What License Is Needed To Drive A RV? The Rules Of The Road

graphic illustration of a driver's license

So you're thinking of investing in an RV for your next vacation, but you don't know what license is needed to drive an RV. After all, those things are big. So, they require special licensing, right?

Actually, think again.

What License Is Needed to Drive an RV?

Anyone thinking about buying an RV is probably wondering, "What license is needed to drive an RV?" But the fact is that your regular driver's license will suffice for most RVs.

Yep, it's true!

Across the United States of America, Canada, and Mexico, you can drive any RV under 45 feet with just your regular driver's license. So there's no special licensing required.

Of course, you'll probably want to get some practice in if it's your first time.

With that said, some jurisdictions do have special rules concerning RVs. So, don't forget to check the regulations in the area you live, plan to visit, and those you may drive through along the way.

Are There Any Special Rules for Driving an RV?

driver's license on a pocket

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A lot of people wonder what license is needed to drive an RV, even if they don't own one themselves. While you don't need a special permit to drive an RV, there are some rules surrounding them.

But first, a quick look at the laws surrounding RVs. This will help you understand how states standardize the rules and regulations, as well as how they differ from each other.

It all starts at the federal level. In the U.S., the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FCMSA) sets the bare minimums required to drive such vehicles.

From there, individual states use these regulations as a benchmark. However, a few states choose to add their own rules.

Federal regulations for commercial vehicles

The FCMSA regulates commercial vehicles in the U.S. If you're a truck driver, you know all about these rules.

But did you know that RVs fall under their jurisdiction as well? And these regulations state that if your RV is heavier than 26,000 pounds, you need a commercial carrier license to drive it.

And there's more.

If you're operating an RV for hire, that is, people pay you to drive them around in an RV, then you'll need a commercial license. You'll also need commercial vehicle insurance.

Otherwise, if your RV is under 45 feet long and 14 feet tall, and it weighs under 26,000 pounds, the federal government is fine with you driving an RV.

Now, let's take a look at what license is needed to drive an RV in different states:

Joshua Tree, Redwood Forest, and the California Coast

an RV with lights on the background

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But not every state is fine with a regular commuter getting behind the wheel of a massive RV. California, for one, has their own rules which go above and beyond federal regulations.

If you want to drive an RV in California, you'll need to follow some strict guidelines. After all, they don't want you taking out every parked car and street light on your route!

So, what license is needed to drive an RV in California? It all depends on the size of the RV, and if you're towing anything.

For starters, you can only drive an RV under 40 feet long and below 26,000 pounds. Otherwise, you'll need a special license and to complete a physician's health report every two years.

Also, you can't double- or triple-tow in California. To add to that, anything you do tow has to weigh under 10,000 pounds.

And then there are the driving laws around towing.

If you're towing your car behind your RV, you can't exceed 55 mph on California highways. You also need to have mud flaps on both your RV and your trailer.

California state laws also require you to have a certified fire extinguisher in your RV at all times.

​Visit the nation's "First State"

an RV near Delaware River

Image: CC BY 2.0, by dvs via Flickr.com

If California seems intent on safety, then Delaware approaches things with an eye for their own unique environment. So while you don't need a special license for anything under 40 feet long, its height cannot exceed 13.6 feet.

But there's more.

If the vehicle is over 4,000 pounds, then safety chains are required in the vehicle, as well as on the tires in winter. Also, headlights must remain on at all times when the vehicle is in operation.

And if it's raining or snowing, the wipers must be on, too.

​Chicago-bound, or maybe not?

What license is needed to drive an RV in Illinois?

Most state rules follow the federal guidelines. But this isn't so in Illinois.
The self-described "Amazing State" says that any vehicle over 16,000 pounds requires a special license.

And guess what?

That's total weight. So if you're towing a car, and the RV, trailer, and car combined exceed 16,000 pounds, you'll need a special license from the State of Illinois.

​No place like home (or Kansas)

Next up is Kansas. In this state, your RV needs to carry some special equipment.

When in Kansas, your RV requires safety chains, flares, and reflective triangles. Also, anything you're towing will need a sway bar on the first connection. Something like the Eaz-Lift 1,000-pound Elite Hitch Kit will do the job if you're towing a light car.

But some good news: You can triple-tow in Kansas with no problem.

​Boston tunnels are a no-go

While Massachusetts doesn't have too many rules surrounding the operation of your RV, they do have one particularly strict rule:

No LP gas (a category which propane falls in to) allowed between Boston and East Boston in any of the tunnels.

​No passing through Logan Pass

Finally, there's Montana. The mountain state is concerned with safety, particularly during the winter months. Which is why you need safety chains, flares, safety triangles, and reflective signs on the back of your RV or trailer.

If you're towing anything, you'll also need a breakaway switch and a sway bar on the trailer.

Also, no vehicle over 21 feet is allowed through Logan Pass. You'll need to park and take a shuttle instead.

Learn to Drive Your RV like a Pro

a woman driving a van

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You might be afraid that you'll smash up every car and streetlight on the road from behind the wheel of an RV. But really, driving an RV isn't all that difficult. Sure, you'll need to adjust some driving habits, but you'll be fine.

That said, there are some things you can do to stay safe.

You see, whereas in your car you had a rearview mirror and your blind spots were beside you, an RV is much different. In an RV, your mirrors give you full vision along your sides. But you have a massive blind spot behind you, and a smaller one directly in front of you.

Don't worry about what license is needed to drive an RV. Instead, worry about what kind of license the person tailgating you has. Following drivers are hard to see, so look for shadows on the road behind you.

Also, remember that you can't see directly in front of your RV. If there are kids or animals around, pay extra attention to the front before you pull forward.

Outta the way!​

You may not be too surprised to learn that a 15,000 pound RV takes a while to stop. In fact, speed and misjudged stopping distance is the number one cause of RV accidents in America.

Always assume that it will take at least 20 seconds to slow down for every 40 miles per hour of driving speed.

For example, if you're doing 60 miles per hour, you need around 30 seconds to come to a complete stop. Keep plenty of distance between vehicles in front of you and resist the urge to speed.

Wave the flagger

Let's be honest. Driving forward is easy. But what do you do when you need to reverse?

The answer is, use a flagger.

A flagger is someone who stands behind your RV and, using hand signals, directs your reverse. They can also stop people from walking behind your RV while you back out.

Forget what license is required to drive an RV. Instead, what kind of person can be a flagger?

graphic illustration of a flagger

Image Source: Pixabay.com

A good rule of thumb is that anyone over 14 years of age can help you out. Also, if they can wear something bright, like a shirt or a hat that stands out, it's better. For nighttime reversing, make sure they have a flashlight.

Mind your head

Finally, you need to remember one crucial fact before you hit the road in your RV. That is, you're nearly 14 feet tall! That means bridges and gas stations are your enemies.

Pay extreme attention to the posted heights of low-hanging structures. Also, use your best judgment if there are no signs posted.

When it comes to fueling up, visit truck stops instead of regular gas stations.

Are You Ready for the Road?

So, what license is needed to drive an RV? For the most part, your regular driver's license will suffice. Unless you've got your hands on a massive Class-A RV, in which case you'll need a special permit.

Otherwise, follow the tips above, stock up on fire extinguishers, safety chains, and flares, and be sure to check the regulations of any states you're visiting along the way. And don't forget to enjoy yourself!

Where are you planning to take your RV next?? Let us know in the comments below!


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