Large Van Driver
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Cover the brake when in doubt.
If your foot is already over the brake, your reaction time for
braking will be reduced when needed.
- When in good conditions, following time to
the vehicle in front of you should be 4 seconds.
- Stay away from impaired drivers.
If you notice irregular driving habits in vehicles in front of you,
stay away from them at all costs.
- 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.
- 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.
- While driving, scan about 12 to 15 seconds ahead, in both city and rural
driving.† Never assume someone else
will yield to you.
- Before you leave - check the mirror adjustments, make sure all
lights are working, make sure all passengers are properly seated and
- Be aware that you can hydroplane on water as low as
30 miles per hour.† Be careful
in wet conditions Ė slow down.
- 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.
- Rolling over is a high risk in this van.
Enter curves at speeds BELOW the posted curve speeds.
- 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.
- 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:
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 that† the catch mechanism on the top of the
ball has firmly locked down, and lock it
on if possible.
- 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.
- 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.†
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
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