By Greg Illes
Transitioning from driving a car to herding a big RV down the road can be both a pleasure and a challenge. Dragging the big beast around corners and through dips and bumps is one of the lessons, but perhaps the area most in need of detailed attention is lane alignment.
True in all rigs but more so in class A’s, finding that “sweet spot” in your lane is not necessarily intuitive — especially if you have many years of car experience. Your brain only knows the car-relative lane-sighting target. And in fact, the sweet spot will change depending on your immediate circumstances. Cross winds and passing trucks can strongly influence where you want to position your rig, not to mention curbside signs, brush and parked vehicles.
To start with, learn the best way to check your alignment. Typically, this is done with a quick glance to each of the wide-angle side mirrors. When the distance is the same to the white line (right) and the yellow line (left), then you are centered. Now check the position of your head with respect to the center of the lane because it’s likely to be well to the left. Once you have this visual/mental picture, you can center yourself by sighting on that more-left side of the lane.
Knowing how and if you are centered becomes crucially important when you’re negotiating a narrow roadway. Lanes in the US can be 14-feet wide on a big interstate, but only 8-feet wide on a back-country road (with many rigs 8.5-feet wide, or 10.5 feet counting the mirrors!).
But you don’t always want to be exactly centered. There are several circumstances when it’s highly advisable to drift toward one side of your lane or the other. You may need to alter your alignment by as much as two feet under some conditions.
Passing trucks — Whether it’s the same or opposite direction, drift slightly away from the truck well before you are passing. Most professional drivers do this, which you’ll notice when you start paying attention. This habit buys a margin of safety in the event of a swerve or wind gust.
Parked vehicles — Give some clearance to curbside obstacles or parked vehicles. Remember that if your rig is one foot away from something, your mirror will skim it. Also know that a car door can swing out three feet or more when it opens in your direction.
Gusty crosswinds — Stay on the upwind side of the lane, for you will always be nudged a bit downwind before you can fully react.
Driving professionally and lane-consciously will make your trips safer and more comfortable, so it’s worth the study and practice to perfect your technique.