!”

(12) ALWAYS turn your headlights on 30 minutes before the sun goes down and if you drive all night, keep them on until 30 minutes after the sun comes up! But PLEASE keep them dimmed when meeting other traffic!

It’s bad enough to see vehicles going down the road in near dark conditions with no lights on. And if that weren’t bad enough, it’s downright rude to keep your brights on when meeting oncoming traffic. Also, when you approach someone from the rear, dim your lights when you get within 500 feet. It’s very rude to blind someone with your bright lights in their rear view mirrors! If you can’t see well enough at night to drive with your lights on dim, then park for the night!

I could add a thirteenth rule, but let’s not push our luck… not that I’m superstitious, but maybe you are. The extra rule was just something from driver’s training again that taught us to always be looking for an exit… and I don’t mean a freeway exit!

You may be driving along a clear highway, and suddenly a deer jumps into your path.


Was there a ditch on the right hand side or was it level ground? What about fences? What’s on the other side of the road in case you have to go that way? Is there anyone behind you? Is there any oncoming traffic in front?

In other words, just because you are on open road and relaxed doesn’t mean you can become oblivious to everything around you! What happens if a tire blows? What happens if a hawk comes through your windshield? You have to be constantly alert and always thinking “what if?”, “where can I safely go to avoid it?”. That’s what having an exit means, and what it takes to be an accident free safe driver.

I have seen so many drivers (including one that used to work for me, plus my best friend’s father) that when you passed them going the oposite direection they always looked like they were staring at their hood ornament (if they had one). It wouldn’t do you any good to wave “Hello” at them, because they were totally oblivious to anything except their hood!

I have never seen the fascination with hoods. On many new vehicles you can’t even see the hood from the driver’s seat. Maybe they were looking for dimes in the road… who knows?

We were taught in driver’s training to always have your eyes in motion. You have three mirrors to watch, the left and right outside mirrors, and the one on your windshield. You have a dashboard to watch, not only for speed, but to monitor other functions. And then you have a whole world to look at outside your vehicle that you need to pay attention to!

Out in the country, you have to be watching for movement on the sides of the road.  Animals can jump in front of you at any time. Crossroads are especially dangerous. You need to be watching for cars that are approaching your road. Are they going to stop in time? Are they paying attention to their own driving or are they on their cell phone, and might miss the stop sign?

In town, you need to be watching parked cars along the side. Did that driver just get parked and is he going to open his door in your path without thinking? Is he ready to leave, and will he pull out or back up without looking? Is that skateboarder coming down the sidewalk going to zip right out into traffic? What about that ball that comes rolling out into the street from seemingly “nowhere”? Is there a child chasing it that may not be paying attention? What about that guy hanging a banner across the street? Is it too windy for him to hang onto it, and will it come crashing down across your windshield?

In other words there are a million things that could happen while you’re cruising down any street ANYWHERE, and if all you do is look at your hood ornament… you’ll never see them until it’s too late! You are an accident waiting to happen!

Forget about your hood! It’s not going anywhere! You need to be aware of what’s around you… not worry about what your hood is doing! And if you’re watching for those dimes in the road… well… you have bigger issues than I can help!

PAY ATTENTION TO EVERYTHING AROUND YOU.. like that life you may not have if that car coming from the side street forgets to stop!

I recently had “another” incident at a local crossroads where we had to stop while the cross street was a through-way (no stop sign). So here comes a guy from my left, who obviously has the right of way… and he stops dead… and then waves me on!  I refuse to move in those kinds of situations, because if anything happens, the report will say I pulled out in front of him!  NO!  HE should be paying attention to the fact that there is NO sign on his corner, and he should proceed as if I wasn’t there!

The fact that I have seen this happen so many times makes me wonder… if they see signs that aren’t there, are they going to actually see the ones that ARE there? Or are they just going through life not paying attention to anything, and doing whatever they want to at the time? People like that are dangerous, because we never know what they are doing (since they are doing it improperly to begin with) and they are apt to change their minds at any time!


Most of these rules are suggestions more than rules. Some of them aren’t even law. ALL of them are things you learn in a proper driver’s training course.

Oh yeah, and you even learn how to change your own tires so that your stranded vehicle doesn’t become a hazard to other people, as well as a time delay for yourself! It takes less than ten minutes to change a tire! It takes usually an hour or more to call for road service! You do the math… and then get your hands dirty. That’s what wet wipes are for!

We have had the pleasure of knowing a couple of good friends in our lives who both had disabilities which were not their fault. One has Cerebral Palsy. The other was paralized from the waist down due to an injury. The first won a governor’s award for being a handicapped person in their state who had accomplished the most. She attained a Ph. D. and was the head librarian for a major medical research library. She drives a normal car (without special controls) and snow skis. The other (now deceased) refused to use handicapped parking spaces, even though he had to transfer to a wheelchair upon exiting the vehicle. When we needed to wash the exterior of the rental RV’s at the campground we managed, he was out there in his wheel chair on the grass, with a long handled brush and bucket of water!

So excuse me if I don’t feel sorry for the people who have two good arms and legs, and at least half a brain on their shoulders, who still don’t know how to change their own tires! I will stop for the elderly or disabled who are not capable due to circumstances beyond their control. I’m not your mother. I’m not going to dress you, feed you, clean up after you, or fix your boo-boo’s. If you drive, then learn to do it all the way… including changing your own tires! The technical stuff I will help with. Changing tires is NOT technical!

Some think my tone is sarcastic and gruff, and may not like the way I come across. I’m actually the nicest guy in the world. I can sit and carry on an intelligent conversation with other interesting and intelligent people for hours. But I tell it like it is. I’m not a first grade teacher who talks to everyone (including adults) like they were one of their students. If you want short articles, glossed over to cover the truth, but yet read like Martha Stewart, then this is the wrong place for you.

I read every suggestion that comes in, and will make improvements if I, myself, can also see a need for that improvement. I know there are many. But I am me… not someone else. I’ve been this way for 64 years, and either you accept me for who I am, or you don’t. I don’t expect you to be anyone but who you are. It has to work both ways. But I digress…

Some people have the mistaken idea that just because they know how to start the vehicle, put it in gear and operate the accelerator and brake, that they are automatically “drivers” and have the right to do whatever they wish.

First of all, having a drivers license is a privilege… not a “right” and it can be revoked at any time! Your privilege of being able to be on the same roads with the rest of us is dependent upon how well you can follow the rules that we voted to create. The majority always rules. We all have a say in making the laws that are in effect in our particular area, and if you choose not to follow those rules, expect consequences.

It all gets back to treating other people as you would have them treat you. Be respectful of others, follow their rules in their areas, even if you didn’t have a hand in making them, and everyone will get along much better. Maybe you don’t understand why the rule is there, but the locals do! Deal with it!

In the next (and last) part to this series, we’ll talk about how to stay out of trouble within not only the campgrounds, but also when you’re parked on pavement (YAY! Wal Mart!), or even when out where you think no one will see or care.

Think no one’s watching? How’s this for making you paranoid…go to Google Earth (it’s a free download) sometime and look up some of the BLM lands out west. Zoom down to the closest height and still be able to get clear pictures, and count how many RV’s you can find.

In more populated areas I can zoom down to about 450 feet high before I start losing focus. That’s enough to see what kind of vehicle it is. It may not go quite as close on less populated areas, but if I can get that close with a free service, who else is out there with much better equipment (or is paying the premium price for better service)? Satellite imagery can read license plates. They just won’t give it to the public because we might use it for illicit purposes.

But “they” have it! Think about it! You never know who’s watching you… or why.

So play nice out there, and hopefully we can all enjoy what Mother Earth has to offer. You take care of her and she’ll take care of all of us.

As always, let me know if I left anything out.

Yeah, I know it’s long. So is four years of college, and it’s no more entertaining than I am. Consider it free “real life” education, so you don’t have to take out a student loan and can spend more money on travel. (Just a thought.)