Driving Super Sized

It's one thing to live large; it's a whole other thing to drive large.  With 7.2 million recreational vehicle drivers on the road today, RVing is among the fastest growing leisure activities in America.  But many owners at the wheels of these oversized vehicles aren't comfortable or familiar with many of the basic road rules associated with driving large vehicles, according to a survey by GMAC Insurance.

The survey of 2,500 Americans gauged RV owner fluency with vehicle operation, safety issues and driving acumen, including a series of questions derived from various states Department of Motor Vehicles drivers' tests or both standard and oversized vehicle tests. The survey also probed participants on their RV plans in the next 12 months and their comfort levels on operating and maintaining their vehicles.  The results of the survey were hardly comforting for those of us who share the road with recreational vehicles.

On average, 33 percent of RVers failed to correctly answer questions derived from standard drivers tests. Nearly half (44 percent) answered a series of questions derived from the oversized vehicle driver's license test questions incorrectly.

For instance, many RVers had trouble identifying unfavorable driving conditions. Half of RVers (52 percent) incorrectly stated that roads are most slippery during heavy rain.   While roads are slippery during a heavy storm, they are most slippery at the beginning of a storm, especially after a dry spell, and that's an important distinction when operating an oversized vehicle.  In addition, 50 percent indicated that they were not comfortable driving in rain or inclement conditions.

There also seem to be incorrect assumptions about safe passing maneuvers. One-in-three surveyed (35.3 percent) incorrectly stated that when passing an oversized vehicle, "it is best to pass slowly on the left." The correct answer is "it is best to pass quickly on the left."

Tire safety was another area in which RVers showed holes in their basic motoring knowledge. One-in-10 RVers (10.9 percent) incorrectly indicated one "should let air out of hot tires so the pressure goes back to normal."  Executing that procedure could result in dangerous under-inflation.  According to GMAC Insurance, the most common RV insurance claims are attributed to tire-related accidents.

If you think that recreational vehicle drivers lumber around corners, you're onto something.  Some 36 percent of those surveyed indicated they were not very comfortable turning corners.  Compared to an automobile, RV drivers must compensate for the extra height and length when cornering.

"The survey shows that there are literally millions of RVers on the road that could stand to brush up on their fundamentals," said Wade Bontrager, vice president of GMAC Insurance RV division. "We're working to help arm RVers with pertinent safety information found in our 10 Essentials to Safe RVing, and through grassroots safety rally programs to ensure smooth travels for RVers."

Happily, the news isn't all bad.  The survey also revealed areas where RVers are very comfortable and proficient at operating and driving RVs.  For instance, 85 percent of those surveyed are "extremely" comfortable driving on the freeway.  And RVers are also people of good conscience.  A full 70 percent of those surveyed agree that the right thing to do if you hit a parked car is to leave a note.  An unreported percentage would also leave a box of candy or flowers.

A big fan of cross country drives, Driving Today Managing Editor Jack R. Nerad has written frequently about the issue of sharing the road.