How Road Signs Make Driving Safer—Especially For RVers

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 indicate 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 area to area. Consequently over the next two decades road signs were improved by the creation of eight shapes and colors that remain the consistent across the U.S., Canada, and many other countries around the world.

Be aware of road signage as you travel the highways and byways. Pictured above Toutle River Bridge along the Spirit River Scenic Byway to Mount St. Helens, Washington. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be aware of road signage as you travel the highways and byways. Pictured above Toutle River Bridge along the Spirit River Memorial Highway to Mount St. Helens, Washington. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The meaning of road signs is important, but uniformity in shape, color, and typeface is also important.

Road sign shapes and colors are detailed in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

For the purpose of this article, we’ll discuss the three most important signs that drivers of recreational vehicles need to know and observe.

Downhill Grade Ahead

Downhill grade warning signs give extra warnings that it’s time to downshift into a lower gear. Pay special attention to length of the descent and the slope of the downgrade as expressed in percentage.

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
If you don’t know the height of your RV, trouble could be lurking around the bend. Pictured Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you don’t know the height of your RV, trouble could be lurking around the bend. Pictured Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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.

You can obtain an accurate measurement of your RV’s height in the following way:

With your partner or a friend standing beside the RV, go up on your RV roof with a long tape measure 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 partner on the ground. There’s your measurement.

Drive carefully and be alert to all highway sign including downhill grades. Pictured above Scenic Byway 12, Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive carefully and be alert to all highway sign including downhill grades. Pictured above Scenic Byway 12, Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead End/No Outlet

There’s a lot to be said for Class B vans and truck campers. For starters, you can easily maneuver out of tight turnarounds, dead ends, and cul-de-sac streets. For the rest of us, especially drivers of large Class A motorhomes with a toad, a No Outlet sign is enough to cause cardiac arrest.

Avoiding dead end encounters start with proper trip planning. It also requires a good GPS unit for RVers and an old fashioned paper map to verify navigation choices.

When possible avoid driving into a parking or picnic area where you cannot clearly see an exit or adequate space to turn around your rig.

Should you get into a tight spot, back up all the way to the nearest turnaround point or maneuver back and forth until you can turn around.

Drivers of large Class A motorhomes with a toad have an additional problem. You must unhook the toad prior to backing up the motorhome. If you attempt to back up without unhooking the toad you take the change of causing severe damage to your hitch.

Avoid driving into an area where you cannot clearly see an exit or adequate space to turn around your rig. And that includes Bisbee, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Avoid driving into an area where you cannot clearly see an exit or adequate space to turn around your rig. And that includes Bisbee, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With increased experience driving your RV you will decrease the odds of ending up in a precarious situation like going too fast while traveling downhill, encountering a low bridge or overhang, or maneuvering out of a dead end street or other tight situation.

Worth Pondering…

I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.

—Stephen Covey

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