Do You Need A Special License To Drive An RV

Do You Need A Special License To Drive An RV? State Laws

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RVs are big vehicles, and naturally, considering buying an RV, you may be wondering whether you need a special driver’s license to operate an RV in your area. Well, you may find the answer to your questions below.

The goal of our material is to provide you with comprehensive information on state regulations in regard to RVs, provide information on class-specific regulations, if any, as well as explain a couple of common misunderstood points and help you better understand what to pay attention to.

Let’s get going without further ado.

Do you need any special licenses to drive an RV?

Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to this question because regulations vary from state to state. In some states, the most basic driver’s license is going to be enough, while in others, you may need to obtain a special kind of license.

There are two types of special licenses that you may need – a non-commercial special license and a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Which one you will need and whether you will need a special license in the first place is again going to depend on the state you are in.

Regular, non-commercial driver’s licenses usually have several classes – usually A, B, C, and D, though the lettering may differ in some states. The basic driver’s licenses that most people hold belong to non-commercial driver’s licenses. The letter designation of this basic license once again differs from state to state. Any regular licenses other than the basic license are considered non-commercial special licenses.

In some states, you will need to go further and obtain a CDL in order to operate large and heavy vehicles. If not permitted by non-commercial driver’s licenses, RV operation will most likely require you to obtain a CDL. To obtain this license, you will have to satisfy a set of requirements and pass a test, but the exact procedure will vary across states.

In some states, you are required to obtain endorsements rather than special driver’s licenses to drive an RV. However, drivers are mostly required to hold special licenses rather than endorsements.

Are there any special requirements for RV types?

A thing that many new RVers wonder about is whether there are any special requirements for specific RV types or not. Fortunately, there is a single answer to this question that applies to all states – it doesn’t matter what kind of an RV you are operating. 

Instead, what matters is the weight of the RV and the combined weight of your vehicle and the RV that is towed behind. 

In most states, the basic driver’s license is going to allow you to drive any kind of RV. But in other states – whether those requiring a CDL or a non-commercial driver’s license for RV operation – GVWR and GCWR come into play to determine if you need a new driver’s license.

GVWR, standing for gross vehicle weight rating, is the maximum operating weight of a vehicle, including the vehicle itself and onboard cargo, fuel, engine fluids, accessories, appliances, passengers, etc. The GVWR doesn’t include the weight of trailers that may be towed behind the vehicle.

GCWR, standing for gross combined weight rating, stands for the total weight of a vehicle, including all trailers or other vehicles towed behind.

If towing a trailer, the GVWR designates the maximum weight of the power unit (pickup truck or a motorhome) and the towed vehicle (travel trailer, camper, toy hauler, or 5th-wheel) separately. The GCWR refers to the total weight of the power unit and all the vehicles towed behind.

In some states, the length of the vehicle also matters. For example, in Wisconsin, you are only required to obtain a CDL if the RV is longer than 45 feet. However, in most states, weight is the primary criterion.

At the moment of this material’s writing, these were the three primary parameters that determined whether a special license is required or not. At least, these are the criteria that are applicable to RVs since there are other factors like transportation of hazardous materials, which probably no RVer does.

Now that we understand what matters in RVs when it comes to driver’s licenses, let’s overview driver’s license requirements across the United States.

Requirements by state

As we mentioned above, most states do not require special licenses for operation of any kind of RVs. A few, however, require you to obtain a non-commercial driver’s license, and some go as far as requiring you to acquire a CDL, regardless of whether you are driving an RV for commercial purposes or not.

Below is the list of states with their requirements for CDL and non-commercial special licenses.

StateCDLNon-Commercial Special License
AlabamaNoNo
AlaskaNoNo
ArizonaNoNo
ArkansasYesNo
CaliforniaNoYes
ColoradoNoNo
ConnecticutYesNo
DelawareNoNo
FloridaNoNo
GeorgiaNoNo
HawaiiYesNo
IdahoNoNo
IllinoisNoNo
IndianaNoNo
IowaNoNo
KansasYesNo
KentuckyNoNo
LouisianaNoNo
MaineNoNo
MarylandNoYes
MassachusettsNoNo
MichiganNoYes
MinnesotaNoNo
MississippiNoNo
MissouriNoNo
MontanaNoNo
NebraskaNoNo
NevadaNoYes
New HampshireNoNo
New JerseyNoNo
New MexicoNoYes
New YorkNoYes
North CarolinaNoYes
North DakotaNoNo
OhioNoNo
OklahomaNoNo
OregonNoNo
PennsylvaniaNoYes
Rhode IslandNoNo
South CarolinaNoYes
South DakotaNoNo
TennesseeNoNo
TexasNoYes
UtahNoNo
VermontNoNo
VirginiaNoNo
WashingtonNoNo
Washington D.C.YesNo
West VirginiaNoNo
WisconsinYesNo
WyomingNoYes

States that require a non-commercial special license

California

A Class B license is required for single vehicles over 40 feet or over 26,001 pounds. A Class A license is required for towing over 10,000 pounds.

Maryland

A Class B license is required for motor vehicles with GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, or if towing 10,000 pounds or less. A Class A license is required for any other combination of vehicles.

Michigan

The state of Michigan issues two types of driver’s licenses – operator and chauffeur. 

An operator’s driver’s license is the regular license used by most residents. This license allows holders to drive passenger vehicles or light-duty trucks with a GVWR of less than 26,000 pounds. Needless to say, if you have an RV that is lighter than 26,000 pounds, an operator’s driver’s license will be enough.

The chauffeur driver’s license is required (in the context of RVs) for people hired to operate motor vehicles with GVWR of over 10,000 pounds.

In the state of Michigan, you will be required to have a commercial driver’s license for driving a single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, as well as towing trailers or other vehicles with a GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more and a GCWR of 26,001 pounds or more. However, for operating an RV for non-commercial purposes, no CDL is required.

RV owners are also required to have a Recreational Double “R” Endorsement for towing a fifth wheel plus a trailer. This is a very specific requirement, and most people out there won’t need to worry about it.

North Carolina

A Class B license is required for single vehicles with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more and if towing another vehicle with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or less. A Class A license is required for any combination of vehicles that has a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more, provided that the GVWR of the towed vehicle is over 10,000 pounds.

Nevada

A Class B license is required for single vehicles with a GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more. This license also allows towing vehicles with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or less.

A Class A license allows operating any combination vehicles with a GCWR of 26,001 pounds or more, with the vehicle being towed having a GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more.

For towing a vehicle with a GVWR of over 10,000 pounds, an Endorsement J is also needed.

New Mexico

In New Mexico, individuals need to obtain a CDL-exempt Class E license in order to operate any vehicle or vehicle combination, including recreational vehicles.

New York

In the state of New York, a Class D driver’s license allows you to drive a vehicle with a GVWR of 26,000 pounds or less and to tow a vehicle with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or less, or to tow an over 10,000-pound vehicle given that the GCWR of the vehicle combination is no more than 26,000 pounds.

For operation of recreational vehicles with a GVWR of over 26,000 pounds or 40 feet in length or more, an “R” endorsement is required. You need to hold a Class D license in order to obtain this endorsement.

Pennsylvania

A Class B driver’s license is required for operating single vehicles with a GVWR of over 26,000 pounds.

A Class A driver’s license is required for operating a combination of vehicles rated over 26,000 pounds, given that the vehicle(s) towed are rated over 10,000 pounds.

South Carolina

A Class E license is required for single vehicles rated over 26,000 pounds. A Class F license is required for a combination of vehicles with a GCWR of over 26,000 pounds.

Texas

A Class B driver’s license authorizes one to drive a single vehicle with a GVWR of over 26,000 pounds that is towing another vehicle with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or less.

A Class A license allows you to drive a single vehicle with a GVWR of over 26,000 pounds, as well as to tow a combination of vehicles, given that they are rated over 10,000 pounds.

Wyoming

A Class B license is required for single vehicles with a GVWR of over 26,000 pounds that tow another vehicle rated 10,000 pounds or less.

A Class A license is required for any combination of vehicles with a GCWR of over 26,000 pounds, with the vehicles being towed being rated over 10,000 pounds.

States that require a commercial driver’s license

Arkansas

A CDL is required for vehicles rated over 26,000 pounds.

Connecticut

Class B CDL holders are authorized to drive a single vehicle rated over 26,000 pounds that is towing another vehicle rated not in excess of 10,000 pounds.

Class A CDL holders may drive any combination of vehicles with a GCWR of over 26,000 pounds, with the GVWR of the vehicle(s) towed being rated in excess of 10,000 pounds.

Hawaii

In Hawaii, a Class B CDL is required for single vehicles rated over 26,000 pounds. A class A CDL is required for a combination of vehicles with a GCWR of over 26,000 pounds, provided that the towed unit is rated in excess of 10,000 pounds.

Kansas

A Class B CDL is required for single vehicles rated over 26,000 pounds that are towing another single vehicle rated 10,000 pounds or less.

A Class A CDL is required for a vehicle combination with a GCWR of over 26,000 pounds, given that the towed vehicles are rated over 10,000 pounds.

Washington, D.C.

A Class B CDL is required to drive a single vehicle with a GVWR of over 26,000 pounds, as well as any vehicle towing another vehicle rated 10,000 pounds or less.

A Class A CDL is required to drive any combination of vehicles with a GCWR that is greater than 26,000 pounds, given that the GVWR of the towed vehicle is greater than 10,000 pounds.

Wisconsin

Owners of recreational vehicles that are longer than 45 feet and that are used in commercial activity are required to hold a CDL.

How to find out whether you need a special license?

Things can get pretty complicated for RV owners, especially given that regulations may change at any moment. Due to this, we’d advise you to consult your local Department of Motor Vehicles yourself in order to find relevant and up-to-date information.

No matter how complicated things may seem to you, it is actually quite easy to find out whether you need a CDL or any other special kind of non-commercial driver’s license. To do this, follow these steps:

  • First, check out the regular driver’s licenses in your state. What kind of vehicles do they authorize you to drive? If you see that your vehicle falls under the criteria of regular driver’s license classes, then you don’t need a CDL.

In some states, the most basic driver’s license intended for drivers of personal vehicles is going to be enough. In others, you may need to obtain another class of a regular driver’s license.

  • If regular driver’s license classes in your state do not authorize you to drive your RV, then you may need a CDL. If this is the case, then check out the criteria of CDL classes in your state.
  • Make sure that there aren’t any kind of exemptions for CDLs in the state that you are in. For example, in the state of Wisconsin, drivers are generally required to hold a Class B CDL if their vehicle is rated over 26,000 pounds. However, if you have an RV that is rated over 26,000 pounds but is shorter than 45 feet, then you don’t need to hold a CDL.
  • Furthermore, check out whether or not you need to obtain any special kind of endorsements to operate an RV. For example, in New York, aside from a Class D license, you are required to obtain an RV “R” endorsement in order to operate a recreational vehicle.

The steps above should allow you to fairly quickly determine what kind of a license you need.

Class B vs Class A licenses

A thing that often confuses people are the differences between Class A and Class B licenses (both commercial and non-commercial). The wording in the vehicle criteria of the classes may seem similar to most people, but there are some intricacies that make them completely different.

The Commercial Driver License Manual of the state of Hawaii features a diagram that quite clearly demonstrates the differences between Class A and B licenses. Let us explain it for you now:

  • If the GCWR exceeds 26,000 pounds and if the GVWR of the towed unit(s) is greater than 10,000 pounds, then you are required to have a Class A license.
  • If the GCWR exceeds 26,000 and if the power unit is rated over 26,000 but the towed vehicle 10,000 pounds or less, then you are required to have a Class B license.

The main difference between these license classes is that you are required to have a Class A license if you tow a vehicle with a GVWR of over 10,000 pounds. If the GVWR of the vehicle towed is 10,000 pounds or less, you need a Class B license.

Aside from that, note that Class B licenses allow a single power unit and a single towed vehicle, while Class A licenses allow any combination of vehicles, e.g. one power unit and two towed vehicles (for example, a travel trailer + toy hauler).

One thing to keep in mind is that some states’ description of driver’s license requirements is very ambiguous, so we’d advise you to contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles to make sure that there aren’t any uncertainties in regard to regulations.

What if you don’t want to get any special licenses?

Most people probably wouldn’t want to go through the hassle of obtaining a new driver’s license class. You may simply not have time for it before your trip.

Well, if you will be getting yourself a motorhome, make sure that its GVWR is less than 26,000 pounds. If you will be towing an RV, make sure that the GCWR of your power unit and the trailer is again less than 26,000 pounds. As a rule of thumb, simply go less than 26,000 pounds, and you should be okay.

One thing to consider is that while local DMVs do not put restrictions or requirements for separate RV types, some RV types are more likely to require a special driver’s license than others.

Many class A motorhomes out there have GVWRs well over 26,000 pounds, so if you are going to buy such a motorhome, check whether you will need to obtain a special driver’s license to operate it.

Class C and B motorhomes weigh much less than class A motorhomes, and you probably won’t be able to find one that has a GVWR greater than 26,000 pounds. With these smaller motorhomes, you are on the safer side, but you still need to be careful.

As for other RV types like travel trailers, fifth wheels, or toy haulers, they mostly weigh no more than 10,000 pounds, so you shouldn’t even worry about a travel trailer exceeding the 26,000-pound limit. Your towing vehicle is also unlikely to weigh close to 16,000 pounds, so you should be safe if towing only one RV.

If towing one RV. Because if towing more than just one RV, you may need a Class A license (CDL or non-commercial) to operate your vehicle if your GCWR is over 26,000 pounds and if the vehicles towed are rated more than 10,000 pounds.

What about traveling to Canada?

Canadian laws are completely different, but if you are planning to head north, you shouldn’t worry about anything, unless you are a resident of Canada. If you have a valid US driver’s license, then you will have no problems in Canada.

What next?

Make sure to do in-depth research in the state of your residence. Regulations can change quickly, and whatever you may find online can simply be obsolete. Thus, make sure to consult your local DMV no matter what kind of information you find online. Plus, there may some case-specific factors that only your local DMV will be able to note.

Most importantly, if possible, get yourself an RV which won’t require you to acquire any special kinds of licenses. But if you do need a motorhome with a GVWR of more than 26,000 pounds, then we guess that its benefits are worth the time spent on obtaining a special license, of course, if applicable to your state.

If you’d like to read more of our RV how to and guide articles you can read them all here.

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Do You Need A Special License To Drive An RV? State Laws
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