Recreational Vehicles and Trailers Handbook

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Section 12 of 16

Handling Emergencies- Information for All Drivers

All drivers are placed in emergency situations at some point. Although you can’t avoid emergency situations, you can mentally prepare for them. Think about emergency situations and decide how you would handle them so you will be better prepared to react properly if they really happen.


Good defensive driving techniques will help you from becoming involved in collisions. One important technique is to keep a three- second or more following distance from the vehicle ahead of you. Keeping your distance gives you time to react and avoid a collision. Refer to the California Driver Handbook for information on three- second following distances.

Plan Your Escape

To successfully avoid a collision, you need to plan your escape. As a defensive driver you already prepared for this by maintaining a space cushion around your RV, which you will need to avoid an emergency. Glance at the shoulder of the road. Does it look firm and wide enough to support your vehicle? Is your vehicle well maintained so that you don’t have to worry about unexpected mechanical problems? Remember to make gentle steering movements.

Signal Your Intentions

Always use your vehicle’s mechanical signals when you move through or out of traffic. In an emergency, and once you are on the side of the road, use emergency flashers, flares, or some other emergency signaling device to warn oncoming traffic. Emergency signaling devices are even more important if you are unable to pull completely away from the flow of traffic, on the top of a hill, or around a curve in the road where other drivers cannot see you.

If you have a flat tire, make sure the person who changes the tire is not in the way of oncoming traffic. If the vehicle cannot be parked far enough away from traffic flow, use safety precautions such as emergency signaling devices and a person to flag traffic away from the scene. Be sure the jack is adequate to lift the vehicle and the wheels are blocked.


All recreational vehicles must carry at least one dry chemical or carbon dioxide (CO2) type extinguisher in working condition with a rating of at least 4-B. The most effective fire extinguishers use halon gas and are good investments for RV safety. It can keep a small, manageable fire from becoming a major, uncontrollable fire.

The best fire protection includes:

  • Proper maintenance and inspection of fuel systems and electrical equipment.
  • Use of a smoke detector.
  • Use of an LP gas detector.

Make sure the fire extinguisher is suitable for the type of fire and is large enough to put out the fire. If you have a fuel or electrical fire, first try to shut off the source of the fuel by turning off the fuel valves and unplugging the electrical circuits. If you aren’t sure what type of fire it is, shut off everything. All family members should be able to put out a small gas or oil fire with the extinguisher.

The most common extinguisher is a 2 1/2 lb. ABC which is suitable for all types of fires, including fuel fires and electrical fires. There is no substitute for the correct type of fire extinguisher. The letter designates the type of fire suitability:

  • A-ordinary materials like wood and paper.
  • B-petroleum products such as gasoline, propane, and kerosene.
  • C-electrical.

Be sure to recharge the extinguisher after it is used, even if it is not totally empty. Conventional CO2 extinguishers should be recharged periodically even if they are not used. The dry powder used in CO2 extinguishers tends to compact with road vibration. Before using the CO2 extinguisher, rap it sharply on the side and bottom to shake the powder loose.

Put the extinguishers where fires are most likely to occur and where they can be easily reached. For example, with a tow vehicle and travel trailer, you should have an extinguisher in the tow vehicle and another near the kitchen in the trailer.


RVs normally carry two types of fuels: gasoline and propane; although some RVs use diesel and propane. Very few do not have propane on board.

Propane is no more dangerous to use than gasoline or diesel. All three fuels, if mishandled, can cause disaster. Propane vapor is just as explosive as gasoline or diesel vapor. When propane leaks from one of the lines inside an RV, the volume can build up to the point where it may explode. Leaking gasoline can also cause an explosion if its vapor collects in a closed area. Of course, a source of ignition must be present to set it off. In any case, both fuels deserve healthy respect. Knowledge and preventive maintenance are the keys to safety.

Make frequent inspections of your RV’s fuel systems. Look closely to see if lines are rubbing against sharp edges of the vehicle. Check to see: Is the neoprene (synthetic rubberlike plastic) gasoline line cracking because it is old? Is the carburetor starting to leak? Do the joints in the propane lines have a leak? Wash the propane lines with soapy water, and if bubbles appear there is a leak.

If your vehicle is equipped with a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), compressed natural gas (CNG) or liquified natural gas (LNG) tank in a hard-to-see area of the vehicle, it must be identified by the letters “LPG,” “CNG,” or “LNG.” The letters must be one inch tall or larger and placed in a visible spot as close to the tank as possible.