10 Tips for Driving an RV on the Interstate Highways

Introduction

During nearly 50,000 miles of towing the Fifth Wheel all over the country it’s been hard to avoid spending time driving on the Interstate Highways. It’s not my favorite method of road travel but sometimes it’s a necessity when trying to get from point A to B in a timely fashion. Some nice things about the Interstates is the relatively easy grades, rarely above 6% and less curves.  Also most Interstate Highways are loaded with services and great cell coverage.

Driving your RV on them is much different then a regular car or truck. Here are some things I’ve learned that can help  make driving an RV on the Interstate highways a little more enjoyable and safe.

  1. The Right Lane is Your Friend. There a many advantages to staying in the far right lane while traveling the highway. First of all it’s where the slower traffic like your RV is expected to be, but it also allows you to see better behind you using the driver’s side mirror and if you have an emergency and need to pull over the shoulder is right there.  The only time I leave the far right lane is when moving through larger cities that have many on and off freeway ramps with tons of merging traffic. Then I will pick one lane to the left to avoid having to merge constantly with these vehicles.

    Driving RV on the Interstate Highway
  2. Learn to Anticipate. Driving a big heavy rig you are at a disadvantage when braking and accelerating compared to the cars around you. Most of the other travelers, unless RV owners are unaware of our limitations and will perform the most stupid maneuvers with blissful ignorance. Our job as RV drivers is to be constantly anticipating the traffic all around us so we can take action as soon as possible.  IE. Because I need extra room for braking I leave a fair distance in front of the rig but I’m always on the lookout for another driver who will use that space for a quick darting maneuver. Usually what happens is they want off the freeway at a certain exit and will come from several lanes over and cut in front and use that little gap I’m leaving to do a panic exit right in front of me. One trick to anticipating the traffic slowing down is to keep an eye out far ahead and watch for brake lights. If you see a bunch light up expect to be needing to brake soon yourself.

  3. Watch the Truckers. Truckers are generally the best and most experience Interstate drivers out there. It pays for us heavy RV operators to observe what they do and incorporate it into our driving habits. It is handy in large cities to notice which lanes the bulk of the truck traffic is taking when navigating their way through. Having driven through many times they usually know what is the best lanes to be in to move through in the safest and most efficient manner. If you have a CB Radio on board you can listen to the truckers chatter and pick up information on the road ahead. If there is an accident or construction, they relay it back to other truckers on the CB channels.

    Driving RV on the Interstate Highway
  4. Pay Attention to Your Rear. Always take into account that there may be someone right behind you. With the length of our RVs it means the blind spot behind us can be fairly large and it’s easy for a car to hide back there. For some reason there are drivers out there that like to tailgate large vehicles. Many new RV’s are coming equipped with rear cameras which is great but for those of us without always remember at anytime someone may dart out from behind you.

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  6. Make Slow Deliberate Movements. While driving an RV on the Interstate highways it pays to make movements like lane changes in a slow deliberate manner. Have your signal light on well in advance and move over slowly. This gives the other drivers a chance to correct themselves if they are darting out from behind you or coming up upon you at a high rate of speed. Also when braking do so well in advance and slowly so that person that may be tailgating you has a chance to see you are slowing down.

  7. Plot your Course. This especially applies when navigating through large metropolitan areas. Know what turns you need to make, what the exit numbers need to be taken and which lane is best to be in well before you arrive there. The worse thing to do is try and force yourself across several lanes of traffic to get to an exit. One tip we use is have a look at the road way from a satellite view. We are able to use our Ipad to see a bird’s eye view of the highway and know ahead of time what the road pattern is for exits and by that information know the best lane to be in. This comes in real handy when there is a left hand lane exit versus the standard right hand variety.

  8. Be Well Rested. Due to the volume of traffic the Interstates can be a very demanding environment to drive an RV in. You need to have all your wits about you and it takes sustained concentration to make your travels safe. It’s just not worth saving time if your starting to get tired. Take a break! It may save yours or another life. Bad things always seem to happen when your tired and not paying full attention. This is why they have those things called Rest Stops.

    Driving RV on the Interstate Highway
  9. Watch for Debris. This is a biggy. Because the Interstates are so busy they tend to be full of debris. A common threat is pieces of tires from blowouts on the big rigs. Another is stuff fallen off vehicles like chairs and mattresses. This is another reason it pays to be always anticipating and scanning far ahead.  It’s also another good reason to travel in the right lane next to the shoulder as then you have somewhere to go if you quickly need to avoid an object.

  10. Avoid Bad Weather. If it’s at all possible stay off the highways during poor weather. Traveling at this time increases your risks dramatically. Why push through during a driving rain storm when you can pull over and wait it out. If the weather forecast is for snow, ice, extreme rain or fog I just stay put and wait it out. When something goes wrong on an Interstate during poor weather it usually is bad. We have all seen the news report detailing the 100 or more vehicle pile ups and carnage involved. I use a weather radio set to alert me if bad weather is approaching.

    Driving RV on the Interstate Highway
  11. Have a Well Maintained Rig. This normally goes without saying but I’ll repeat it here because things failing on the Interstates have consequences that are magnified. Driving down a two lane rural road and having a tire blow out is a lot less concerning than when moving through a packed eight lane Interstate highway with huge transport trucks all around you and some sports car jammed up your butt. Anything you can do to decrease the likelihood of mechanical failures is worth it. Make sure your tires are in excellent shape, properly inflated and the lug nuts are tight.  It’s also extremely important that all signal and marker lights are functioning properly and your brakes are in perfect shape.

These are my 10 tips for driving an RV on the Interstate highways. If you have any to add feel free comment below.

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  • Barbara Richards

    Actually the title of this article should be “10 SURVIVAL tips for driving an RV on interstate highways!” I have traveled interstates alot in my RV and where I can, I am now routing ALL of my trips on highways and am staying as far away as I can from interstates. There are times that I will hop on one just to take the exit for where I’m going but they are simply too stressful AND dangerous. With so many cars on our roadways, I have found, in order for RVing to be enjoyable for my family and I, I take backroads. It might take us a bit longer but in my re-routing, it’s the same mileage. Just slower speeds and that’s what I have to do anyway on the interstates so it’s a win/win minus all of the heavy traffic and beautiful scenery. I challenge you to go through Baton Rouge, LA or Dallas, TX! Better yet, travel Interstate 10. The speed limit is 70 but most drivers/truckers travel 85/90 miles an hour and there is nothing out there to slow them down. I repeat “nothing.” I was so white knuckled going through Baton Rouge not to mention my blood pressure must have sky rocketed – I had to pull over just to de-stress. To me that isn’t fun and I love to RV. Here’s another note. Traveling interstates? I just never see many RV’s anymore and I wondered why because they’re selling them. I thought either they’re already at their destinations or they’re all on backroads. I think it’s a little bit of both but mostly on backroads. Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone ;).

  • Barbara Richards

    I don’t agree with #3. Truckers are the worst out today on our interstate highways. I travel for a living for my job and I RV. However, I have found very few that are to be an example these days. They follow too closely, give no room between you and them, they come up fast behind you and change lanes at the last minute and then before you’re out of their blindspot, they are in your lane. They go well over the speed limit, they don’t follow road rules and at those speeds that they travel, they’ll blow you off of the road without batting an eye. Oh, and when merging off of an exit, they rarely allow you in. Personally I would stay away from the advice in #3.

    • http://www.loveyourrv.com Ray

      I have the opposite opinion, many times it’s a trucker that helps me out in heavy traffic to merge in as little cars fly by ignoring my signal. In three years full timing now I’ve had little problems with truckers but tons with regular 4 wheel drivers cutting me off and acting like they own the highway. I find if you maintain speed and course and avoid unnecessary lane changes for the most part the truckers ,who are doing their vital job keeping the country going, do a fine job of sharing the road.

  • John McClun

    I agree with your comments and would add this: Do NOT over dive your tires. Know what the speed rating for your tires are at the weight they are carrying. Stay below this speed when on the interstate, this helps avoid blow outs. You can find the ratings for your tires at their manufacturer’s website. My Michelin’s with 4,200 lbs. on them are rated at 62 MPH and I drive at 60.

    • http://www.loveyourrv.com Ray

      Thanks John, excellent tip. Our trailer tires are rated for 65 mph and I make sure to stay below that, usually towing around 55-60, haven’t had a single blowout yet, now up to 50,000 miles towed on my rig.

  • Frank

    A lot of great advice Thanks

  • Tracie Baker

    Thanks for this post. We are young with a young family with 6 kids all under 10. We are always looking for tips for driving and working our 30ft travel trailer that we pull with a Express 3500. Thank you for posting.

  • steven

    There a few thing I do agree and some u don’t agree with. I do agree that you should be will rested for your trip, have a Maintained Rig. Is a good idea to have a cd to hear what truckers are saying.if your in a pickup have good side mirrors me I have a 43feet motorhome I never use the side mirrors mine come with side and back cameras to see what going on around me. Things I don’t agree with I don’t understand why stop if is bad weather to me that don’t make since at all. I guess after 20 years driving a semi truck for a living I know how to handle drive in show,windy, or when is raining out not every one can drive like that.

  • http://www.lujacklexus.com Tom Hopkins

    We got the new Rand McNally GPS in February and used it on our 3500 mile+ trip from Iowa to Key West. Works great, lots of info built in and if you have wireless internet access, you can get updated weather for your route. Highly recommend the Rand McNally unit.

    We have a 35ft class A Thor Four Winds Infinity and find the 55mph speed seems to be a comfortable thing and gas mileage is much better than faster speeds especially in the wind!
    We supplement that with the Ipad when my co-pilot has need of more info.

    • http://www.loveyourrv.com/ Ray

      Thanks for the comment Tom, sounds like a great GPS. We were in Key West in Xmas 2011, one of my favorite trips stops. I find anything past 60 mph with my trailer equals very bad mileage also.

  • Christine Ducey

    We decided recently that we would keep our top cruising speed at 55 mph and of course stay in the right lane. That speed makes it very easy for cars to merge as they enter the freeway. And of course it keeps our gas costs down.

    • http://www.loveyourrv.com/ Ray

      Hi Christine, those make good sense. Also by keeping the speed down we can have more time to react to the unexpected things, like debris on the road, construction zones causing stopped traffic and mechanical failures like a tire blowout

  • http://4wheelonline.com/Towing/Fifth_Wheel_Hitch.199805 FifthWheelHitch

    Driving on the interstate is hard. I dread it at times because you have to be twice alert here than anywhere else. Thanks for the tips Ray. very helpful.

  • http://hiddenvalleyrv.blogspot.com Teri@HiddenValleyRV

    Some common sense tips but many of us forget them on the road. The tendency is to think it’s the same as driving in our car or truck. Although many like to spontaneous, I liked the tip to plot your course. Even if you wait till right before you head out, some planning in advance reduces stress. Great tip to use the satellite or birds eye view if possible.

    • http://www.loveyourrv.com/ Ray

      Thanks Teri. Another use for satellite views is to check out the campgrounds so we know what is the best way to approach the entrance and the site layout.

  • Bob Perry

    Ray…when planning your route do you plug it into a GPS unit like Rand McNally GPS?

    • http://www.loveyourrv.com/ Ray

      We use an Ipad, the model that includes built in GPS. I plug my route into that then Anne uses it to help navigate while we drive. We have a cell card so have the internet available while driving. She can look things up on the fly for me. Many of the map programs now have live traffic overlays so we can even see if traffic is heavy on our route or not and adjust if needed. Also if I miss a turn she can navigate me back on course easily.

  • http://lowestravels.wordpress.com/ Steve and ML Lowe

    The tips sure are helpful. I could say that Steve is one heck of a careful driver but sometime there are tight scenarios that need quick action like our approach in NOLA.
    Related to tip no 9, we cancelled our trip to Carlsbad Caverns due to high winds, not a good day to drive.

    • http://www.loveyourrv.com/ Ray

      Some cities are a nightmare if you get off the your path. happened to us in Miami, missed a freeway exit and spent an hour trying to get back on route with no cooperation from the local insane drivers. I guess in those scenarios all you can do is take your time. :)