Filed under: Preparation & Readiness, Safety on the Road, Traveling Tips
Are You Legal?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?