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Tragic Airstream Accident Highlights Need for RV Safety Awareness Ahead of Summer Travel Season

By Brian Kabateck

Summer signals the onset of road trips, with RV travel steadily rising in popularity. A recent survey by RVshare renters revealed that 68% of travelers expressed a high likelihood of embarking on a road trip this summer.  RVs’ allure lies in their flexibility and unique vacation experience, making them an attractive option for many adventurers.

While RVs offer the freedom of the open road, it’s essential to be aware of their potential dangers, including accidents, mechanical failures, and limited maneuverability.

Last month, a fun family RV trip to see the solar eclipse in its path of totality turned deadly.

Dr. Monika Woroniecka, a Long Island pediatrician and mother of three daughters, was fatally thrown from her family’s Airstream trailer as they traveled through upstate New York. 

Woroniecka, 58, was riding in the Airstream while being towed behind a truck driven by her husband along NY State Route 12E. They stopped for ice cream and then Woroniecka and her daughter, Helena, decided to ride the last 20 minutes of their journey in the trailer.

Near Brownsville, a gust of wind blew open the RV’s door, and Woroniecka was suddenly hurled out into the road.

“The door was shaking a little bit. It sounded super windy even though she had closed it behind her,” Helena Woroniecka told Inside Edition. “I saw her one second, and then the next, she was gone, and the door was wide open, and she didn’t even have time to scream.”

In a statement, the Airstream company said they were “saddened” by the tragedy but noted, “Airstream travel trailers are not designed to carry passengers while in motion…. The safety protocol detailed in Airstream’s operating manuals and shared on Airstream’s website advises owners that they cannot tow an Airstream with people inside,” 

Helena Woroniecka told Inside Edition that the family did not understand that passengers were not supposed to ride in the trailer while being towed. “We were looking, and we saw in some states it was legal and some states it wasn’t,” she said. 

A Long Island neighbor said the Woroniecka family had purchased the Airstream only two months earlier and had taken a few short trips.

Whether or not passengers can ride in an RV while in motion depends on the RV type and the state, in 39 states, including New York and California, it is illegal to ride in house coach trailers while traveling hitched to a vehicle. 

According to The California DMV, the following rules apply to “transporting people in RVs or recreation trailers:

  • People are not allowed in a trailer coach while it is being towed (CVC §21712(d)).
  • People are allowed in a fifth-wheel trailer coach while it is being towed (CVC §21712 (f), (i)).
  • A camper with people in it must have an unblocked exit door which can always be opened from both the inside and outside (CVC §23129).”

The inconsistency across states and vehicle types can create confusion—and danger. It’s worth noting that a Google search for “RV safety” yields numerous tips and lists, but many do not feature advice about riding in a trailer while in motion (or not prominently).

What is an RV?

RV stands for recreational vehicle, and it refers to any vehicle meant to provide accommodations and a mode of travel. RVs range from small towable pop-up campers to Class A Motorhomes the size of a large bus—and everything in between. 

RVs can be a fun, economical, flexible way to travel. A trailer or motorhome can provide a comfortable, convenient way to see the country, get close to nature, and feel the freedom of the open road. They’re suitable for long trips or short jaunts, make traveling with pets and kids easier, and offer opportunities to make new friends. An RV gives you more control over your travel plans and allows you to bring the comforts of home with you wherever you go.

Maximizing RV Safety

Although RVs are intended to be user-friendly, driving one is not the same as operating an average passenger auto, cautions Cruise America. It requires education and practice. 

For example, when fully loaded, RVs accelerate more slowly and take longer to come to a complete stop than a regular car, requiring compensation in braking and merging.

RV safety courses are available, both in-person and online. However, these big rigs may have inexperienced drivers at the wheel because driving an RV—as an owner or renter—does not typically require a special license or training certification.

A safety course will help you learn how to stop, back up, use your mirrors to minimize blind spots, park and dock safely, and more. You’ll also learn critical maintenance procedures and emergency preparedness.

It’s also important to be aware that traveling, camping, or living in an RV presents certain inherent dangers: fire hazards (especially from batteries or faulty electrical connections), insufficient ventilation/carbon monoxide poisoning, mold, poor water quality/filtration problems, security issues, propane system leaks, breakdown, and driver fatigue.

In January of this year, here in Southern California, former ESPN sportscaster Cordell Patrick was violently ejected from his motorhome while traveling northbound on the 14 Freeway toward his home in Valencia. Patrick had briefly unbuckled his seatbelt to use the restroom when he noticed his wife had nodded off at the wheel, and their vehicle was headed toward the median. He reached for the wheel to correct course, but it was too late. Their motorhome hit the concrete median at 60 mph. 

On impact, Patrick was thrown out the driver’s side window, across the median onto the other side of the busy highway, where an oncoming car narrowly missed him. He managed to roll himself out of the lane to safety. He survived with multiple broken bones, a dislocated shoulder, and road burns covering nearly 60% of his body. 

“I don’t know how I’m alive,” Patrick told KCAL/KCBS.

The attorneys at Kabateck LLP represent individuals who were injured due to others’ negligence. Our legal team has a long, successful track record of fighting for our clients’ rights, including taking a case to trial and winning. With numerous seven—and eight-figure verdicts and settlements, our attorneys are skilled at exposing dangerous conditions, negligence, misconduct, and more in any personal injury matter.