When the Road Isn’t Carefree: RV Accidents

Recreational vehicles (RVs), sometimes called motorhomes, enjoy incredible popularity in our country. Whether it’s for camping trips to a local lake or a multi-state expedition to see the U.S., an RV can be a practical solution when it comes time to take the family on a vacation. The steep costs of airline tickets and hotels, as well as security hassles at the airport, can be enough to convince you that an RV is the way to go.

The Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) says that more than 355,000 motorhomes are sold each year on average, and that approximately 9 million RVs are on the road. That’s the highest number ever recorded.

While we tend to associate RVs with retired folks, the RVIA reports that the largest growth in RV ownership, percentage-wise, is happening among those aged 35 to 54.

As with any other motor vehicle, though, RVs have their hazards. Because of their size, they are difficult to maneuver, and they can be too much for someone to handle who is not used to it. Because all you need in all 50 states to drive an RV that is 26,000 pounds or less is an everyday, non-commercial driver’s license, the person behind the wheel may have little to no experience handling a motorhome 30 feet in length.

The NHTSA reported that in 2015 a total of 44 persons died in RV-related crashes. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) numbers for injuries in 2012 RV-related collisions totaled roughly 75,000.

Types of RVs on the Road

RVs can be from 17 to 45 feet long, can weigh more than 26,000 pounds, and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Three classes cover all RVs:

  • Class B motorhomes. These RVs are the smallest motorhomes and are sometimes called van conversions. They run up to 19 feet long and weigh up to 8,000 pounds. They are the easiest RVs to handle on the road.
  • Class C motorhomes. Class Cs are 20 to 31 feet long and usually weigh 10,000 to 12,000 pounds. Often a sleeping bunk is included over the cab portion, with a kitchen, bathroom, and another bedroom. Some have what are known as slideouts, which expand the available living space when they are parked.
  • Class A motorhomes. These RVs are the largest and most luxurious ones, and can stretch to 45 feet long. The largest ones can weigh more than 26,000 pounds and may require a special driver’s license.

While not an RV, some people tow travel trailers (“fifth wheels”). These campers can reach 32 feet long and weigh almost eight thousand pounds unloaded. A filled water tank and additional gear raises the weight by approximately 1,000 pounds.

Common Reasons for RV Crashes

As with many motor vehicle crashes, driver error of one form or another is usually the cause; but an RV’s size, lack of maneuverability, and reduced visibility because of blind spots exacerbate the following hazards:

  • A driver’s lack of experience. Unless the person behind the wheel drives their RV often, they may not have sufficient skill to handle a large vehicle.
  • Carrying more weight than you are supposed to inside an RV makes any potential accident situation worse.
  • Uneven loading. RVs need to be loaded in a balanced fashion, the same as large trucks do, because of their high center of gravity. Unevenly-loaded RVs are prone to rollovers.
  • Turns taken too quickly or too tightly. A miscalculated turn can mean anything from hitting a curb to hitting someone else.
  • Misjudging stopping distances. RVs require more time and distance to stop than a smaller vehicle.
  • Not taking the RV’s large blind spot into account. Other vehicles can be struck because they weren’t seen.
  • Improper towing. If an RV is pulling something behind it, the primary risks consist of improperly-secured tow hitches and runaway trailers (especially on upgrades and downgrades).

Additional factors unique to RVs can also contribute to collisions:

  • Most motorhomes are not driven frequently, so tires can suffer from dry rot. Tire sidewalls, because of an RV’s parked weight, can also deteriorate. A blowout in an RV is deadly because the vehicle’s weight and bulk make it difficult to control. Under- or over-inflation can cause a catastrophe even if the tires are in good shape.
  • High center of gravity. A sudden swerve or taking a curve too quickly can cause a loss of control or even a rollover.
  • Sway (also known as tail wagging or whipping). When an RV tows a trailer, if the weight is not properly distributed, the resulting sway endangers both the people in the RV and others on the road. At least 10 percent of the towed load’s weight must be tongue weight, or the amount of force that the trailer’s tongue exerts downward on the tow hitch.

SC Driver’s License Regulations for RVs

If you already have a South Carolina non-commercial driver’s license, the state driver’s license regulations for RVs and travel trailers are:

  • If your RV has a gross vehicle weight of 26,000 pounds or less, and you aren’t towing anything, you are fully licensed to drive your RV. (RVs of this weight class are legal to drive with a non-commercial driver’s license in all 50 states.)
  • If your RV has a gross vehicle weight of more than 26,000 pounds and you aren’t towing anything, you must undergo special testing for a Class E license to drive your RV.
  • If you are driving any non-commercial vehicle and you want to tow a camper or a travel trailer (or an automobile or trailer), you must undergo special testing for a Class F license to tow your camper or travel trailer.

To apply for a Class E or F license in South Carolina, you must do all of the following:

  • Fill out an application for a non-commercial driver’s license (Form 447-NC)
  • Pass the written test
  • Pass the basic maneuvers test, done off-road
  • Pass the on-road test in a vehicle that meets the requirements for the type of license you want.

Be aware that if you are driving your RV through other states, they may have different regulations regarding special licenses. If your RV is over 26,000 pounds, you may need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) in some states.

It is best to check the laws for the areas where you will be driving before you start your trip.

Determining Fault in an RV Crash

As with other types of vehicular crashes, any determination of fault could implicate the driver, the RV’s manufacturer, the maker of a mechanical or electronic part, or additional negligent parties. A personal injury attorney who is skilled at representing victims of motor vehicle collisions can be your best bet. They can fight for your rights so that you obtain the compensation you need and deserve for medical bills, lost wages, and property damages.

Seeking truth. Securing justice.

Louthian Attorneys

The lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm have represented injured South Carolinians in personal injury suits since 1959. With our firm on the case, you can rest assured that you’ll get the personalized attention you deserve. If you or a loved one was injured in a vehicular accident of any type, including those involving RVs, we can help you navigate the complexities of South Carolina’s laws, deal with the insurance companies, and assist you in obtaining the compensation you deserve for your medical bills, repair bills, lost income, and any other financial costs that the accident caused. Where appropriate, we’ll also seek compensation on your behalf for pain and suffering and other non-economic losses.

The deadline for filing a claim is already running, so call today for a free evaluation of your case. If you prefer, you can fill out our confidential online contact form.