Have you ever been driving your RV, come to an overpass, weren’t sure of the clearance, slowed down… then drove under it anyway? If so, you certainly know, in hindsight, that slowing down doesn’t make your RV shorter.
When I used to transform bus driver trainees into professional motorcoach operators, there were lots of overpasses in the major metropolitan area where I worked. Some of them were quite low, with only inches to spare taking an MCI under them. And some had only one advance warning sign, with no clearance listed on the overpass itself.
Once students were pretty well along in their training, and getting close to being on their own, I would sometimes challenge their observational and decision-making skills by having them drive down one of those streets with a very low bridge. The moment we passed the clearance sign, and I knew the bridge itself wasn’t marked, I would immediately ask them if that bridge up ahead was high enough for us to fit. There were always several trainees in each class, and I’d sometimes see a knowing smile or two from others, as they waited for the response from the student who was behind the wheel.
The best trainees would respond with something like “The clearance sign showed 11′ 6″ and we’re 11′ even (the height of an MC-9), so we should be good.” I would always know when a trainee wasn’t quite ready to pilot a situation like this solo, when their first reaction to my question was silence, and the lifting of their right foot off the accelerator.
I knew that they had either not seen the clearance sign, didn’t know the height of the bus, or both. The only thing left to observe was their decision making skills, now under pressure.
I’d ask again “Are you sure we can fit?” or “Should we make a turn to avoid it?” as we slowly continued to approach the overpass.
The most unsure would continue to slow down as they decided what to do. These were already mostly-trained about-to-be-professionals, and I’d remind them that they’re the driver, and it’s their decision how to proceed.
Some would say they weren’t sure, even as we continued to roll toward the overpass. And trust me, a 6-inch clearance above an MC-9 looks from inside like you’re going to hit it for sure. Inevitably, some trainees would continue forward, even after clearly stating they had no idea if we’d make it.
That behavior would elicit a lesson from me that I have zero doubt every trainee aboard carries with them to this day. As we came even with the bridge, I would bang my clipboard against the inside wall of the bus. Besides providing an unforgettable lesson that you NEVER drive under an overpass that you think you might hit, it probably also served as a secondary test of everyone’s heart, on top of the echocardiogram that everyone had already passed as part of their CDL physical exam.
Needless to say, I’ve probably made more than my fair share of drivers practically jump out of their skin this way. But I’m confident that not one of the trainees who was driving, or riding, on board with me during one of those clipboard-banging episodes has ever driven under an overpass without being 110% certain they’d fit.
During my time in the bus business, one of our company’s drivers sheered the roof off the top of an MCI like a can-opener, at speed, with a load of passengers on board (no, that driver was not one of my students). Low overpasses are no joke.
In the video, we provide only the briefest mention of RV GPS units and truck driver atlases. There’s a reason for that. First, RV-specific GPS models and other electronic aids (such as smartphone apps) aren’t 100% dependable, and we’ve read of dissatisfaction of the other features that those models offer. And the Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas is all well and good. But RVers aren’t truckers. Many of us are most interested in exploring more remote scenic byways, as opposed to truckers, who generally prefer interstates and other major roads for getting their job done in the most timely and efficient manner.
And most of all, obstacle avoidance isn’t something I like to outsource. There is no better method for avoiding an overpass than knowing your rig’s height and paying attention as you drive.
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- Rand McNally Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas