Ask an Expert: Essential RV Safety for Every Road Trip


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RV safety practices put you back in the driver’s seat…literally! There will always be factors outside of your control, but a checklist of safe practices leaves less up to chance. Foresight, contingency planning, and practicality make up the bulk of RVing safety essentials. At the end of the day, being safe is a habit–one that could save you time, money, and heartache. But remember, when you’re out there one the road, it’s not what happens to the RVer that’s defining, but how the RVer responds to the situation.

Implement these simple precautionary actions to strengthen your safety readiness level. Afterwards, you’ll find that you truly have more control than you realized. An ounce of prevention outweighs a pound of cure.

Customize Checklists for Detailed RV Trip Prep

rv safety checklist and rv preparation checklist
Cover road trip planning details that matter to you (Image from Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash).

While the journey and destinations are unique and often spontaneous, the preparation process is routine and predictable. Organize RV planning and prep with manageable checklists. As your RVing experience grows, you’ll collect checklists along the way. Customize these checklists to match your RV lifestyle.

Checklists for the RV lifestyle:

Practice Driving, Parking, and Towing Your RV

Traveling unfamiliar roadways poses a challenge to safely operating your rig. Gaining confidence as a driver takes time and practice. Before setting out for your road trip, practice somewhere safe. Make turns, change lanes, get a feel for braking at various distances, back it up, and park it. Practice communicating with your spotter using radios and hand signals. If you still don’t feel comfortable towing your RV, you can always schedule a pick up and delivery to the campsite.

Among the RVing community, you’ll find many campground neighbors are especially gracious with first-time RVers to ease the learning curve.

Prepare for Adverse Weather Conditions

Check the weather conditions for your travel route and destination. Poor weather lowers visibility and can make RV driving treacherous.

Your cell phone service provider may push real-time weather alerts to you if your location app is activated. Weather alerts are often linked to the county. So find out your destination’s county and make sure you know how to access those alerts. Otherwise, remember to carry a crank, solar-powered or battery-operated radio so you can tune-in for storm updates.

Prepare a mental or written plan for adverse weather scenarios. Review this plan with your family periodically, similar to tornado drills practiced at home or school. Even though you’ve planned your trip to avoid bad weather, you’ll appreciate the extra foresight if you ever have to use your storm plan.

Once parked, plan for hot temperatures. If your animal companion is relaxing in the RV while you explore the local sights, you can remotely monitor your rig for greater peace of mind. Install a wireless RV pet safety temperature monitor compatible with your smartphone. You can also add a rotating camera to keep an eye on your pets.

RVing with baby and dogs
The whole family, furry included, can come along on trips in an RV (Image from Camping World).

Account for Road Conditions

Defensive driving begins before getting behind the wheel. With over 229 million licensed drivers in the U.S. and ongoing construction to maintain infrastructure nationwide, smart RVers plan their travel route carefully. Plus, you may need to adjust your daily travel speed and distance for inclement weather, like snow.

When planning your road trip route, also consider:

RV-specific apps and GPS navigation designed to calculate your RV’s dimensions makes route mapping easier. Good Sam members have access to a helpful Trip Planner.

For printed maps, the Rand McNally Road Atlas Good Sam Edition and Mountain Directory are reliable resources for RV-friendly routes. Smart RVers travel with a hardcopy roadmap as a backup for technical issues or lost GPS signal.

Avoid Overloading

RV with a car as a toad
Practice RV driving and towing before hitting the road (Image from Getty).

Adhere to safe load limits set by your RV and tow vehicle weight ratings. As much as possible, evenly balance the weight around the axles according to Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR). If towing, stay within 75% of your tow vehicle’s Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) as a safety cushion. Never exceed the Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) as that would jeopardize the braking system.

Make sure you’re using the correct hitch and tow equipment. Upgrade sway control and weight distribution components as needed. The trained professionals at your nearest Camping World can offer hitch and tow recommendations for your specific RV setup.

Practice Vigilant Fire Safety

Fire is one of the leading causes of RV loss. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates over 4,000 RV fires happen every year.

So, reduce your risk level with complete RV fire preparedness. Make sure your fire safety items are ready to go. Be sure to carry the recommended number of fire extinguishers and keep one in an unlocked compartment of your tow vehicle.

Maintain Your RV and Tow Vehicle

Mechanic emptying the oil in a bucket
Routine maintenance will help extend the life of your RV (Image from Getty).

According to the NFPA report, mechanical or electrical failures cause about 85% of RV fires. So, regular maintenance and care impacts the operational safety of RVs and tow vehicles. Schedule time to keep up with the preventative maintenance and conduct regular inspections of your RV systems. Pay attention to:

Maintain Situational Awareness

Just in case of an emergency, make sure someone knows where you are going and how to reach you. Check if your navigation program allows you to share your GPS location with an emergency contact. Google Maps provides this feature. This added accountability makes a difference if you were incapacitated.

Locate emergency rooms, local hospitals, and vet clinics along your route and at your destination.

Stick to parks and businesses in locations where you feel comfortable. Always listen to your instincts if you start feeling weird vibes—better to be safe than sorry.

Always Do a Walk-Around

pulling a travel trailer
Bionca was intimidated to pull a trailer at first, but quickly got the hang of it (Image from Camping World).

The top RVing mishaps could be avoided by doing an easy hands-on walk-around of your RV and tow vehicle before pulling chocks. Touch everything to make sure it’s securely closed, locked, and strapped down appropriately. Double-check your RV storage compartments, propane tanks, gas cans, pilot lights, hookup connections, hitch and tow equipment, as well as antennas and jacks. Refer to your customized checklist for a smooth inspection.

Protect Your RV Electrical System from Power Surges and Campground Brownouts

Remember to shut off the campground pedestal breaker before you plug in or pull out the shore power cord. Use surge protectors to prevent damage to your RV appliances, entertainment systems, and electrical components. It’s best to use a surge protector with emergency auto-shutoff (50-amp and 30-amp options). Although some campgrounds don’t allow voltage boosting auto-transformer surge protection devices, you can still use an advanced surge protector from the next tier. These devices are also recommended when moochdocking.

Additional Protective Measures for Moochdocking Shore Power

Moochdocking limits the amount of power your RV can use. Use dogbone adapters to safely step-down your RV electrical connection from 30-amp or 50-amp service to fit the 15-amp residential wall outlet.

With your RV plugged into a residential electrical outlet, be sure to use the correct extension cord (rated for 15-amps and durable outdoor usage). Fires are caused from using a household extension cord whose gauge size is too small for the amount of electricity drawn through the wire. Also, know that cord length factors into voltage loss. So, use the shortest possible extension cord and monitor voltage to avoid dropping below 108-volts.

Properly Level and Stabilize Your RV

Leveling is essential for safer operation of RV appliances and slideouts. Use wheel chocks in combination with parking brakes, leveling blocks, jacks, and stabilizers.

Campsite Safety Precautions

One of the things we love best about camping is roasting marshmallows and sharing stories around the campfire. Unfortunately campfires can be dangerous if not managed properly.
Secure your campsite before going to sleep (Image from Getty).

Before going to bed, make sure to:

  • Douse all campfires and cover embers
  • Verify propane tanks for the grill and firepit are shut off
  • Patrol camp area for food to avoid attracting critters
  • Lock external compartments, especially the power and tank compartments
  • Turn on external lights as a deterrent
  • Lock doors and windows

Carry Roadside Assistance and Insurance

These forms of insurance act as a protective umbrella for you and your RV. Camp with a greater peace of mind knowing you and your RV are covered, rain or shine. Make sure you carry the contact numbers and policy information with you (print a hardcopy in case you cannot access this information electronically). Check out Good Sam Protection for customizable coverage.

Research policies and coverage options that match your protection needs, such as:

Take Care of the Driver

dog in rv
Rested and ready to drive, Digby enjoys traveling in an RV with his Paw-parents (Image from Camping World).

If you’re driving, get plenty of rest and nutrition before hitting the road. Pull over if you become sleepy while driving instead of trying to power through. The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, responsible for establishing commercial safety policies, publishes drive time limits for trained professional truck drivers. Prudent RVers stay well within these driving limits.

Plan stretch breaks. Tag team driving responsibilities. Remember to pack an accessible cooler for easier hydration and snacking.

RV driving is even more fun when you’re prepared to go the distance. Any extra safety tips you would recommend? Tell us in the comments below.

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