Large Van Driver Primer


These are notes for any driver of a large van from a safety course taken recently. Please read and keep these things in mind when driving, since you are in command of an unusually large vehicle.


  1. Avoid Backing Up.The blind spots are huge, so if you must back up make absolutely sure nothing is behind you and use a spotter on the left or right side of the vehicle when available.


  1. Always drive with your lights on. This helps others see you coming, no matter what the weather conditions are.Note that if you are fully loaded, regular beams might be pointed high, so high beams are not needed.


  1. Increase your following distances for a safety cushion.The stopping distance for this large vehicle is longer, so you need extra space.A safe distance to follow must include your reaction time and the longer braking time.


  1. Reduce your speed to allow better reaction time.Do not get caught up in higher speed traffic, just to keep up.Many smaller vehicles "MAY" be able to safely travel faster in traffic, but you don't have to.


  1. Cover the brake when in doubt. If your foot is already over the brake, your reaction time for braking will be reduced when needed.


  1. When in good conditions, following time to the vehicle in front of you should be 4 seconds.


  1. Stay away from impaired drivers. If you notice irregular driving habits in vehicles in front of you, stay away from them at all costs.


  1. Keep your interior space clear of moving objects. The motor cover is not a good storage space for binders or maps, they will slide around when cornering.


  1. Check your mirrors every 3 to 5 seconds. Also lean forward when checking mirrors to get many different views and cover the blind spots better.


  1. While driving, scan about 12 to 15 seconds ahead, in both city and rural driving.Never assume someone else will yield to you.


  1. Before you leave - check the mirror adjustments, make sure all lights are working, make sure all passengers are properly seated and belted in.


  1. Be aware that you can hydroplane on water as low as 30 miles per hour.Be careful in wet conditions Ė slow down.


  1. Avoid left turns if possible and if needed, turn from the right most lane (assuming more than one lane can turn left) so that you can see inside the curve that you are turning into.This will avoid hitting anyone who goes on the right side of you, in your blind spot.


  1. Rolling over is a high risk in this van. Enter curves at speeds BELOW the posted curve speeds.


  1. Be cautious of swerving at high speeds. Because this van is so easy to roll over, when driving in the country it is better to hit a deer that runs out in front of you than to try to swerve to avoid it.The same thing goes for a fender bender in city traffic.Itís far better to have a minor fender bender than to roll over while swerving to avoid it.


  1. Beware of distractions within the vehicle. With so many more occupants in a large van, the risk of distractions is proportionally higher. If possible, have another adult in the vehicle deal with any unruly kids to enable you to focus on driving.



Trailer Towing Issues:


  1. Trailer ball size.Make sure that you have the correct ball for the trailer. NEVER tow a trailer that uses a 2-5/16 ball with a 2in ball.This can cause the trailer to fall off the vehicle.†† Even with chains on, if the trailerís tongue catches a pothole before you are able to get to the side of the road it can cause MASSIVE damage.Always make sure thatthe catch mechanism on the top of the ball has firmly locked down, and lock it on if possible.


  1. Trailer Chains.ALWAYS make sure you have both chains properly attached to the vehicle.The chains should criss-cross underneath the tongue.This enables the tongue to ride on top of the chains if it becomes detached from the vehicle.Make sure that the chains are strong enough for the vehicle. Never use cheap chains for a heavy duty trailer.Also make sure that the chains are not dragging on the road.Sometimes you may need to twist the chains around a couple times (which causes them to knot up), which shortens them.It is surprising how fast a dragging chain is worn down.


  1. Make sure that the trailerís tongue is level. Depending on the vehicle towing the trailer, and the trailer hitch, sometimes you may need to adjust the hitch so that the tongue sits level.Not having it level causes the trailerís suspension to not work correctly, both causing wear on the vehicle and increasing the risk of an accident.


  1. Make sure trailerís load is placed correctly. Many people think that all of the heavy stuff should be placed in the front of the trailer, this is incorrect.In most single axle trailers the load should be split so that 60% of the load weight is in front of the axle, and 40% is behind the axle.In some trailers the axle is a little further back, (like in the Troop 33/100 trailer).In this case 70% of the load is in front of the axle, and 30% is behind it.The reason for not putting all of the heavy stuff up front is that trailer hitches have both a tow weight, AND a tongue weight rating.The tow rating is how much weight the trailer hitch can pull forward, and the tongue rating is how much weight can push down on the tongue.The tongue rating is FAR lower than the tow rating.Many people have ripped the trailer hitch completely off their vehicle because they put too much weight too far forward and then they hit a big pothole, (which is bad at 60mph on the highway).Also having too much weight too far forward makes it more difficult to have the tongue level (see above).Having the load too far back is bad also, because it causes upward pressure on the hitch, and can cause the trailer to fall off.It can also cause a problem if you try to unhook the trailer while it is loaded.


  1. Also make sure that the load is placed evenly from one side to the other.If too much weight is on the driverís side, or passenger side, it can cause the trailer to swerve from side to side, especially if you have to brake quickly.It also causes much more wear than normal on tires and trailer suspension.


  1. When towing a trailer, increase distance from other vehicles.This is especially true if vehicle does not have electric brakes.With a heavily loaded trailer it is VERY easy to jackknife it if you are both braking and swerving to avoid an accident. The best way to avoid this is to increase following distances from other vehicles to reduce need for emergency braking.



  1. Make sure trailer lights are hooked up. If you have to use an adapter to fit the trailer, make sure you have one available before you get there to pick up the trailer.Also you should double check to make sure the lights are working before beginning to tow.Either have someone else watch while you press the brake, and the turn signals, or if no one else is available just turn on your hazard lights and then walk back and check.Also make sure that the trailer lights wires do not drag on the ground. They will wear away VERY quickly.


  1. If your trailer has electric brakes, make sure that they are adjusted properly.How to do this varies from vehicle to vehicle, depending on what type of electric brake controller is installed.Usually there is a dial on the controller, which is usually mounted somewhere near the steering wheel, that adjusts how sensitive the trailerís brakes are to the brake pedal being pressed.The dial should be adjusted so that you can feel the trailerís brakes kicking in at the same time as you press down on the vehicleís brake pedal.How sensitive this will be varies dramatically based on the trailerís load, air temperature, brake & tire temperature, humidity, and more. This should be checked on a regular basis on a long drive, as conditions on the trailer will change over time.Also, when in rain on snow conditions, the sensitivity should be increased so that the trailerís brakes engage just a hair before the vehicleís brakes do.This will help prevent jackknifing should the vehicle start sliding on slick surfaces.


  1. Know how to manually engage trailer brakes. ††Almost all electric brake controllers can be manually engaged to kick in the trailer brakes without engaging the vehicleís brakes.This is handy occasionally in slick conditions when you want to slow down, but do not want to risk jackknifing the vehicle. Engaging the trailer brakes will slow the vehicle much more slowly than the vehicleís brakes will, but it is safer on slick roads.All semi-trucks are equipped like this for good reasons.


  1. Trailer is often wider than vehicle. Be aware that on most larger trailers the wheels of the trailer are out further than the side of the van. This means that you must swing out far wider to avoid clipping something than you would with just the van.


  1. Make sure that jack is completely up. Too often the jack is only raised partially, which causes it to drag when going in and out of parking lots, or steep driveways.This causes damage to both the jack and the driveway.


  1. Emergency brake wire. If the trailer has electric brakes, and is equipped with an emergency disconnect wire, make sure it is attached in such a way that if the entire trailer hitch falls off the vehicle, the wire will engage.This means that you donít just connect it to the hook on the chain, because if the hitch breaks of the vehicle, the wire will never pull taut and engage. If possible, run the wire up and around something on the vehicle so that it will engage no matter how the trailer becomes separated from the vehicle.


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