Defensive driving takes on a whole new intensity once you become an RVer. Every highway action is magnified exponentially as you command a rig, which sometimes causes you to question your interpretation of the scene unfolding in front of you.
The good news is, no matter where you travel in the U.S., road signs and their meanings for RVers stay consistent across the miles. Here’s a brief rundown of the top three road signs for RVers to observe.
How road signs make driving safer, easier
Before the electrical grid lit up America’s cities and roadways with traffic lights, street signs were the only way that drivers knew how to get around and avoid accidents. Auto history buffs say that as early as 1905 visionary automobile clubs around the country were posting helpful signs to direct drivers.
The only problem? These signs were inconsistent from place to place. Consequently, over the next two decades, road signs were improved by the creation of eight shapes and colors that remain the same across the U.S. and in many countries too.
What road signs mean is important, but uniformity in shape, color, and typeface is important too. Road sign shapes and colors are detailed in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). But for the purposes of this article, let’s talk about the three most important signs for RVers to observe:
Top three road signs for RVers
Downhill Grade Ahead
Downhill grade warning signs give extra warnings that it’s time downshift into a lower gear. First, move into the slow lane and allow other drivers to pass, then ease off the gas pedal. Whatever you do, don’t ride the brakes or pump them. Overheated brake pads and friction fires are commonly caused by RVers who don’t know proper downshifting procedures:
- Slow down
- Release your brakes
- Shift down into a lower gear.
The resistance created by lower gears will slow your RV down. Repeat downshifting as necessary until you’re at least 10 miles-per-hour below posted speed limits.
Low Clearance Warnings
If you don’t know the height of your RV, trouble could be lurking around the bend. Low clearance dangers are common causes of RV and trucking accidents and property damage, especially in older areas east of the Mississippi.
To add insult to injury, when an RV or trucker hits a low clearance bridge, local highway department can impose damage fines. You can avoid this hard lesson by getting an accurate measurement of your RV’s height. You can do it one of two ways:
- Get a friend and a long tape measure (borrow or rent a surveyor’s tape measure). Go up on your RV roof and stand at the highest point, typically the air conditioner unit. Hold one end of the tape measure and drop the other end down to your friend on the ground. There’s your measurement.
- Make it easy on yourself and drive your rig to a proper RVing weigh station. A professional RV weigh service will accurately weigh and measure your rig.
Dead End / No Outlet
There’s a lot to be said for Class B vans and truck bed campers. For starters, you can easily maneuver out of tight turnarounds, dead ends, and cul-de-sac streets. For the rest of us, a Dead End or No Outlet sign is enough to cause cardiac arrest.
Avoiding dead end encounters starts with proper trip planning. It also requires a good GPS unit for RVers, and when possible, an old-fashioned paper map to verify navigation choices. Although all tools are critical to avoiding dead ends, wrong turns can still happen to the best of us. Should you get into a tight spot, you have two choices:
- Back up all the way to the nearest turnaround point.
- Stay put and maneuver back and forth until you can turn around.
Either tactic requires a patient partner who can guide you out of the situation. You can pre-arm yourself for these dreaded and inevitable stressful RV turnaround maneuvers by taking an RV driving course and learning how to back up like the pros.
The more often you go RVing, the greater the odds of ending up in a precarious situation like going too fast while traveling downhill, encountering a low bridge at the last minute, or figuring out how to maneuver out of a dead end street.
The good news is that with patience and a cool head you can get out of these events with your RV. As a bonus, you’ll have great campfire stories to tell!
If you have other urgent road warning signs for our list, let us know by commenting below.
Rene Agredano and her husband, Jim Nelson, became full-time RVers in 2007 and have been touring the country ever since. In her blog, Rene chronicles the ins and outs of the full-timing life and brings readers along to meet the fascinating people and amazing places they visit on the road. Her road trip adventures are chronicled in her blog at LiveWorkDream.com.