One of the biggest concerns for those who are hoping to buy a Class A RV is whether they will need to obtain a special CDL license to drive their cushy dream rig. The question is a good one, as no one wants to get caught driving without the proper license.
So, does a Class A RV require a CDL? If your Class A RV weighs less than 26,000 pounds, you don’t need a special license of any kind, regardless of what state you live in. However, if it weighs more than that or if you are towing with your RV, you may need a special license or even a CDL, depending on your state of residence.
Keep in mind that laws do occasionally change, and might change at any time after the time of writing – please note that this is a general guide and you should always double check your state’s current requirements.
In this article, we’ll cover all the situations where you might need to obtain a special license to drive your Class A, and we’ll answer some questions about CDLs, driving a Class A, and more. Let’s get started!
What is a CDL?
A commercial driver’s license (CDL) is a special license that is required for driving very large or very heavy vehicles, or those carrying hazardous materials. There are three different classes of CDLs: Class A, Class B, and Class C. Incidentally, they are named the same as RV types, but the CDL classes do not correspond to RV classes.
CDL holders can also earn endorsements for various specialized situations, like carrying passengers, driving liquid cargo or hazardous materials, or driving a school bus. Each endorsement requires the driver to pass an exam and in some cases, a driving test.
Typically only those who are driving commercial vehicles like semi trucks, tanker trucks, school buses, city buses, livestock carriers, and so forth are required to obtain CDLs, but some Class A RVs are so massive and so heavy that some states put additional licensing requirements in place.
While this is an additional step that some RV owners must take, the introduction of special licenses in the 1980s has significantly reduced the amount of highway accidents that occur each year – so it’s worth it.
What States Require a CDL to Drive a Class A RV?
There are 15 states that do require CDLs to drive a Class A RV (or tow with a Class A) in some or all cases, but the exact rules vary as follows:
- Arkansas: CDL is required for all vehicles over 26,000 pounds
- California: CDL is required if you are towing more than 10,000 pounds
- Connecticut: CDL is required for all single vehicles and combined vehicle/towable weights over 26,000 pound
- Indiana: CDL is required for all vehicles over 45,000 pounds
- Hawaii: CDL is required for all single vehicles and combined vehicle/towable weights over 26,000 pounds
- Kansas: CDL is required for all single vehicles and combined vehicle/towable weights over 26,000 pounds
- Michigan: CDL is required for all vehicles over 26,000 pounds
- Nevada: CDL is required if you are towing multiple vehicles with a combined weight over 26,000 pounds
- New Mexico: CDL is required for all single vehicles and combined vehicle/towable weights over 26,000 pounds
- New York: CDL is required for all vehicles over 26,000 pounds
- North Carolina: CDL is required if you are towing multiple vehicles with a combined weight over 26,000 pounds
- South Carolina: CDL is required for all single vehicles and combined vehicle/towable weights over 26,000 pounds
- Washington DC: CDL is required for all single vehicles and combined vehicle/towable weights over 26,000 pounds
- Wisconsin: CDL is required for vehicles more than 45 feet in length
- Wyoming: CDL is required for vehicles over 26,000 pounds that are towing more than 10,000 pounds
States Requiring Other Types of Licenses to Drive a Class A RV
There are also several states that, while they may not require you to have a CDL, do still require a special license of some kind to drive a Class A RV under certain circumstances:
- California: Special license is required for vehicles over 26,000 pounds or longer than 40 feet in length
- Maryland: Special license is required for vehicles over 26,000 pounds
- North Carolina: Special license is required for vehicles over 26,000 pounds
- Nevada: Special license is required for vehicles over 26,000 pounds
- Pennsylvania: Special license is required for vehicles over 26,000 pounds
- Texas: Special license is required for vehicles over 26,000 pounds, additional special license is required for vehicles over 26,000 pounds that are towing over 10,000 pounds
- Wyoming: Special license is required for vehicles over 26,000 pounds that are towing under 10,000 pounds
There are also some states that require special license endorsements in some situations:
- New York: Requires “R” endorsement for RVs over 26,000 pounds
- Michigan: Requires “Double R” endorsement for towing a fifth wheel and a trailer
- Nevada: Requires “J” endorsement to tow over 10,000 pounds when combined vehicle/towable weight is less than 26,000 pounds
Is a Class A Motorhome a Commercial Vehicle?
Technically, a Class A RV is not a commercial vehicle since it’s for personal use. However, since CDL licensing rules also pertain to vehicle weight, some Class As fall into that category.
If your Class A motorhome weighs less than 26,000 pounds and you aren’t towing anything with it, you are good to go with your regular driver’s license no matter what state you legally reside in.
However, commercial licensing rules apply if you live in any of the above states and meet the parameters.
Also read: Do You Need a CDL to Drive a Skoolie?
Does a Class A Motorhome Have Air Brakes?
Most Class A motorhomes have air brakes, since they are so large and heavy. Regular cars that were manufactured in the last decade or so, all use anti-lock braking systems (ABS), where the stopping power of the brakes correlates directly to how hard you press the pedal.
Air brakes, on the other hand, work differently. The stopping power is dependent on how long you press the brake pedal for, not how hard you press it.
There is a delay of one or two seconds from when you press the air brakes to when your vehicle starts to slow down. Air brakes are more effective for stopping large vehicles, but they are certainly different from ABSs and take some time to get used to.
With air brakes, it’s critical to try to anticipate stops as far in advance as possible. Since the brakes are slower to work, you’ll need to leave a greater distance between your RV and the vehicle in front of you, in case they stop suddenly.
Do You Need a CDL to Drive a Class A RV With Air Brakes?
Just because your Class A RV has air brakes, it does not automatically mean that you need a CDL. As I’ve outlined above, CDL requirements are generally based on the weight of your rig, and, in some cases, the length. Whether you are towing a trailer or multiple trailers can also play a role.
The bottom line is, there’s no correlation between having air brakes and CDL requirements.
Driving a Class A RV for the First Time
Driving any vehicle that you aren’t used to for the first time can be stressful and challenging, and a big Class A can seem especially daunting. However, it just takes some practice and time to become confident driving a Class A.
The biggest difference to keep in mind is that your RV is huge and heavy, and with those air brakes that we just talked about, it will take a lot longer to stop than your car and the braking will feel totally different.
While it might feel scary to drive your RV on a busy highway, you can be reassured by the fact that such a huge vehicle is hard to miss, so although it may seem like cars are zipping around like crazy, they are probably completely aware that you are there and they are likely trying to get out of your way.
Stay calm, trust your mirrors, and stick to the right lane until you feel confident with higher speeds.
Also, know that driving an RV is totally different from driving a car in terms of how long it will take to get somewhere.
Whatever Google Maps suggests for a trip duration, add 10 minutes for every 20 minutes of drive time and you’ll have a more realistic expectation – for example, a one-hour drive in a car can easily end up taking 1.5 hours in an RV.
Narrower roads will feel exceptionally narrow in a wide Class A, and it may take a while to know exactly where you are on the road and stay centered in your lane. Again, practice and trust your mirrors.
You will need to be more cognizant of wind, large vehicles passing in the other direction, and other external factors. Class A RVs are not particularly aerodynamic, so a big gust of wind from the side can feel like it will push you right into oncoming traffic.
Don’t overreact – just make small directional corrections to stay in your lane. If the conditions get too gnarly, simply pull over as soon as you can and wait it out.
Finally, take breaks to stretch, give yourself a mental rest, and regroup. Driving a Class A (especially at first) will feel like a whole-body workout and a mental exercise. That’s what rest areas are for, so take advantage of them! As you get more used to driving, it will feel like less of a task.
Real World Experiences Driving Class A RVs
Now, let’s look at a few YouTubers who demonstrate that driving a Class A RV is totally doable for almost anyone!
David and Brenda demonstrate some of the safety systems that help make driving a Class A manageable – a GPS, rear view cameras, mirrors, and so forth:
And here, we see two newbies learning to drive a 40-foot motorhome. Their instructor talks about how to get started with driving a large RV, using air brakes, taking wide turns, and other basics.
He also points out how critical it is to always be aware of your vehicle height when driving a Class A – the last thing you want to do is crash your rig into a low overpass or gas station canopy!
Many people get intimidated by the prospect of driving a Class A RV and are concerned about the licensing requirements. However, most people are good to go with just their regular driver’s license and a bit of driving practice!
And, if you are looking at purchasing a Class A and you live in one of states where a special license or CDL is required for heavy rigs, you can always opt for a lighter Class A so you don’t have to deal with that whole process.
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Cat is originally from Seattle, WA but has traveled around the US and Canada full-time in a self-converted school bus with her boyfriend Aaron since April of 2018. She enjoys rock climbing, paddleboarding, hiking, and generally being outdoors!