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The RV Safe Driving Course

Editor's note: The RV Safe Driving Course now is offered in conjunction with the Recreation Vehicle Safety Education Foundation (RVSEF).

Not every piece of information imparted at the RV Alliance America (RVAA) RV Safe Driving Course is dramatic and life saving. But sometimes it is.

Take the case of the gentleman who approached course instructor Roy Stiglich at FMCA’s G.L.A.S.S. Rally in Berrien Springs, Mich., in May 2002.

“I just want to thank you,” the man said, shaking Stiglich’s hand. “I’m a living testimonial. I probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for this class.”

The man said he had completed the course at FMCA’s convention in Perry, Ga., in March. Soon after, he experienced a tire blowout on his coach. He slammed on the brakes, and his coach was about to flip. “Suddenly he remembered what we had discussed during the course in Perry and recalled what to do,” Stiglich said.

What that grateful FMCA member did was follow the advice given in the RVAA RV Safe Driving Course: In case of a blowout or rapid loss of air on either axle, stab the accelerator to the floor to regain momentum in the intended direction of travel before gently removing your foot from the accelerator. Do not apply the brakes.

Plaudits

Jim and Bobbie Spitzner, F234661, completed the course at FMCA’s Oklahoma City convention in April 2001, and put the knowledge to use almost immediately. They had learned the importance of crossing the chains under the tow bar when hooking up the towed vehicle. This helped them avert a catastrophe on their way home when a hitch pin dislodged from its receiver.

After completing the class in Perry, Alfred Hansen, F164386, called it “the finest course my wife and I have taken.”

Richard Minetti, F201158, wrote that, while driving home from the Great Eastern Area Rally, “I found myself being a lot more tolerant of the truckers, and everyone else on the road as well.”

Braking, towing, sharing the road with truckers, and what to do in case of a blowout are among the topics covered in the six-hour course.

“At the end of every class, ”Stiglich said, “we always have participants who say, ‘This class should be a mandatory class for every RV driver.’”

FMCA and RVAA have kept the course registration fee at $10 to encourage as many people as possible to attend. The fee pays for materials. The cost of equipment, room rental, refreshments and instructors’ expenses are shared by RVAA and FMCA.

The course is now offered at all 10 FMCA area rallies and at the semiannual conventions.

Beginnings

Roy and Barbara Stiglich, F132549, form part of the RV Safe Driving Course Instructor Team, along with Jim and Brenda McCauley, F249113, who joined the team in summer 2002. The course was created by RV Alliance America, a longtime supplier of RV insurance, and is co-sponsored by FMCA.

Roy Stiglich, of Powder Springs, Ga., authored the material in the late 1990s with Hank Schnelle, F66196, who is now retired from the program. After researching proven techniques of safe RV operation, and dwelling on their many years of personal experience driving motorhomes, trucks and buses, they wrote the course handbook.

In 1998 at FMCA’s convention in Ogden, Utah, Stiglich and Schnelle conducted the first RVAA RV Safe Driving Course. During the past several years they’ve presented it at FMCA conventions and selected area rallies, revising and updating the course each year.

“The feedback from FMCA members has been tremendous, Stiglich said. FMCA officials, committed to safety and ongoing education of FMCA members, also were impressed. “They felt it needed to be a standard offering at all regional rallies as well as international conventions.”

Course fills fast

Typically, the course is presented over two days with one three-hour session each day. Originally, the class duration was intended to be eight hours, Stiglich said. “FMCA asked us to cut back to six so those who attended would have time for all the other convention activities. So, we’ve taken eight hours of material and condensed it into two three-hour sessions.”

Susan Corscadden, assistant vice president of marketing for RVAA, said the course’s popularity became overwhelming at FMCA’s convention in Perry, Ga., in March 2002, when 606 FMCA members signed up in less than 90 minutes. Now class size is generally limited to 150 at FMCA conventions, depending on facilities, to ensure that everyone can hear the instructors and view the visuals. “The course has been offered as many as three times at international events to accommodate the demand,” Corscadden noted.

Registration usually is held on the first morning of the event or on the day before. For example, at FMCA’s convention in Hutchinson, Kan., Oct. 1, 2 and 3, 2002, registration begins when the FMCA Information Center Opens – 7 a.m. Monday, Sept. 30 – and continues until the classes are filled. The registration information and course schedule always are provided in the official convention program.

“At large shows, RVAA begins issuing numbers when registration opens so that attendees know immediately whether they made it into the class,” Corscadden said. “That way we avoid having people stand in line only to find out the class is full.”

Motivations

Some RV insurance companies offer discounted rates to those who complete the course; check with your insurance provider. Aside from insurance savings, the most common reasons FMCA members give for taking the RV Safe Driving course are to:

  • Update their driving skills
  • Improve their confidence when traveling alone
  • Refresh their driving skills
  • Learn more and be a better driver
  • Make it safer to move from a type C to a type A, or to a larger vehicle
  • Become a safer driver

Popular topics

RVAA claims records show that two of the top three RV insurance claims involve backing up and tire damage or blowouts. (The third claim is awning and antenna damage caused by severe weather.) These topics are covered in the course along with mountain driving, loading the RV, preventive maintenance, traveling with propane, and general driving procedures such as turning and changing lanes.

“I encourage people to come to the course and be open-minded,” Stiglich said. “I think they’ll find they learn more than they realize.”

Braking

With more motorhomers towing vehicles behind their motorhomes, interest in how to maintain acceptable braking performance has become a much-discussed topic. “Probably the one question I get asked most,” Stiglich said, “concerns auxiliary braking devices for towed vehicles.”

In many instances, the motorhome’s brakes aren’t sufficient to stop or control the additional weight of a towed vehicle. Independent braking systems compensate to allow the motorhome to retain much of the braking performance it has when driven solo.

In the course, instructors discuss stopping distances and how to determine a coach’s towing limitations, and explain when a supplemental braking system is needed. “Motorhomers should understand that they’re not driving a car; they’re driving a big, heavy coach that, in most cases, has lots of power,” Stiglich said. “It’s big and can go fast and can do all these things, but stopping it -- and a towed vehicle -- is another story.”

The course material also emphasizes that diesel-powered motorhomes, if driven in hilly terrain, need braking assistance as well. The auxiliary equipment could be an exhaust brake, an engine brake, a driveline retarder, or a transmission brake or retarder. The course handbook notes that it costs less to order the coach with the braking device installed at the factory.

“The safety that auxiliary braking devices provide is worth far more than the money spent,” Stiglich said.

Tires and tips

Another hot popular topic at the course is tires. “We spend a lot of time on tires and tire maintenance,” Stiglich said, “because they’re one of the most important parts of the RV.” Instructors also stress the importance of weighing the motorhome, “because the weight is the clue to maintaining correct tire pressure.”

A tip that Stiglich passes on to new and experienced motorhomers relates to fire safety. “In my opinion, the fire extinguishers that come with many RVs are inadequate. Many put out dry powder. They need to be one of the new foam fire extinguishers, and motorhomers need to have two or three of them in their motorhome and at least one in their towed vehicle. We have four fire extinguishers in ours.”

Know your coach

Simple but important advice covered during the course is to know your motorhome. “Understand the motorhome and what it’s capable of, what its power limits are, how it’s going to stop,” Stiglich said. “Anybody can drive fast. That’s not what it takes to be a good driver. You have to think, ‘What are the things I have to do in order to be safe?’”

A frequently asked question, he said, is, When is it time for me, because of age or physical disability, to stop driving the motorhome? “There are probably a number or drivers now who are driving motorhomes that are too big for them. It might be time for them to give up driving a 35- or 40-foot motorhome, but that doesn’t mean they have to give up driving a smaller type C or a van conversion.”

Both instructors field many questions about state RV laws. They do their best to stay updated on motorhome size and weight limits, braking requirements, and speed limits, all of which vary by state. State-by-state motorhome regulations, reprinted from Family Motor Coaching magazine, are in the course handbook.

Passenger should learn to drive, too

Stiglich encourages women to attend the RV Safe Driving Course, whether they are the primary driver or plan to drive the motorhome only in an emergency. “I think more ladies are becoming involved in driving the motorhome because we push the point ‘What do you do if something happens on the road and you’re incapable of driving?’”

Some passengers do not learn to drive the coach until an emergency strikes, he said. And then, they’re driving it not only with inexperience, but also under pressure. “In the course, we take everyone through a step-by-step process so they can become a full-fledged driver. It’s a matter of building confidence so they can drive a big coach. Once they learn how, they find out it’s a lot of fun and want to drive more and more all the time.”

Stilgich has encountered several women whose deceased husbands were the primary drivers. The women had learned how to drive the coach, however, while their husbands were alive. “They’re able to travel on their own and handle hooking up and pulling into sites. They can continue to enjoy motorhoming.”

About the instructors

At FMCA’s conventions, where the class size is generally larger, the Stigliches and McCauleys conduct the classes jointly. For FMCA area rallies, they split the schedule to eliminate traveling back and forth across the country. “Jim’s doing the western U.S. and I’m doing the eastern U.S,” Stiglich said.

Their wives assist with registration, audiovisuals and course materials.

The Stigliches and McCauleys also present the course at events sponsored by manufacturers such as Newmar, Country Coach, Prevost and Blue Bird. For a complete schedule of course dates and locations, visit the RVAA Web site, www.rvaa.com.

Roy Stiglich worked for 32 years for Xerox Corporation as trainer, service manager and production manager. He was responsible for operating and maintaining fleets of vehicles and heavy equipment.

The Stigliches, who joined FMCA in 1990, bought their first motorhome in the 1970s and now own their seventh, a Country Coach diesel pusher. “I do all maintenance myself,” Roy said.

“We cover the rally circuit in the summer months. In winter we spend three months in Orlando, Fla. That’s a favorite place for us because our son and grandchild are there." Their other four grandkids live in Atlanta, Ga.

Roy and Barbara enjoy motorhoming to Nashville, Tenn., and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. “We also spend as much time as we can in Amish country in Ohio and Indiana. And out West.”

Jim McCauley, of Willards, Md., joined Perdue Farms in 1979 as director of Safety and Security. The company employed more than 1,000 professional truck drivers in eight states. While presiding over fleet and in-plant safety, he designed a driver training class for existing drivers.

Jim retired from Perdue Farms in 2000. Prior to joining the Perdue Farms, he trained professional bus drivers as safety director for Caroline Coach Company (Trailways).

Jim and Brenda bought their first motorhome in 1998 and enjoy traveling with their four children, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

‘Rewarding’

In a letter to RVAA, FMCA member Ted Burdge described the RV Safe Driving Course as “beneficial to my driving and my life.”

Those are the comments that resonate with Stiglich. “If I can teach one person one thing that will make them safer on the road, that’s worth all the effort I put into it. It’s rewarding knowing you helped someone get from point A to point B safely.”

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