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Rules of the Road: How to #VanLife Safely

So you found the perfect recreational vehicle to live out your #vanlife dreams. However you choose to live on the road – whether it’s driving an RV, hauling a travel trailer, or staying in a camper van – adventure is out there! But no matter if you’re taking a quick summer getaway or starting a long-term living situation, it’s always a good idea to brush up on the rules of the road before getting in the driver’s seat.

While you might not have an HOA to worry about, there’s still much to consider when taking your home on the go, such as where you can park overnight, what kind of licensing is required, and additional safety rules that vary by state. Learning the local laws associated with your particular RV class before you take your next trip is the best way to ensure a smooth and stress-free journey.

This blog post is simply a general overview. When it comes to larger vehicles or towing situations, it is always a good idea to double-check city and state laws while on your adventure, as each specific area will have its own regulations. Some of these rules might only apply to the state your vehicle is registered in, such as licensing. 

Overnight Parking

So you’ve started your journey. Being on the road feels marvelous and free. You know you have a great campsite reserved at your next major destination, but it’s going to take a few days to get there. You start to wonder, “Where can I park overnight?”

If you find yourself needing a last-minute overnight parking spot for your RV or camper, here are a few safe bets (and some definite no-gos).

Overnight parking at rest areas is a no-no.

Most states have laws against spending the night at rest areas because those spots are for… well… rests. Use the bathroom, have a snack, maybe take a power nap, but don’t think about staying overnight. Each state has its own limitations on time spent at a rest area before you can get in trouble. For example, we wouldn’t recommend staying at a rest area longer than 4 hours in Minnesota or 10 hours in Nebraska. But don’t stress just yet – you still have plenty of options.

Park at campgrounds or * ding, ding, ding * casinos.

Whether you like to hit the poker table or not, it’s good to note that most casinos offer overnight RV and trailer parking. Some won’t charge you a penny, while others may require a small fee. Either way, the option is there if you find one along your route.

Other overnight-RV-parking honorable mentions: Cracker Barrel, Cabela’s, Costco, Walmart, or Flying J Truck Stops. Find more information on safe-to-park spots here.

Driver’s Licenses

Let’s say you bought your dream RV or camper van, and it’s sitting in your driveway. Can you legally drive it? In some states, such as Arizona, Ohio, and Washington, you don’t need any additional licensing outside your standard driver’s license to hit the road.

However, some states require a non-commercial special driver’s license or a commercial driver’s license (CDL), especially if you plan to get behind the wheel of a bigger rig, like a Class A. Many states require a CDL, but it’s always best to check your local state laws as these things depend on your RV class and vehicle weight. Find your state here and see what kind of licensing you’ll need to get your show on the road.

Another great place to check on RV licensing requirements is this state-by-state breakdown by Campanda Magazine.

Safety Features

If RVs aren’t your thing and you prefer to hitch a trailer or fifth-wheel to the back of your truck or SUV, then you may have some extra safety features to add, such as brake systems, mirrors, and lights. Use this as a general guide as each state will have different requirements.

Brake Systems

Federal law states that all trailers being used for commercial purposes and weighing more than 3,000 lbs. GVWR must have brakes. However, what constitutes “commercial purposes” can be a bit tricky to define and specific state laws may have varying rules on this.

The 3,000 lbs. rule is pretty standard across most states, with some outliers. For example, Massachusetts requires all trailers with an unladed weight of more than 10,000 lbs to have air or electric brakes. Michigan requires independent brakes whenever a trailer’s gross weight is more than 15,000 lbs.

Before you haul your travel trailer, be sure to find out if your state follows the 3k rule or has different weight requirements.

Trailer Mirrors

We all know our cars, vans, and RVs need rear-vision mirrors on either side of the vehicle – that’s pretty standard across the country. However, each state has its own regulations around when and where you need rear-view mirrors on longer vehicles or when pulling a trailer.

Generally, if your standard mirrors can’t see past your vehicle or trailer (especially if your interior mirror is obstructed), then some extended trailer mirrors might be a smart investment for life on the road. As long as you can see at least 200 feet past the end of whatever you’re driving, then you’ll be legal in pretty much the entire country.

Safety Lights 

While all vehicles on the road are required to have a certain combo of lights and reflectors, how do you know which ones are meant for your specific trailer? While RVs and camper vans will have those features built-in as they are continuous vehicles, trailers are another story.

Federal law stipulates that trailers need:

  • Red tail lamps
  • Red stop lamps
  • Front, side, and rear reflectors
  • A license plate lamp
  • Rear turn signals
  • Rear hazard signals.

As always, check with the state your vehicle is registered to, just in case there’s some variation in these requirements.

RV Classes: Which one are you?

In addition to the various licenses that your rig might require, it is also important to know which RV class your vehicle falls under when living on the road.

Knowing the weight, height, and length of your vehicle or trailer is good information to have on hand as you drive from state to state.

5 types of rv trailers and motorhomes - class b, class c, fifth-wheel

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