RV Rules, Regulations, and Road Restrictions 74271

It’s easy to think of yourself as Peter Fonda (well, a retired Peter Fonda, maybe) when you’re traveling down the highway in your RV. A true nomad, the open road in front of you—there’s nowhere you can’t go and nothing you can’t do.

Except that RVs—and the world of RV camping—come with a variety of restrictions. From highways to weight to the things you carry with you, it’s important to know where you’re going and what kinds of laws you need to abide by.

To document every single law would require some kind of Herculean effort that simply isn’t feasible here. Instead, this post will give you a few ideas for researching different elements of your rig to keep in mind as you travel.

(This post is NOT intended as legal advice—be sure to check local, state, and national rules and regulations before heading out on the road!)

Rig Length, Width, and Height

large RV road rules

Traveling across the country can get tricky, because laws vary by state. The length of your trailer, for example, can go from very legal to entirely illegal by passing over some imaginary line in the road. Maximum heights vary from 13.5 ft. to 14 ft. Lengths vary from about 40 ft. to over 50 ft.

Things get more complicated when you’re talking about the combined length of two vehicles, and even more when you add another towable (a boat or another trailer, for example).

Completely overwhelmed? Don’t be. The good folks at Good Sam have put together a very handy table that gives you a good idea of where your rig will be welcome, and the varying heights, lengths, and widths of vehicles allowed on the roads.

While we’re at it, some states also require that larger vehicles stop at roadside weigh scales. Check state regulations to know if you need to stop.

Drivers Licenses

In short, the odds are heavily in your favor that you are able to drive your RV with your standard drivers license.

However, some RVs are big. Like, really big. Bordering on the size of a semi, big. And because we’re a responsible society, we don’t just let anyone get behind the wheel of a very large vehicle without proving that they’re capable of driving it safely and responsibly—and proving you can turn a corner without taking out every lamp post on the sidewalk.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration sets basic guideposts for vehicles requiring a commercial driver’s license (CDL), but some states go stricter with their requirements. Some states require some kind of special licensing (not necessarily a CDL) if your rig is particularly large (usually in excess of 26,000 lbs., or heavier). Please note that this likely won’t apply to you unless you’re driving one monster of a Class A RV.

To reiterate, this won’t apply to the majority of RVs. But if you’re driving a particularly large Class A or doing additional towing, you’ll want to check your rig—and if you don’t know, your dealer or manufacturer should be able to provide you the information you need.

Trailer Regulations

double tow rv

Some states also require that trailers be equipped with safety devices like equalizing hitches, sway control, and independent brake systems. Some heavier trailers may also require breakaway brakes. 

Campground Rules

firewood at campsite

After all of that, the seemingly-insignificant rules of campgrounds can seem minor, but they’re still very important. Every campground will have some kind of restrictions in place for the safety and comfort of every camper.

Many campgrounds and national parks restrict carrying in firewood—or at least wood that isn’t purchased locally. And this isn’t a cash grab. Firewood can carry invasive species that spread to new areas through travel like this. It’s one of the ways the Emerald Ash Borer got around, and it’s been wreaking havoc on ash trees across the country.

Otherwise, you can expect campgrounds and national and state parks to restrict things like glass containers and fireworks. And while it should go without saying, we’ll say it anyway: if it’s illegal, don’t bring it with you.

Some of these rules may apply to your rig, and some may not. If you have questions, the experts at Camping World will be happy to help outfit you with a rig that meets your every need—and the rules of every state you intend to travel in.

NOTE: This article has been edited to clarify some language regarding special licensing.

44 Comments

  1. If you’re going to give advice, make sure it’s accurate. With only 2 or 3 exceptions, private use of RVs do not require a CDL. CDLs are just for commercial activity. You make it seem like it’s very likely that you’ll need a CDL.

    1. Hey Peter, apologies that the article didn’t state that clearly enough. It says that it won’t apply to the majority of RVs, and I’ve added a few extra clarifying words to help put it more into perspective. Thanks for reading and for pointing that out.

      1. Cy you are absolutely right. A few years ago, I had a Super Class C and I had to have a CDL because of GVW’s exceeded 26k. This would also apply to trailers if the GCWR exceeds 26k. I have a Ram 2500 with a 30 ft Airstream. My GCWR is about 20k, but with a 1 ton and heavier trailer, the 26k could be approached. The only thing where “Commercial” would not come in effect would be CDL hours of operation and electronic monitoring requirements.

      2. in arkansas if it weighs more than 26001lbs or has airbrakes you need a CDL to drive it n I think Texas is the same

      1. Not true, it varies from state to state. In NY, you get an R endorsement on your drivers license for RVs overhere 26,000 pounds.

    2. While it is Not Widely Enforced, it is a Federal Law, as stated, that ANY Vehicle over 26,000 lbs, certainly is required in Every State, to have at least a Class B Non-Commercial Operators License. The Minute you get into an accident, is when you find out, that you not Only get a Citation, but your Insurance MAY, at Their Discretion, NOT Cover you, at all, and Deny a Claim! A Simple Speeding Ticket, with a Law Enforcement Officer, can leave you sitting on a Road, or Impounded Vehicle (Now your Homeless) until you find a Class B Non-Commercial Operator to Drive it for you! Good luck on that! Many are Ignorant on these Facts! Don’t be THAT Person, it just may Spoil your trip, or worse, if you are a Full Timer! Get That License! Here in PA, it’s a Simple Driving Test! The Biggest Hassle for us, is you have a Class B Non-Commercial (or Greater rating) Driver with you, at that time of your test! Why Risk any Hassle?

    3. Actually you’re incorrect Peter, MOST Class A RV’s require a special license in NY, each state is different.

      1. and bigger rigs must use the turnpike in pa, at an enormous cost. I was told by a full-timer to avoid pa if you got a big rig

    4. Wow. I didn’t get that at ALL. I even went back and re-read the Driver’s License section and STILL don’t see where you would get that it was made to seem mandatory. Mr. Wood, great article. Thank you for the solid information.

  2. Your article implies that CDL won’t be required for most towed RV’s because they are less than 10,000 pounds—but it is the lack of commercial activity that exempts us.

    1. Commercial has nothing to do with GCWR. You can get in trouble with too light a truck and a mis-matched trailer.

    2. Not sure how many but some states require a class A non- commercial license if you towing vehicle and RV combination exceeding 26,001 lbs. Texas is one of those states.

      1. That is correct along with NC and SC. SC even breaks it down to Class E if the motorhome is over 26,000 and Class F is the tow and towed is over 26,000. SO if you drive a 22,000 lb motorhome and tow a 4,001 towed vehicle, then you need a Class F. Most dealers will not tell you this and most don’t even know it. But if you are in a bad accident where it is your fault and your are over the limit without have a proper class of license, your insurance carrier may not pay your claim or the other person’s claim because you are basically driving without a license. So check your GVWR on both units and make sure the GCWR is not over 26,000 lbs.

  3. I live in Ca and yow a fiver I had to get a non-com Class A at dmv (no physical,just a medical quesrionerre to fill out)

  4. I was stopped in Tucson.Az a couple tears ago & had to pull my breakaway switch and then was told to move my fiver could not do without sliding tires so my brakes passed, was surprised cop knew what he was doing.

    1. Lol… you were surprised the cop knew what he was doing? Perhaps he was a commercial enforcement officer? I’m a truck driver. I support more education for the RV people. Please watch your trailer every 10 seconds.

  5. Where can equalize hitch requirements be found by state?
    My rig is 18,000 GCVWR with a F250 towing a ball hitch flatbed.
    Thank you.

  6. My question is in regards to safety belts. Does every person need to be belted. Can children ride in the front .and at what age is a booster seat not required.

    1. Thanks for the question. It’s my opinion that safety belts are a good idea no matter where you are in an RV–it’s simply safer. As far as the actual laws, it varies state by state. A little over half of our states require that only the two people in the front seat be belted, while just under half require that anyone in an RV be belted. Age also plays a role in who needs (and doesn’t need) to be belted. For the latter half of your question: children can ride in the front as long as they’re properly belted, or in a booster or car seat as required. As far as the age at which a booster seat is no longer required: while each state has its own law regarding a child’s age, most experts suggest that a child use a booster seat until he or she is about 4′ 9″ tall (usually around 8-10 years old). This is usually a sign the belt will restrain him or her appropriately. If you’re interested in the laws, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offers a state-by-state breakdown here: https://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/laws/safetybeltuse/mapchildrestraintagerequirements?topicName=child-safety#map

      I do want to reiterate, though, that safety belts do save lives, and when you’re traveling in an RV it’s a good idea to stay belted no matter where you are in the rig.

  7. The article is vauge. But it seems to me it is meant to be that way. There are far to many laws to possibly go through in a short article let alone multiple volumes of large books. The real message here is …Be responsible. If you don’t know, find out. If you are here then everything you need to know is just a google search away. Being prepared is not just having the things you need for an emergency. Being prepared is knowing how to avoid an emergency. If you have that down then the only emergencies you will encounter will be that of others.

    1. Hey Scott. Yeah, you nailed it. I could’ve written a book on most of these laws, and by the time it was written, the book would be out of date. But you’re absolutely right: the main point is just to be responsible and be prepared. Thanks for reading.

  8. Question is not about laws but about trailer height. My 21 footer is 9 feet high. Are most gas stations able to accommodate this height?

    1. Thanks for the question, Mike. It seems that the average height for many gas station canopies is 14 feet. HOWEVER, that’s not to say they can’t be much, MUCH shorter than that. I recommend having a spotter with you to jump out of the truck and keep a very close watch while someone starts to pull the trailer up to the canopy. In my own research, I’m seeing folks with taller trailers than yours saying they don’t usually have an issue, but it always pays to be safe.

  9. I retired from driving a tractor trailer and have had a CDL since they were first required. Not only does my insurance company give me a discount because I carry it but in some states I’m allowed to use truck only lanes if I want to. My Class A and tow dolly with a car on it grosses over 26,000 pounds.

  10. If I am not totally mistaken, the Constitution requires that all states must recognize all other states.
    If you have a ‘driver’s license’ from one State, all other States must recognize that license, even though the requirements are different. Also, If it is legal and licensed in one State, all other States must recognize that license since if it is licenses in a particular State, it is “part of that State”. If it is “legal” and “licensed” in Wyoming, all other States must recognize that and cannot expect you to “substantially change” your vehicle to meet ‘their’ standards.
    The reason that some States get away with motorcycle handlebar height requirements is that it is not a “substantial change” to change the height of the handlebars.

  11. Hi live in California and I have a 31′ Bouder gas engine. And I’m planning on towing either my utility trailer or a car dolly with our Honda Accord. So with that said, I may be over the 26,000 lbs. Or close to it and to just cover my ass I’m thinking I better get a non-commercial endorsement. Can anyone that has this endorsement from California DMV tell me what to expect, I.e. is there a driving portion to complete, a physical walk around the rig with an instructor, etc. My second question is how do I apply for a non-commercial class A , since I’ve never seen them state NON-COMMERCIAL?

    1. Yes, there is. They expect you to have your medical certificate, pass a vision test, a written test, a walk around and an on the road test. California prints pamphlets on RV requirements and class A and B requirements.

    2. Hi, I also live in Ca. To get a non-commercial class-a, do the following things.
      1) download all materials you will need. Browse the DMV site and anything reference sing RV and class-a non-commercial.
      2) make an appointment at your local DMV for your drivers WRITTEN test. While there find out where you must go for the drivers test and what equipment you must have with you.
      3) get a medical exam, range around $75.00 – $90.00 2 years ago.
      4) go to the DMV ( by appointment) they recommended for you to go.

      From the time you take your test to the time you take your drivers test you will be issued a permit for (x) amount of days, I think 30. So be prepared from step one.for the size of your rig, I don’t think they will allow you to test in it to qualify for a class-a because it is to small. But you should talk directly to the Dmv for actual information facts.

  12. To my knowledge of dealing with dot in texas as a holder of class a cdl. 10,000 lbs or more is considered a commercial vehicle. If 4 tires on rear then it is possible to be cited for not keeping up with your times you start driving and stopping. Depending on who wants to press the issue. Then you got a national law that requires any vehicle over 26,000 is considered a commercial vehicle. You also have laws of states require you to have a class a, b, c cdl which is broken down in class depending on weight you haul. And air brakes is also considered a endorsement on your liscense. Which you have to take a test for it. Many states have different laws so it would be great if all had same laws . But cities and counties vary too by laws. A operator can just hope he’s doing everything right cause the laws are way too many to remember and that’s why they do that so they make big time dollars off the trucks and or commercial entities. Get a fine of 1,100.00 for overweight makes you want to do your home work. Rvs are exempt in lots of states from the fmcsa laws but the ones that dont except is the ones to stay away from.

  13. We just purchased a used Class C. A sticker inside the cab states that it is 10 feet wide. I haven’t gone out to measure it after looking at this chart, but I will. If it really is 10 feet wide what do I need to do?

  14. The 26 K weight is very out dated, just about anything over 36 ft is 26K, and states also have lenth limits, and I am quite sure you have seen something towing the Trailer, then behind that, a bout. Every state has its laws, so you really need to check up on your states laws, and it is very adviseable to the states you will be driving in. Personally, I have Class A, and I asked MN, and FL (which is where im from now) and both troopers said they don’t bother with RVs, but I am sure since I said that, there will be lots of posts of people claiming to either been stopped or knew of someone that was stopped.

  15. Everyone always wants to talk drivers liscence -vs- weight. After reading half the comments I decided to put in my 2 cents.

    California;
    Here is what I have. I have a class-B,M-1 with air brake endorsement and a non-commercial towing endorsement to tow any non commercial trailer between 100001 lbs to 15000 lbs. The towing endorsement is a free test you take at the DMV. The Class-B is a commercial liscence and of course the M-1 liscence is for my Harley. If I tow anything above 150001 lbs I must get a Class-A non-commercial liscence. I would have to look it up but I think the difference between commercial and non-commercial (without stating the obvious) is how often you are required to get a medical exam. I know commercial is typically every 2 years or every year if you have an issue like diabetes or anything else on the DMV’s list.
    The max combined length cannot exceed 65 ft. And don’t quote me on the following; but max width is 8 ft with a 6″ allowance for things like lights, mirrors, fold in hand rails….. and stuff like that. Max length on a motorhome without getting a cdl must be under 40′.

    So many things to look up. But I think you get the just of it. The best thing to do for anyone currently or getting ready to RV is Google the DMV for wherever you drivers liscence was issued from, download their most current manuals (California has more than 2 you will need to read) and see for your self what you need to do to be legal on the road.

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