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America's loneliest highway -- not the best stop for an RV problem.
America's loneliest highway -- not the best stop for an RV problem.

The pitfalls, pratfalls and potholes of highway driving

There are three basic kinds of driving: city driving, freeway driving and highway driving. As RVers we spend a lot of time, probably most of our driving time, on the open road. We can all use a little nudge now and then so here are a few gentle reminders about safety on the highway.

For a long time, we lived in the great Pacific Northwest, the Puget Sound region of western Washington State to be precise. If you live there or have visited that part of the country you know how beautiful it is but you also know it’s hard to travel very far without dealing with mountain passes and the thrills and chills of navigating a large and heavy vehicle or a towable through tight curves and up and down steep grades, sometimes in less than ideal weather conditions. A few close encounters of the scary kind with logging trucks come to mind.

If you haven’t visited the Pacific Northwest by all means put it on your destination list for sometime soon.

windy roadBut, now we live in the desert southwest where most highway driving is very different. Often these desert highways are long, straight, uneventful and sometimes downright boring. This kind of highway comes with long stretches of wide open spaces, few distractions and little traffic. These are characteristics which lead us to boredom which in turn leads to something called “highway hypnosis.”

We can always tell when this sets in because we start fixating on things rather than taking in the big picture. Ever happen to you? Sure it has. Now we’re set up for drowsy driving and falling asleep. Time to get off the road in a safe place, get out and take a walk, do a dance, have a drink of water (not soda pop!) or do whatever else it takes to become alert again.

If you get back on the road and the condition persists, which it may, find a safe place to park and get some sleep or if appropriate let someone else aboard drive who is awake and alert. Don’t try to be a hero. About half the single vehicle crashes on our highways today are attributed to drivers falling asleep at the wheel.

We all know the other hazards that come with highway driving anywhere. Roadway surfaces can change abruptly, shoulders are sometimes narrow or nonexistent, and signage may be poorly maintained or missing altogether. There are curves and grades that appear with little or no warning, animals or debris on the roadway, limited visibility especially at night and on blind curves. — these are all difficult situations in which drivers must navigate.

Plus, vehicles can enter or exit at unexpected places, and there are those roadside hazards such as ditches, bridge railings and guard rails. There’s always the possibility of a sudden crosswind or unexpected mechanical or tire malfunction as well.

With all these dangers to consider, we cannot allow ourselves to be anything but fully alert and prepared to make split second decisions, especially in our larger and heavier vehicles which are harder to maneuver and have greater stopping distance. Stay awake, stay alert and stay alive!

And, one more thing, your most important decision by far in highway or any other kind of driving is determining a safe speed. Your speed determines how far ahead you must look, the amount of control you have in an emergency, the distance you need to stop and, most importantly the extent of damage and injury – as well as your chance of survival – in a crash.

Remember, faster is not always sooner. In fact, faster sometimes means not getting there at all.

Bob Sears is a traffic safety professional and longtime motorhome owner.

About Robert Sears

Robert Sears is a professional driving instructor who once owned a company that trained more than 70,000 people to drive. Today he is an author working on several non-fiction books and writing traffic safety articles for consumer and special interest publications. He is a 30-year motorhome owner who has logged several hundred thousand miles of RV driving experience.

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