There’s so much that’s convenient and easy about traveling by RV.
You know exactly where you’ll sleep each night, you can create your own gourmet meals (and enjoy your privacy while you eat them!), and save a ton of money when you compare the total to what you’d pay on hotel rooms when traveling by air or even in your car.
(Psst: You can save even more on your camping trip by signing up for a Passport America membership, which will save you a full 50% on your campsite accommodation fees at almost 1900 campgrounds nationwide. With an annual fee of less than $50, that means it’s likely to pay for itself on your very first camping trip!)
But as much guesswork as RVing takes out of travel, it does put a little bit back in. Namely, we’re talking about traffic laws, rules, and regulations that might impact your ability to legally cruise down the road as you move from state to state. And unfortunately, your average roadmap doesn’t alert you to these legal changes, even if you’ve got the most recent Rand McNally Road Atlas.
Hey, everything in life is a give and take, right?
Federal Driving Laws
American driving laws do vary by state, especially when you’re driving a very large and heavy vehicle like an RV or towing a trailer. And although you might barely notice that you’ve crossed a state border when you’re on a long trip, the change in the driving laws might translate to you ending up with a pricy ticket to pay… all for breaking a law you were none the wiser about.
(Psst: Want to track your travels? Try this sticker map, a fun way to keep tabs on each state you’ve visited!)
Nobody wants to factor traffic tickets into their travel budget. So here are a few US driving and road traffic laws that RVers should know about.
RV Driving Regulations
Let’s start with the good news: There are a few laws that are universal!
For example, and fairly obviously, you must always obey all posted signs and speed limits. And if you’re wondering about right turn lane rules, well, it’s always legal to make a right on red unless otherwise posted… although when you’ve got such a long vehicle, you’ll want to proceed with lots and lots of caution.
Other laws that apply to all drivers vary from state to state. For instance, many cities have begun to incorporated distracted driving laws into their legal code, which make it illegal to do things like texting while driving. (Even if you’re in a place where that is legal, it’s never a good idea, no matter what you’re driving!)
There are also some laws that more specifically pertain to RVs and RV driving. For instance, if you’re driving a motorcoach (where passengers can move freely inside the RV while under way), you’ll want to be apprised of the relevant RV seat belt laws, which can vary by state. If you have alcohol on board (for example, in your RV’s refrigerator), you’ll also want to check up on open container laws. In many states, it’s legal to have an open container of alcohol in the vehicle because it’s technically a domicile, but it’s generally a good idea to ensure it’s not feasibly within the driver’s reach — just in case you get pulled over and an officer has questions!
Another issue that is important to many RVers is firearm ownership. Although owning a firearm is federally allowed by the U.S. Constitution, the exact rules and regulations pertaining to how, when, and where you may carry a firearm do vary by state. For example, in some states, you may need a permit in order to have a weapon in your vehicle, even if it’s unloaded and cased.
If gun ownership is important to you and you wish to travel with firearms on board, check out the Traveler’s Guide for the Firearm Laws of the 50 States, which is kept up-to-date with all you need to know in order to travel with your weapons legally.
Towing has its own set of intricacies and complications, specifically revolving around travel trailer lengths and weights in different states. For instance, here are a few specific laws for travel trailers according to TripSavvy:
- In Alabama, travel trailers cannot be longer than 40 feet
- In Alabama, Arizona, Washington D.C., Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, travel trailers cannot be wider than 8 feet
- In Connecticut, all RVs are limited to 7.5 feet in width, 8 feet in height, 24 feet in length and 7,300 pounds in weight on the Merritt and Wilbur Parkways
In addition, some states require extra equipment and special brakes for towed vehicles that supersede a certain weight. For example, Utah requires a breakaway braking system if your trailer is over 3,000 pounds, and North Carolina requires an independent brake system for house trailers that weigh 1,000 pounds or more.
Additionally, you may find yourself stuck if you have a full tank of propane on board and need to pass through a large tunnel, such as the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel in Maryland. And although most states don’t, some do have special motorhome license requirements if your rig is over a certain length or weight.
No matter where you’re going, it’s always imperative to figure out the laws in each state before you hit the road, so as not to find yourself in a sticky situation. Fortunately, the internet means this project is a lot easier than it used to be — you can simply look everything up online.
You’ll also want to be sure to have your route planned in order to make sure you’ll meet all the clearance requirements and won’t be passing over any bridges or through any tunnels with stringent weight or other restrictions. Investing in a quality RV GPS system is a great way to do this easily, since those systems have all those concerns built in. Here’s a post comparing some of the most popular versions; one of our very favorites is the Garmin RV 760LMT, which comes with a wireless backup camera, too.
(And, hey, even if you’re old school… grab that atlas of yours and get a pencil. Trust us, you’ll thank yourself when you’re not headed toward a low-clearance tunnel at 60 miles per hour!)
Driving a Motorhome
Keeping up with laws in each state adds an additional step in your travel planning, but it’s an important part to staying safe and legal when traveling by motorhome.
All told, it’s a small price to pay for the convenience and flexibility of this special lifestyle. Enjoy your trip!
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