The Buzz talks with Walter Cannon, executive director of the RV Safety & Education Foundation about motorhome safety.
RV Safety & Education Foundation, Walter Cannon, away we go
MobileRVing: The Buzz, Your Outdoor Lifestyle Insider, Written by Tim Wassberg
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The intrinsic nature of RV safety is knowing the capabilities of your RV and how to handle. One of the next questions is “how much will it cost to insure this vehicle”. RVs today are driving houses with almost all, if not all, of the amenities standing homes have. The Buzz sits down and talks to Walter Cannon, executive director of the RV Safety & Education Foundation (RVSEF), where he speaks about safety thoughts regarding new motorhomes, the impact on insurance and how his online safety course (as well as live versions available at certain rallies and RV shows) can make your life easier.
The Buzz: Can you elaborate on what sort of training courses RVSEF offers?
Walter Cannon: If we are talking about the most recent safety training program which is the driver program, it’s really been in the works for 7 or 8 years at this point. We have been doing it at large rallies live. It came about when the insurance companies and some of the clubs were looking for a way to train RV drivers specifically as opposed to them taking a driver refresher course that just involved cars because RVs are so much different than cars. We were involved in that and RV since 2000. In 1993 it all started with a company called “A'Weigh We Go” which later became the RV Safety & Education Foundation as a non-profit. So we started working on it and just went through the process. The idea was to start at the driveway, getting people out of the driveway and onto the road. By that, we mean everything in which they need to make sure their RV is safe and ready to operate.
The Buzz: So we talk about driving through residential areas and getting out to the highway. Highway driving. Highway marking. What do the markings on the highway mean?
Walter Cannon: Some of these highways have very specific markings from the lines to the colors to the way they are put down…the dimensions to the signs and the way the signs are constructed…where the numbers are on the sign…where the words are on the sign. These tell you way ahead of time what’s going to be going on up in front of you. Most people have kind of grown up with the highway system, so it is not new to us. We don’t even realize what all those things mean. Getting on and off the highway…getting in and out of fuel stops…how to fuel safely. This is all part of operating an RV. We all look at operating RVs like pilots flying planes. And, for the most part, our organization started in aviation, in aviation safety. My predecessor was a 30 year veteran as a helicopter test pilot…and there is not a lot of those around. That is where this all came from…safety. So we go through the fuel stops, how safely to put fuel in, what you need to do before you stop and get fuel, all of those kinds of things. And then we end by showing how to back into a campsite properly using hand signals. The idea started at the driveway and ends in the campsite. This is how the program progresses.
The Buzz: How do people go about this course?
Walter Cannon: We feel it is pretty user friendly. We tried to use the simplest system we could find. Not always easy. Currently, the way it works is that you go onto our store (URL) , you purchase the online training program and you get a login code and you have 3 days to complete the course. We tell people the course is 6 hours long. Really, depending on your speed, it won’t take you anywhere near 6 hours but this gives you a chance to go back and forth…back and forth…reviewing it like that. And you have it for three days. During the course, there are several spots in there where it tells you to write something down…write down a code…write down a word. And when you get all done with the course, at the end when you go through all the steps and get to the last section, there is going to be an area there for a certificate. When you click on the certificate it is going to ask you for those things the course asked you to write down. You write them down and then put in your information. Then you will print out a certificate of completion for the program. Almost all major insurance companies in the industry offer a safe driving discount. All of those organizations have reviewed the course. Some of them have done so many years ago, since we have done this for ten years. There is nothing really different whether you come to us live like in March when we are at the FMCA Rally or whether you go online and take the program. Everyone has reviewed the program. They support what we do as far as that program is concerned as well as our other programs.
The Buzz: RV drivers as well as the rigs themselves have changed as far as computer integration. How does that change the equation since they can be easier to drive once the interior systems and tech are understood?
Walter Cannon: You are right. It is a double edged sword sometimes. The technology makes operating the RV somewhat more complicated. There are a lot of things to know and to know how to do. Yet once you understand that it becomes an easier process. Side view cameras, new transmissions for our towing trailers and motorhomes, things like that. When you’re going down a mountain, these RVs know what you want to do somehow through your driving habits. They understand what is going on and they can compensate for maybe some things you are not doing or the environment around you. This is true both of motorhomes and new truck towing trailers because they have become much more complicated. We have things now integrated into the towing trailers like brake controllers and anti-sway devices that are all computer programmed that can help you control your trailer better. It can be easier for you. But it can also make the process of understanding it much more complicated. When we get into some of the large motorhomes, our largest motorhomes today actually have steerable tag axles. We are talking about an incredibly complicated system to understand but yet the drivability is much easier…much nicer…much smoother. But it is a far more complicated system than even 10 years ago when RVs were more simplified trucks than they are now. Right now they are a hybrid between a very heavy duty truck and basically a sports car. We want that car feel in a very heavy duty vehicle.
The Buzz: Your program covers all kinds of different RVs that people drive?
Walter Cannon: It covers from the very simplest of units out there to the most complicated. We have a whole program on air brakes. We cover air brakes because in many cases, days have come where we were selling a lot of motorhomes that are equipped with air brakes. Most of us never owned air brakes or operated air brakes until we purchased our first large unit. We are not truck drivers. We have not had that experience and they are completely different than anything you’ve ever driven. They need a different maintenance schedule. They need a different testing procedure. Everything about them is a little bit different. They work great. They [air brakes] are designed for large heavy vehicles but it is something completely foreign to our average owner today.
The Buzz: Winter advice?
There are several things and, as far as winter driving goes, never drive into severe weather. Stay another day. Stay two more days…three more days if you have to. If you are trying to get down say to Florida (where I live) from Michigan, and there is snow between me and you, wait it out. Don’t try to push it in order to get down here to enjoy our warmer weather (laughing). Always pay attention to the weather both coming towards you and what you have just been through. Apps and accessing the internet can help you understand what’s coming at you and what is in front of you. You can avoid driving into something you really don’t want to. And always, always, just travel at a pace you are comfortable with. People, like all of us, tend to be in a big rush today. We’re leaving Michigan…we’re going to Florida. It is warm in Florida. All of our friends are there. We got to hurry up and get there. And that is when we run ourselves into trouble….when we are in a rush. So stay calm, take your time and avoid those things that can cause you harm.
A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.
Make Sure To Check Out:
RV Safety Training 9 Volume, one of the online packages from RVSEF that is self-paced, designed to address the needs of everyone who travels in the RV, from children to adults. RVSEF suggests that the reader set aside time for the family to work through it together.