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How to Avoid Low Clearance Accidents When Driving

Low clearance obstacles can cause high stress among RVers. Even with thorough planning, responsible drivers can be caught off guard. 

Knowing how to avoid these low-lying obstructions is challenging. But knowledge is power.

We’ve got some great tips to make sure you don’t get shorted in squatty spaces. 

Let’s ride!

What Are Low Clearances?

If you drive, you’re probably familiar with low clearance signs. These bright yellow diamonds indicate when the road passes under an overhang that could damage a tall vehicle. It could be a bridge, the entrance to a tunnel, or even over a drive-thru window.

These signs are often accompanied by additional signage indicating an alternate route for tall rigs.

Drivers in small cars might ignore these signs, but anyone in a truck or RV has likely experienced that moment of panic when you second-guess the height of your vehicle.

Why Are Low Clearances Dangerous?

While most low clearance accidents involve semi-trucks, there’s also a danger to RVs, vans, and lifted pickup trucks.

Drivers who ignore these signs or try to test their limits run the risk of popping the top off their vehicle like a sardine can. These accidents can be serious and even fatal.

Clearance is a big issue in areas with older infrastructure. Interstate overpasses were built to accommodate 18-wheelers, but roads maintained by city and county governments don’t always meet the same standards. 

But it isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Sure, signs are helpful, but old bridges can begin to sag. So, if you’re just under the height limit, it might be best to reconsider your route.

Pro Tip: Make sure you know these 10 Unwritten Rules for Highway Driving before you hit the road.

Low clearance no RV sign
It’s crucial to keep an eye out for low clearance signs when on an RV road trip.

Tips for Avoiding Low Clearance Accidents

Common sense can go a long way in helping you avoid a low clearance accident. Our tips make these mishaps even less likely. 

Measure Your Vehicle

Knowing the height of your vehicle is the first step to avoiding low clearance accidents. Don’t just Google the make and model. You’ll need to take measurements to account for any after-market lifts and topside air conditioner units or storage. 

It’s critical for RV drivers to know their exact clearance. Those who ignore it are asking for trouble. And they’re putting themselves and others at risk. 

Get a friend to help you measure from the ground to the highest part of your rig. And if you come across a low clearance area that doesn’t offer much wiggle room, check to see if a different route is available.

Research Your Route

Today, several apps and websites help truckers, and RVers plan a streamlined route to their destination. RV Life’s Trip Wizard app does just that and so much more. Plus, you can download detailed maps, so you have access without internet service.

Drivers can set drive times and distances and find campground locations, RV-friendly gas stations, dump stations, and attractions. Even better, you can customize the app to your rig’s specifications. This means the app will tailor routes to meet your needs instead of a generic course for semi-trucks.

Watch for Signs

Of course, even the most helpful apps can sometimes have outdated information. That’s why it’s always important to watch for low clearance signage. These apps often depend on users to note any changes, so it might be up to you to update the changes you find on the route.

Roadway construction and traffic accidents can throw a wrench in the gears, so you’ll want to look for any signs along the way. They’re usually placed so that drivers have plenty of time to detour.

Take it Slow

Slow speeds can be your friend, especially in an RV. Pacing yourself at night or when navigating unfamiliar roads allows more time to detect and react to low clearance objects. 

And if a low clearance area isn’t marked, moving slowly will give you more time to assess the situation. If it’s safe to pull over, you might want to step out of the vehicle to get a better look. 

Caution low clearance sign
Use RV apps to uncover which routes are safe for you to drive through.

Use an RV GPS

GPS systems are a great way to know your location and map your route. And today, there are several GPS apps geared specifically toward RVers. 

The RV Life app mentioned above has an excellent GPS feature. It’s also right on your phone, so you won’t have to buy a new device. 

But if you’re looking for some new hardware, the Garmin RV GPS is top-notch. It’s a little pricey but incredibly accurate and employs features like voice-activated navigation. Plus, this gadget offers directories for service centers and RV parks.

Pro Tip: We compared RV GPS Routers: Decent, Better & Best to make your decision making process easier.

Invest in a Trucker’s Atlas

Old-school truckers have relied on atlases for decades. Sure, these books won’t tell you if there’s an accident ahead, but they’ll be there if your phone dies or your GPS breaks down.

The Trucker’s Atlas is updated annually and has tons of information. You’ll be privy to low clearance obstacles and roads with steep grades.

Even if you never have to use it, keeping a Trucker’s Atlas handy just in case is a good idea. When the unexpected happens, you’ll be glad to have it.

Watch for Trees

Low-hanging branches can pose a threat to your vehicle, even in the most well-maintained right-of-ways. Tree branches can fall without warning, and nature doesn’t come with any warning signs, so it’s up to drivers to be aware of their surroundings.

Trees are another great reason to drive slowly in your RV. After all, allowing yourself more time to respond to obstacles will never hurt. 

Don’t Mess with Low Clearances

Today, plenty of apps and devices help map out your route and avoid bridges and tunnels that don’t fit your rig. But high-tech gadgets can’t replace awareness of your surroundings. Drivers can avoid costly and dangerous low clearance accidents by looking for signs and unmarked obstacles. And, all RVers should know their height before hitting the road. 

An ounce of prevention, in this case, is worth thousands of dollars in repairs.

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