What happens if you’re in a crash while driving your travel vehicle?
We’ll walk you through the steps, and common causes of accidents.
It’s the moment all drivers—especially RVers and vanlifers—dread most: a crash or close call. But being prepared to deal with a scary situation can make it slightly more bearable. Some people go their whole lives without experiencing a car or RV accident, but statistics show that for most Americans a crash is an inevitability in their lifetime. It’s a matter of “when,” not “if.”
It’s sometimes possible to avoid a collision, but often the situation is beyond your control and an accident will happen no matter you do. If you’re towing a travel trailer or driving a motorhome or camper van, this can be a frightening experience. After all, it’s not only your vehicle that’s damaged but also your home on wheels.
To better prepare for such a situation (even if we hope you never have to experience it), read through the tips below about what to do following a close call or a crash in your class B RV, motorhome or campervan.
Steps to take if you’re involved in an RV accident
Step 1: Get off the road
First, get off the road as safely and quickly as you can. Try to remain calm as you perform this maneuver. Avoid making sudden turns if possible as this could cause you to lose control of your rig and worsen the situation. Turn on your hazard flashers if possible.
Step 2: Check for injuries
Second, the well-being of you and your passengers is paramount. Check yourself and any passengers for injuries. Don’t attempt to move anyone whom you suspect is injured. If you’re hurt, don’t move and wait for help to arrive.
If you and your passengers appear to be unhurt, exit your vehicle if you can do so safely and check on the other vehicle’s drivers and passengers. When collisions involve large RVs and motorhomes, it’s often the passengers in the other vehicle who experience more severe injuries.
Step 3: Call first responders
Even for a minor accident, contact 911 so that police and paramedics can assist—and assess—the scene. Tell the dispatcher if anyone appears to be injured. If you’re unable to call yourself, ask someone to for you. It’s important to have a police report when filing an insurance claim in order to get compensation for fixing or replacing your RV or other travel vehicle down the road.
Pro tip: While some people chose to drive with their LP tanks on with propane flowing through the rig’s lines to keep refrigerators cool, having these tanks on can be detrimental if you’re in a crash. For this reason, it’s not recommended. However, if you do decide to travel with your propane tanks on and are in a crash, try to switch them off as soon as you can to prevent a fire or explosion.
Step 4: Exchange information and take pictures
If another party is involved in the crash, exchange some basic information with them. You can use your phone to take pictures of their drivers license, insurance card and their vehicle license plate—or write down this information on a piece of paper. If possible, also take pictures of the damage each vehicle sustained.
Step 5: Notify your insurance company
When you are in a good position to call your insurance company or agent, do so with all the documentation you’ve collected thus far available. It’s important to take this step even if the collision was the other driver’s fault.
Once the process has begun, don’t forget to follow up with the insurance company and the company conducting the repairs to your rig. Once your rig is repaired, it’s a good idea to have a separate inspection done so that you can have confidence it was repaired correctly before hitting the road again.
Top causes of RV and motorhome crashes
The demographic attracted to the RV and motorhome lifestyle encompasses both the young and old. Retired seniors may be just beginning to enjoy the lifestyle, while younger people with less experience driving a large rig may also be first-timers. Though not often talked about, it’s a sad fact that thousands of people sustain injuries in camper accidents each year.
Rollover accidents, in particular, are an RVer’s worst nightmare and fatal rollovers can happen at speeds above 55 mph. As with all car accidents, speeding, distracted driving, and alcohol or drug use are some of the most common causes of rollover crashes involving motorhomes, RVs and campervans.
While accidents aren’t always the fault of the driver of the RV, motorhome or campervan, being aware of the common hazards drivers of travel vehicles face may save your rig from damage—and could save your life!
- Driving too fast for conditions. If you’re speeding to your destination in your travel rig, first off you’re doing it wrong. Remember that it’s not just about the destination, but also the journey. In addition, RVs and large motorhomes traditionally don’t maneuver or brake fast, so speeding is a safety concern. For example, if another vehicle cuts you off while you’re hammering it, you may not have time to avoid a collision if you are speeding. As hard as it may be to do, try cruising at 60 or 65 mph and relax in the slow lane. The decreased speed has a beneficial side effect: you’ll save on gas!
- Strong winds. Strong winds are one of the most common reasons why recreational vehicles such as motorhomes, campers or travel trailers suffer an accident. Pulling a trailer or driving a motorhome on a gusty day can be a difficult task and leave you mentally exhausted at the end of the day. If it’s a blustery day, try slowing down; the decrease in speed will help alleviate the windy conditions. An overcompensation can start a chain reaction and lead to a crash if you’re not careful.
- Tire blow-out. Another major concern for many RV owners is suffering a blowout while traveling at higher speeds. This is because the motorhome driver can struggle to gain control of the vehicle when only 3 tires truly have grip. The same is true for drivers towing a trailer; if the trailer suffers a blowout or 2, it can fishtail all over the roadway until safely brought to a halt.
- Mechanical failure. A mechanical failure such as failed brakes, a broken axle or a cracked ball joint can cause a crash. This is why it’s important to stay up-to-date on your vehicle maintenance. In addition, trailer hitch failures can result in a detached trailer. Your safety chains may keep the trailer connected to your tow vehicle, but that will really make for a tricky situation where you need to come to a stop along the side of the road.
- Drowsy driving. Being tired or sleepy while towing or piloting your RV can lead to close calls or worse. If you’re not fully alert, you shouldn’t be operating your RV. Period. Pull over for the night or take a break so that you don’t put yourself, your passengers and other drivers on the road in danger.
- Distracted driving. Even seemingly small distractions when behind the wheel can have big repercussions, especially when you’re hauling or driving a large travel vehicle. Take the necessary steps to avoid distracted driving. Perhaps enlist the help of a co-pilot to guide you with a map or Google Maps so that you can concentrate on driving, and try to remove any distractions from inside the vehicle—a task made difficult if you’ve got young children or a pacing and panting dog with you.
- Unevenly loaded or overloaded cargo. Incorrectly loading your travel trailer can make it sway in unpredictable and dangerous ways. Putting a few tons of canned goods or concrete blocks in your motorhome will make it handle so poorly you’ll wonder how you ever got from point A to point B, so pack smartly. Heavy items should be stored closer to the chassis or ground, and lighter items should be placed up higher. If you crash your RV and investigators discover that it was improperly loaded, your insurance may not pay out. Plus, trust us when we say you don’t want to experience a tire blow-out on the highway, which is commonly caused by overloaded trailers.
- Misjudged stops and turns. From minor damage to fatal crashes, the consequences of misjudging the space you need to turn, switch lanes or come to a stop can vary greatly. New RV drivers or trailer towers often don’t properly account for the amount of distance and time it takes to stop a rig. It can take hundreds of feet. Allowing yourself ample braking time and distance to safely stop 4 to 8 tons takes practice and alertness, otherwise you become a hazard for you, your passengers and other drivers. The same alertness and practice come into play when making turns; too fast and you may skid or lose control, or worse, flip over. Too tight and you may run up a curb, which can damage your tires, suspension and possibly someone’s lawn.
- Watch those blind spots. Changing lanes, parking, and backing up can be a real challenge in a big rig like an RV or motorhome. You can’t always just trust your mirrors; instead, turn your head to check for other vehicles. Fifth-wheel travel trailers are known to be one of the worst offenders for blind spots, so be extra cautious if you tow one or are passing/being passed by one.
- Inexperienced driving. Lastly, inexperienced drivers or people new to towing tend to overcorrect when they feel their rig getting out of control, either due to wind or the suction of a passing semi tractor-trailer. This can escalate to a potentially dangerous situation. To avoid this, be sure to give yourself ample practice driving your vehicle in parking lots and along empty roads before taking it on a busy interstate.
When to seek legal help after an RV or motorhome crash
Clearly, there are extra hazards that RVers and vanlifers must keep in mind when driving their home on wheels. For instance, determining who is at fault in an RV or travel trailer crash isn’t always easy. Police sometimes determine the RV driver or another driver is at fault, while other times the blame can fall on a manufacturer due to a vehicle malfunction.
There are many different types of camper vans, travel trailers and motorhomes on the road today, and therefore it follows that there’s also many crashes involving these types of vehicles. If you find yourself on vacation that comes to a screeching halt (literally), then you might want to consider consulting with a knowledgeable and experienced attorney near you. Your best bet may be to retain legal counsel in the city or town where the accident occurred—that way an attorney can be on the ground working on your behalf near the scene of the crash, taking care of things that you’re too far away to address quickly.
And of course, don’t forget about RV insurance. It exists in times such as this to come to your rescue by providing the financial support you need to make repairs and pay for medical treatment if necessary. Nearly all the major insurance companies offer a variety of coverage levels for RVs, campers or motorhomes.
There will always be some degree of fault for you to prove. Luckily, however – if there is to be some luck in these unhappy scenarios – there are some situations in which proving fault is taken out of your hands almost entirely.
In conclusion, while you should certainly not be afraid to hit the road in your travel vehicle, it’s also vital that you stay alert and be vigilant while traveling in your RV or towing your trailer. As long as you leave more than enough room between you and the vehicle in front of you, and allow plenty of time to reach our destination so that you are not rushed, odds are that you’ll be just fine.