Tips for RV Driving in Atlanta
Stick around the RV Facebook groups or RV forums for a few hours and there will be a long thread after someone asks “is it OK to drive my RV through Atlanta?”
I know we have some bad traffic in Atlanta, but it isn’t completely horrible. I drive my 36.5 foot Class A motorhome from a suburb Atlanta, through and into midtown Atlanta every fall weekend for Georgia Tech home football games. Every trip I take involves Atlanta traffic.
Sure, it isn’t fun sitting in traffic. But it is completely manageable. Unless we decide to burn another bridge up like we did in 2017.
Notorious Atlanta Driving Story
Have you ever heard about Pascual Perez?
Well, Atlanta Braves fans have. See, there’s this notorious Atlanta driving story from back in the day. Back before GPS.
It was August 19, 1982 and Perez was scheduled as the starting pitcher for the Braves game. He had just gotten his drivers license and was trying to drive to the stadium.
But he got stuck on I-285, circling three times before he ran out of gas. At the time, the Braves played downtown, so 285 never got close to their then stadium, Atlanta Fulton County Stadium (AFCS).
Eventually, he did get to the stadium but not until after the game started.
And that is how we all came to know Pascual Perez as Perimeter Perez.
Understanding the Major Interstates and Highways around Atlanta
Since we don’t want you to end up as the next Perimeter Perez, let’s take a minute to understand some of the major throughways, including the interstates and highways.
- Interstate 285 circles the city.
- Meanwhile, 75 and 85 are your north-south interstates that meet in the downtown area to form the Downtown Connector.
- Interstate 20 goes east-west.
- Georgia 400 goes from Interstate 85 north of the connector to the outer suburbs and exurbs, leading you to the eastern side of Lake Lanier.
- U.S. Highway 78 goes east-west from the eastern part of Atlanta out to Stone Mountain and beyond.
If you are listening to a traffic report, there are a few more terms you’ll want to know.
- The Connector is the merging of Interstates 75 and 85 through downtown.
- The Grady Curve is downtown on the Connector, where it curves around Grady Hospital, the top Tier 1 trauma hospital in Atlanta. Grady is where you go for gun shots or serious car accidents.
- The Brookwood Split is where the Connector splits on the north side. Just north of this, Georgia 400 also splits off 85.
- The Toll Plaza used to be on Georgia 400, between the Lenox Rd exit and 285. It’s not there anymore, but you’ll still see some old remnants, including some weird road curves and parking areas on the side where they stage a lot of construction equipment.
- Spaghetti Junction is on the north side of town, where 285 and 85 intersect.
- The Top End Connector is the section of 285 between 75 and 85. It’s a mess during rush hour.
- The Cobb Cloverleaf is the 285-75 interchange near the Braves stadium.
Best Routes Through Atlanta
I’m going to blame the politicians of yesteryear that thought it was a great idea to have two major interstates (I-75 and I-85) merge through a major downtown metropolitan area. Whoever thought that was a great idea needs to be shot!
To make matters even worse, they put this giant turn in it. Atlanta locals know it as the Grady Curve, after the hospital that currently resides next to the interstate.
Let’s also add another major interstate (I-20) intersection to that, right in the middle of downtown Atlanta, and you have major chaos.
When you are traveling through Atlanta and not stopping, here’s my advice:
- If you are traveling east-west, then stay on I-20 all the way through town.
- If you are traveling north-south, then stay on 75 or 85 through town. Even if you are switching between 75 and 85, take advantage of that merge that is so ridiculous and switch as necessary.
- If you need to switch interstates, then take advantage of I-285, the interstate that rings the city.
You will really want to avoid changing interstates at the 75/85-20 intersection. Lots of moving lanes, quick entrance and exit ramps, and lots of traffic makes it bad in a car. It’s a nightmare for RV drivers.
I-285 used to be pretty bad on road conditions, but all the recent construction and paving has generally cleaned it up pretty well, considering everything.
If traffic is bad or construction closes, you may need to use 285 even if you traveling straight through. Use your Waze or Google Maps traffic to check. If you are traveling north-south on I-75, take advantage of I-475 to cut off some of the time and craziness of 75-285 on the south side of town. This will put you on the east side of town on I-285. This is particularly useful if you will be going up I-85 towards the Carolinas after you leave Atlanta.
Avoid Atlanta Rush Hour Traffic
Rush hour is a little different in Atlanta. It is way more than one hour long.
Typical rush hours are 8 – 10 am and 4 – 7 pm.
Take the truck drivers’ advice and avoid Atlanta during these times.
Other Heavy Traffic Times
Just before or after major events will cause quite a bit of traffic as well.
Be aware of events at Mercedes Benz Stadium, State Farm Arena, or the Georgia World Congress Center, all in downtown Atlanta. Events in these locations would mostly impact the area around 75/85 in the middle of the city.
Georgia Tech football and basketball games can also create bad traffic around midtown Atlanta. This would be the area of 75/85 just before or after the split on the north side.
Events at Truist Park, including Atlanta Braves games, would affect the area around 75/285 interchange as well as 75 north of 285 and 285 along the northern part of the city. This area can also be affected by events at the Cobb Galleria Center.
I would avoid event traffic, because those people tend to be drunk and thus unpredictable. Also. more people that are not from the area and that don’t drive those roads also lead to unpredictability.
Merging In Atlanta Traffic
Now, I have a little secret for you – rush hour traffic isn’t all bad. I find that it is easier to drive the RV in slow rush hour type traffic than it is in only moderately congested traffic.
When people are going really slow, they will let you in. Or there will be enough of a gap that you can ease your way in, even in a large RV.
But in moderately congested traffic, where the traffic is moving at say 40 miles per hour, they are moving fast enough that no one wants to let you in. The car drivers are frustrated and don’t want to give an inch. They will also cut you off and not leave enough room between them and your RV for stopping purposes. And this frustrates me.
And when the traffic is light… then Atlanta drivers all think that they are at Atlanta Motor Speedway and trying for the checkered flag. Seriously, it’s fast. And that has its own frustration because you won’t be merging without a car horn or two.
See Also: RV Driving Safety Tips
Stay in the Middle Lanes
Atlanta has a lot of traffic volume. We’ve dealt with this by adding more and more lanes. As an RVer travelling through Atlanta, you’ll want to stay in the middle lanes.
Typically, the far right lane is going to be exit only. You’ll obviously want to stay out of this lane unless you are exiting the interstate. There are a lot of exits no matter what interstate you are on in Atlanta. Lots of exits mean a lot of cars merging in and out of traffic.
Typically, the far left lane is going to be either a toll Express Lane, where RVers can’t go (more on that later) or HOV lanes. The next left lane will be your single occupancy car fast lane.
These drivers can be pretty crazy, even if some times that is me. I recommend that RVs stay out of this lane.
So the best lanes for you as an RVer to be in will be the second or third lane from the right.
Oh, and never expect a fellow driver to use their blinkers when changing lanes. For whatever reason, people don’t use them around here, at least not consistently enough to rely on them. Defensive driving is your best bet.
GPS is Your Friend
One of the best things about modern GPS navigation systems is that they tell you which lane you need to be in to continue on your desired path.
Make sure you have a RV specific GPS, either built-in or portable. If you don’t have one already, the Garmin RV 770 is excellent and I highly recommend it.
Watch Your Construction Zones
The interstates around Atlanta are almost always under construction.
I swear, we haven’t stopped the construction since September 18, 1990. That’s the day Atlanta was awarded the 1996 Olympics, and we have been on a building boom ever since.
Seriously though, with Atlanta’s mild weather, we have a year-round construction calendar. Since we rarely get snow, we will even be working on roads in the middle of winter. Pretty much every major stretch of interstate is undergoing a major redevelopment project within the next few years.
You can check current road construction plans on the Georgia Department of Transportation website. The Georgia DOT website has all the latest on weekend road and lane closures that may affect your trip. Most lane closures go from 9 PM to 5 AM, so driving at night may not be better than driving during rush hours.
Also, keep your GPS updated. I prefer to use or at least run in tandem smartphone apps like Google Maps or Waze since they stay updated with traffic conditions and lane closures. Just remember to have everything programmed into the GPS to comply with the hands free law.
And even with all the construction, the entire city feels like it is one giant metal plate covering potholes. You’d think we would have filled em up and paved over all of them by now. But nope. Sorry.
Georgia 400 and I-285 Intersection
If you’ve ever driven up to Lake Lanier or the North Georgia mountains via Georgia 400, you know what a crazy ride that can be. And the recent construction hasn’t helped things.
A couple of decades ago, Georgia 400 did not connect from 285 to 85. But in the 1990s, they expanded it. This led to dramatic growth for the northern Atlanta suburbs. So it went from a sleepy little road to a bustling major highway. But they did not re-design the 400-285 interchange.
So this interchange was weird. If you were merging onto Georgia 400 North from 285 East (ie coming from Birmingham or Chattanooga) or Georgia 400 South from 285 West (ie coming from South Carolina), then you were merging into the left lanes. The GA 400 Northbound merge is particularly dangerous because you must actually merge into the fast moving traffic. At least the Southbound traffic that enters on the left has its own lane.
A few years back, Georgia decided enough was enough and they needed to fix this interchange.
The major change from the construction will involve new flyover ramps that will put everyone merging on the right no matter which way you are entering the intersection. They are also making several of the entrance/exit ramps longer, to ease congestion and prevent people from weaving in and out of traffic.
In the long-run, this will be a major improvement, especially for RVers traveling from I-285 East to GA-400 North. But in the meantime, we have this giant construction zone through
I-285 and I-75 Interchange at Truist Park
When the Braves decided to move from Downtown Atlanta, they created a brand new construction zone at the intersections of I-285 and I-75 on the north end of town. Not only did they have to build the stadium and surrounding buildings, but they have also been working on extensive road construction in the area.
The entire 285/75 interchange has been a construction zone ever since with new bridges and entrance and exit ramps. Even if you are just passing through, you’ll have to deal with narrowed lanes and temporary paint lines, which makes it more difficult to see the lanes. There are also temporary barriers all over the place. And you never know when they will decide to have a lane closed.
The Braves stadium has also had a ripple effect on road construction in the area, in addition to the 285/75 interchange. I-75 north of I-285 is getting new express lanes. These express lanes involve the longest land bridge in the State of Georgia. Even though the Express Lanes opened up a few years back, I feel like this area is still just one big construction zone.
Speaking of the I-75 North Metro express lanes, Atlanta has quite a few express lanes now. They have become quite popular.
In fact, there are 120 miles of Express Lanes either already in use, under construction, or planned.
Unfortunately, RVers won’t be able to use the express lanes. They expressly prohibit vehicles with more than 2 axles and/or 6 or more wheels, including tractor trailers.
Update July 31, 2018: Georgia Peach Pass has clarified that if you are not towing anything and have six or less and no more than 2 axels, you can be in the Express Lane. So, Class A, B, and C RVs with six or less wheels will be able to use the lanes. However, travel trailers and fifth wheels will not be able to use the Express Lanes. Further more, you can’t be towing anything.
So for all those football road trips where you aren’t towing a car, you can use the Express Lanes. This will be awesome for me on those Friday afternoons going up I-85 to the rest of ACC country.
On the other hand, if you are sticking around and driving just your car or truck (without the RV), you can use the express lanes if you have a Georgia Peach Pass, Florida SunPass, or North Carolina Quick Pass.
For RVers, the Georgia Peach Pass isn’t as useful since they did away with the Georgia 400 toll since we can’t use the Express Lanes.
Random Tip: If you travel a lot through Florida, I highly recommend you get one of the three state’s toll passes in any case. Florida has a lot of toll roads and you’ll get a cheaper rate using the SunPass than if you are paying cash. Plus you won’t have to stop in the line or have cash on hand.
As one would expect with all that construction, there tends to be a lot of road debris. Things like screws, nails, and the aforementioned metal plates covering potholes.
This kind of road debris is dangerous for your tires. As should be standard RV safety gear, you’ll want a good Tire Pressure Monitoring System on your tires. This way, if you do get tire damage from a nail and slow leak, you’ll know before it turns into a blowout.
In addition to construction and other small debris, we have a habit of leaving large items in the road. It’s not unusual to find a car bumper, a ladder, or even a mattress on the road. Always drive like you’ll have to suddenly stop or swerve to avoid one of these larger items.
If it’s cold and wet, don’t be on Atlanta roads. We don’t do well with snow nor ice. There are like 2 snowplows and 3 salt trucks for the entire metro area.
OK, maybe exaggerating how under-prepared we are in case of freezing wet stuff, but not by much.
Just know that we can’t or won’t prep the roads properly. And in this big RV thing, you won’t want to be out there. Find a place to camp out, even if it has to be a Wal-Mart parking lot.
I’ll go ahead and say that any wet weather and it’s a good time to get off the roads in Atlanta. Drivers here don’t slow down and there will be bad accidents where you’ll end up sitting in traffic that doesn’t move.
See Also: McKinney Campground at Lake Allatoona
Gas, Food, and Rest Stops
Lately, it seems that all the Georgia rest stops are closed. So don’t expect any of them to be open.
Once you get about 10 miles from I-285, in any direction, you’ll pretty much be in Atlanta. This means that you’ll have a difficult time maneuvering in many of these areas if you need to stop for gas or food or even just rest.
Try to do all your stops well outside Atlanta for the convenience – large open areas are easier for RVers.
Georgia is Now a Hands Free State
Most RVers are pretty good about not being on their cellphones while driving. Something about controlling these big rigs and longer stopping times keeps most of us pretty focused while driving.
Nonetheless, know that as of July 1, 2018, Georgia is a cellphone hands free state.
If you need to use your phone, you’ll need to be parked. And not at a stoplight either despite a 2022 effort to allow it. There have been lots of police stings where they are enforcing the Hands Free rules, so don’t risk it.
If you are driving and want to use your phone, you’ll have to follow these rules:
Don’t Hold the Phone
Under Georgia law, you cannot be supporting the phone with any part of your body. So don’t even have it in your lap. Definitely don’t be holding it, even if you aren’t using it. Not only does it apply to phones, but the hands free law also applied to other devices, like iPods and laptop computers.
Since you can’t be holding your phone and you can only touch it once to answer, and you can’t be getting up to reach your phone, I highly suggest that you have a mount or holder to place your phone. Which one you get is going to depend on a variety of factors. Some like the mounts on glass or the dash. Others like the vent clips. Some use magnets and others clips.
One Touch Phone Calls
You cannot use more than one button to answer or use the phone. So hitting the answer button is ok. Having to put in your pin code to dial, that’s not going to be ok.
Since you can’t hold the phone, you’ll need a hands free solution. You have two options: You can setup that Bluetooth system. Or you can use headphones.
If you have an older RV and no Bluetooth built-in, you can add one easy. Add a In-Car Bluetooth Hands Free System. This one from Avantree even has a solar charger built-in, so you won’t have to worry about wires or running out of battery.
You can also use the headphones that have a mic in them. You know, the ones that come with your phone. Those work under the law. But only for calls. Not for listening to music or other entertainment (so no listening to sports talk radio while you drive on your headphones).
Video, Entertainment, Navigation
In addition, the hand free law also says that you can’t answer emails, watch videos, or even record videos. Your dash cam will be OK, but don’t be using the phone’s camera and holding it up to take a video.
No video also means no Facetiming or Skyping. Sorry, no video calls allowed.
You can use streaming music apps or listen to podcasts through your phone. But you cannot watch videos while you are driving. And you will also need to activate it while you are parked.
Remember, no headphones for entertainment purposes. Only for making or receiving phone calls. Or navigation.
See Also: 5 Tips for an Epic RV Tailgate Road Trip
Penalties for breaking the law include a point on your license and a $50 fine for your first offense. Second offenses involve 2 points and a $100 fine. Third offenses will be three points and a $150 fine.
As a driver, your hands need to be on the wheel and your eyes on the road.
RV Driving in Atlanta Can Be Done
Every time I mention that I’m from Atlanta, people automatically start talking about how bad the traffic is. We are kind of known for it.
And then the person finds out I drive an RV in Atlanta traffic, even on Friday rush hours.
Guess what? I’m not the only one with an RV during that time. RV driving in Atlanta can be done and be done in such a way that it won’t leave you a big ball of stress.
Slow down and take your time. Remember, you are going on a road trip in an RV and that’s the best way to go. Not in some little car. So your life is already better than all those little people stuck in the traffic around you.
Don’t forget to wave as you go through Atlanta next time!
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Some good advise if you absolutely must visit Atlanta but I’d hit US 27 up around Cedartown and not see I-75 ’til somewhere near Ocala. : ) Pretty much what we’ll be doing come February 11th.
I know traffic is bad in Atlanta and can at times be a complete standstill. But I also hope that people realize that it isn’t much different than most other major metropolitan areas. I think Atlanta gets a bad rap among the RV community (it is easier than driving through Malfunction Junction in Birmingham, Alabama – glad to see that’s getting a major overhaul and getting fixed).
That being said, I totally get why people want to avoid Atlanta traffic. Hopefully though, for those that can’t avoid Atlanta, the tips here will make RV driving a little easier to handle.
Great advice. I just “stumbled” onto your info while planning a trip to Florida and Cardinal Pre-Season Baseball. (Tip of the cap to Braves fans) in our Tiffin Allegro R.E.D. 37PA. We are traveling from south of STL to Jupiter, FL through Lexingto, KY and then sount on I-75 and really appreciate the data you presented. Looks like we will check AM 750 and our devices so that if there is traffic issue then we will detour around 285 West. Otherwise, “2nd star to the right and straight on (I-75) till morning!” (Peter Pan).
Captain Randy, Oh, that sounds so much fun! I want to spend some time in Florida for spring training. I’m trying to figure out how to work it into the schedule over the next few weeks to at least catch a few games.
Drop me an email if you want to catch a drink/meal as you travel through Atlanta though. I love to catch up with fellow RV & sports fans, and make it a double for Tiffin owners! Don’t you just love the PA floor plan? I’ve got the gas version in the 34PA but it is great. Love all the slides, so much interior room when we are parked.
Great tip about avoiding debris on the road. My wife and I have to tow a trailer to the next city and need to keep the tires fresh. We’ll have to get some spare tires in case we snag something.