So it’s time to make the upgrade from your old tent to an RV. Will you need to upgrade your license too?
You do not need a CDL to drive an RV in any state. However, some states like Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Texas will require you to obtain a special non-commercial license that signifies your ability to handle the vehicle safely.
There are a lot of variables that go into getting an RV. What size do you want? How much will it cost? How difficult will it be to drive? Will you need to upgrade your license to a CDL or something like it?
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It does make sense that someone driving a bus would need special licensing, and depending on the motor home they can be about the same size. However, many states are heavily focused on the commercial aspects of requiring a CDL rather than the size of the vehicle. Some states may require a special license, but as far as our research shows, there are none that require a CDL.
Factors like vehicle size and purpose play a large role in determining what kind of license you’ll need. Because recreational vehicles are typically used for private purposes, they are often separated from “commercial motor vehicles” that require a CDL to operate. In some cases, non-commercial license options might be required instead.
Below, I’ve gathered information on all 50 states plus Puerto Rico to give you an understanding of which license you’ll need to lawfully drive an RV. I’ve also provided access to the resources I used in locating this information so that you can determine the legitimacy for yourself.
(You may have heard that air brakes are the determining factor–we wrote more about that here)
Continue on, and learn everything you need to know about recreational vehicles and CDL requirements in the United States.
Which States Require a CDL to Drive An RV?
Out of all 50 of the United States, plus Puerto Rico, none require a CDL, and 11 states will require you to have some kind of special licensing for a recreational vehicle. If the RV you want to drive weighs 26,000lbs or less, then you can decrease that number to 3. Most of the time, you really won’t need to worry about using anything other than the typical driver’s license.
In most states, larger vehicles are required to have a CDL to operate. However, there are also statutes that separate recreational vehicles from commercial vehicles. Because of those statutes, recreational vehicles are typically allowed to be driven by those holding a passenger vehicle license. This is due to the fact that people aren’t generally using their recreational vehicles to make money.
Those who are new to RV ownership might be interested in finding out what RVs typically weigh so that they can plan accordingly. To begin with, recreational vehicles come in multiple classes, each providing a different length and weight category.
Here are some of the main recreational vehicle types, along with weight and length category courtesy of the KOA blog:
- Class A Motorhomes. These are the largest of the motorhomes, reaching up to 30,000lbs and 45 feet in length.
- Class B Motorhomes. Weighing only up to about 8,000lbs, class B motorhomes are much smaller. They may only reach about 19 feet in length.
- Class C Motorhomes. These motorhomes are sized in between class C and class A. As a result, they are more likely to provide enough space and less likely to require special licensing.
- Trailers. Unlike motorhomes, trailers are pulled behind your vehicle. They can reach up to 40 feet in length and have a weight comparable to class A motorhomes, but many options are smaller.
If you’re interested in the specifics when it comes to trailers and the sizes they come in, we’ve put together a handy guide for some real trailers and their weights. For an in-depth look, check out our article on the topic here.
How Do You Know If You Need Anything Besides A Standard License For Your RV
The laws regarding driver’s licenses are different in every state. If you’ve ever looked around at the different DMV websites, you may have noticed that in some states, a class D license is considered the standard, while other states refer to it as a class C or even class O.
It isn’t always clear what class the standard license falls under, or which vehicles require specific licenses. In my research, what I’ve found is that the DMV-related sites often don’t provide clear classifications for things like recreational vehicles. Instead, researching the statutes of each state has allowed me to locate definitions and exemptions regarding CDL laws and the vehicles they apply to.
In addition, many states have a clear separation between CDL licenses and standard licenses. Most of the time, CDL licenses come in multiple classes like A, B, and C. Meanwhile, the standard driver’s license really only has one class that includes all passenger vehicles.
That said, there are a few states that add another type of license to the list. States like California, Kansas, and Maryland have non-commercial licenses that essentially act as special driver’s licenses for private vehicles. It really comes down to the desire for certain states to require excess training and licensing for those who are driving large vehicles.
That training can include not just handling the vehicle, but also knowing which laws apply to it and which don’t. For example, how do you know if you need to stop at a weigh station? Take a closer look at this topic in our article here.
In most cases, even non-commercial special licenses are only needed when the vehicle is over 26,000lbs. So unless you’re planning on purchasing a huge motorhome, you likely won’t need to worry about needing anything other than a standard driver’s license.
This table can help you determine the license requirements for an RV in your state:
Some RV drivers might wonder if there are any special features that can play a role in whether or not a CDL will be needed for a specific vehicle. For example, what if the RV you’re driving comes with air brakes? Does that change the requirements? To learn more, look at our article on the topic here.