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Filed under: Preparation & Readiness, Safety on the Road, Traveling Tips

Are You Legal?

May 2, 2011 by · 13 Comments 

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Driver's License

(Photo Caption: Driver's License)

I started thinking about this question because of a couple of things that happened recently.  The first thing was that I changed my residency to a new state.  That was quite the process.  Since I’ve done this a number of times over the years, I was surprised at the sheer amount of effort it took this time.  I do not know if it is because of changes that happened after 9-11 or if my new state just enjoys paperwork for some reason.  Whatever the cause, it was a surprise.  The biggest issue that was partially responsible for this post, was around what class of driver’s license I needed.  It seemed that no matter who I asked or where I looked on the web, I would get different answers.  For example, I was shown that right in the handbook it says that when you use an RV for personal use only you are exempt from CDL requirements.  Based on that statement, many residents and DPS employees say that I can drive my diesel pusher with a regular Class C license—just like driving a car.

Well, I can see their point.  However, in another part of the handbook, there is another statement:  “All drivers exempt from CDL requirements must obtain one of the following licenses.”  Here is where they clearly state that if you are driving a vehicle that weighs more than 26,001 pounds, you need a Class B license.  And, I found just as many residents and DPS employees that felt I was required to have a Class B license in this state as there were those that say Class C. 

Highway Patrol

Highway Patrol?

Well, I decided to be conservative and obtain a Class B license; which required a written and a driving test.  I clearly got lucky on the written test because it asked questions like “when driving on a public highway with steel wheels, what are you required to do?”  Since it was multiple choice, I was able to guess correctly—but many questions on the test had nothing to do with driving a motor home (sorry, but I do not know the paperwork requirements a long-haul trucker has to have in their cab at all times…but I guessed correctly on the multiple choice question).  I passed the driving test with no problem—except it was the first time I had ever parallel-parked my MH!! (it was easier than you might think, with the camera and mirrors; and there were no “poles” to stay between)

While I can laugh about the process now, it was a bit of a pain.  The real point, though, is what about all those people I talked to that are driving diesel pusher motor homes that weigh more than 26,001 pounds and only have a Class C license?  There were other rules as well, such as if you tow anything over 10,000 pounds you also need a Class B.  Most of the fifth-wheel people I know only have a Class C, and many of those trailers are more than 10,000 pounds (with a combined weight, truck and trailer, more than 26,001).  The challenge is trying to get a straight answer about the requirements in your state—for example, the DPS employees I talked to gave me two different answers to the same question.

Towing a Trailer

Towing a Trailer

Now, there is a second part to why I wanted to write this.  While sitting around talking one evening after a potluck, a number of people started talking about how long their rigs are when driving down the highway.  Many of them have heavy duty trucks and pull a large fifth wheel.  Some even tow a vehicle behind the fifth wheel.  One person drives a MH, tows a vehicle, and then has a trailer behind that.  A number of these people stated that they knew their overall length was over the limit.  Others were not sure, and there was a question on where you measure the vehicles—is it from bumper to bumper or axle to axle or some combination that changes depending on the actual vehicle (MH, fifth-wheel, or trailer).  Again, the answers seemed to be elusive and there were a lot of disagreements.

So, why did I decide to post this one?  There are two concerns I have that I wanted to share.  The first, and the real reason I went ahead with getting a Class B license, is what if something happens and your insurance company decides not to cover you because they determine you are not following the laws in your state?  I am sure that most insurance companies are very helpful and do not mind paying claims, but I have heard that sometimes, just sometimes, insurance companies actually look for ways to avoid paying a claim; and, someone breaking the law would be pretty good justification.

Broken bank

Broken Bank

My second concern comes from the news recently.  A lot of local governments are trying to find ways to balance their budgets.  They are coming up with some pretty interesting ways to accomplish this.  What if you are in an area where 150,000 people show up in RVs every winter or summer?  What if you are in law enforcement and you realize that a number of these people are not real careful about following the rules?  What do you think your boss would say if you mentioned that a crack-down (similar to what you see with safety-belt use) might bring in a bit of revenue (and make the roads more safe)?  I am positive that most areas where many RVers go each year would never decide to do something like this; however, I have heard of small counties deciding to use revenue from people passing through to help out their financial situations; but I’m sure that this is an urban legend and am sure that no counties with a lot of RVs passing through would ever see this as revenue.

RV Sales

New purchase of your RV

I guess my question is, how do you determine what the actual laws are in your state (definitely do not ask the dealers of the RVs—they amazingly seem to think that there is nothing additional you need to do except drive it or pull it off the lot) and how important is it to abide by these laws (especially when you consider that the average highway patrol officer is not familiar with the rules specific to RVs)?  Is it best to be conservative (okay, some say I’m almost paranoid when it comes to the laws for driving my RV) or should you go with what seems to be the norm in your area?

Comments

13 Responses to “Are You Legal?”
  1. butterbean carpenter says:

    Howdy Hoby,
    Good explanation of the legalities… Of course, no law enforcement , taxing authority or insurance company personnel is going to read a Woodall’s blog and get ‘brownie’ points for thinking this up…

    No! No! Old Hoby just let the cat out!!!!!

    I have always found you entertaining and informative, but do you know what you have just caused???

    Think about it, man, there are a lot of old retired people, who CAN DRIVE AN RV, but can’t pass a driving test for any number of reasons… You just set them up !!!! The insurance companies will make sure their agents and underwriters READ THIS AND READ UP ON THE LAW….

    Thanks, buddy !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Hoby says:

    butterbean, you are welcome. I’m just glad that some RVers who are not aware that they are even driving illegally might take the time to determine the law in their state. I know several who have updated their licenses since learning the law and read a number of posts online of RVers who were shocked when they learned they were driving illegally and wished someone had helped them earlier.

  3. Bruce says:

    These are great questions, and hopefully someone with accurate information will provide some answers! I have often worried about many of these very questions and there is NO one I know that can answer them.

    Bruce

  4. Hoby says:

    Bruce, since each state is different it is tough to find a source with all the answers. I started with Escapees, and while they had the correct answer for my state, they also had dozens of posts explaining why the correct answer was not correct. I also found an answer on the Newmar facebook page (since I own a Newmar); they had a very good summary about the driver’s license requirements that turned out to be the same as what I concluded by researching on the state’s web site.

    The thing that I learned was that you should not stop when you find one statement that seems to answer the question. You have to do a bit more digging just to make sure you get all the answers. The biggest frustration for me was getting different answers from the ones I expected to give me the “correct” answer.

  5. Janet says:

    Sounds like a complicated mess. Glad my husband and I have Class A licenses from our tractor trailer driving jobs! Hopefully that will eliminate any potential issues for us regardless of the state we pull in.
    Isn’t it Woodalls that has the listing in their books about length restrictions for each state?

  6. Hoby says:

    I’m sure the Class A will cover you anywhere with no problem. Funny story shared by someone with a Class A CDL license. He mentioned that his original license required a re-test every 5 years. He changed residency to a new state, and the “clock” was reset (they gave him the equivalent license with no testing). After a few years he changed states again and the “clock” was reset again. I thought it was an amusing loophole in the rules.

    Yes, Woodall’s directories do list all the maximum lengths for each state and even when the state does not allow “triple” towing. The one question we were struggling with during our conversation was that each person had a different “opinion” of how you measure the length (bumper, axle, ?).

  7. Donnie Anderson says:

    There is always some Smart A. who is out there to start something. Someone needs to explain to you what the old saying “Let Dead Dogs lye” means. I can only hope that you don’t follow this blog up with anyothers up like it. The saying you should think before you open before you open your mouth, you should think before you WRITE should applie to you!

  8. Hoby says:

    Donnie,

    Thank you for your comments. I guess my experience with RVers has been more limited than I thought. When I was changing my residence I was concerned because it was so difficult to determine what the legal requirements were. I did the research online and noted a large number of posts in blogs where RVers were shocked to learn they were not meeting the laws of their state and wished they had known sooner. With that in mind, I assumed that all RVers were like me and those others I spoke with and read about, and wanted to know what the laws were so they could abide by them. You are correct. I did not think about there being RVers out there who intentionally want to operate illegally. I hope that I continue to meet and make friends with the RVers I’ve met over the years that have the desire to be safe and legal.and can avoid those who think operating illegally is appropriate.

  9. Marly says:

    In Ontario a standard licence (Class G) allows a combined weight of 11,000 kgs (24,250 lbs). This includes my dinghy (Jeep ) which weighs 4,200 lbs. In addition a towed vehicle cannot exceed 4,200 kgs (9,250 lbs). Therefore, the maximum weight of my motorhome cannot exceed 20,000 lbs.

    For a trailer the calculation included the weight of the truck (F-350 weighs 6000 – 7000 lbs) and the wight of the trailer. If the trailer or 5th wheel exceeds 9,250 lbs the operator will require a Class A license which is a semi truckers licence without the airbrakes. This should be clearly posted at all dealerships prior to purchase and be verified by the sales folks.

    For a novice, the lack of information can be protentally disasterous.

  10. Hoby says:

    Marly,

    Thanks for the information. Others I have talked to have told me that it is much easier to find out the laws in Canada. I also think it would be great in the US if the dealers had to post the licensing and towing requirements with the vehicles. While I do not know if this is true, I’ve been told that sometimes the tires on the trailers/fifth wheels when you buy them new are not what should be on there for highway driving when loaded. It is always good to find out the requirements and abide by them; unfortunately, sometimes this takes a lot of research for the RV owner. I commend the work by groups like the Escapees who try to monitor the laws that affect RVers and lobby to help the laws work for the RV community instead of against them.

  11. Jon says:

    I’ve held my commercial drivers license for quite some time now and have some answers for the questions. Advice is pick-up their respective states CDL handbook and read up on the requirements of different licenses. A CDL-A has nothing to do with airbrakes but rather the weights of combinations as such. Most states now adhere to Homeland Security and federal laws. In other words, they are pretty much the same now.

    Here are the ways to measure lengths. Apparently lots of folks like to drag lots of stuff with them so they should be aware of the lengths as they trave from state to state.

    How To Measure Lengths:

    Truck Tractor – No Limit
    Truck – Measure from the front most part of the vehicle to the rear most part of the vehicle.
    Bus or Other Motor Vehicle – Measure same as truck.
    Trailer – Measure from the front of the box or the basic permanent load-bearing surface to the rearmost part of the vehicle. (Coupling devices should not be included in the measurement of a trailer.)
    Semi-Trailer – Measure same as trailer (Coupling device should not be included in the measurement of a semi-trailer.)
    Pole-Trailers – Measure from the front bolster to the rearmost part of the vehicle (coupling pole, rear bolster or wheels.)
    Truck Tractor Combinations – No over all limit on combination length. Measure individual trailers and/or semi-trailers as outlined for each class of vehicle.
    Truck or Other Motor Vehicle Combinations- Measure from front most part of the truck or other motor vehicle to the rear most part of the last vehicle in the combination.

    Anyway- – have a safe summer!

  12. Hoby says:

    Jon,

    Thanks for the great information! It makes it very clear how to measure the lengths of vehicles. I wanted to share a passage about fifth wheels I found when doing the research for this post:

    Compounding the problem is the fact of length restrictions. Different states have different maximum lengths. This is generally measured from the trailer’s “kingpin” (this is the large steel pin that latches in the fifth wheel) to the center hub of the trailer’s rear axle. However, some states measure from the kingpin to the center of the front axle, while still other states measure from the kingpin to the centerpoint between the rear axles (with a tandem-axle trailer) or the center of the axle (with a single-axle trailer). Confusing? Of course it is.

    So, as you can see, when someone starts trying to find “the answer” things can get a bit sticky. It would be nice if each state made it clear enough anyone could understand (as I mentioned before, even the DPS employees in my current state were confused and provided conflicting answers).

  13. Jimmy Leggett says:

    I went the same drill on the need for a Class B license and then did it to be sure. Turns out I was correct and am now legal in my DP.

    My next step was to e-mail all the information to my dealer. No one there had a clue so it was a surprise for them. I even included the chapter from the drivers handbook, the annex with the test questions and then a re-cap of the actual driving test.

    I understand they passed the info along to all the other texas outlets.

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