Do You Need a CDL to Pull a Fifth-wheel Trailer?


Fifth-wheel trailers, like other large and long vehicles, pose a significant risk for road accidents. This warrants the need to regulate and control the privilege of driving these big babies. Different regulations encompass the need for a commercial driver’s license when handling a fifth-wheel trailer and the gross combined weight of the vehicle and trailer is only a sliver of the full scope. 

So, what’s the deal? Do you need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to pull a fifth-wheel trailer? Yes, if you are using it for commercial purposes- either a Class A and B license. No, if you plan to live in the fifth wheel except in four states. Also, instead of CDLs, some states require special licenses or endorsements instead. Other states don’t have special requirements to pull a fifth wheel.

After reading this article, you will be knowledgeable about the particulars of a commercial driver’s license and its relation to fifth-wheel trailers. Also, since each state has different rules about licensing, I did a lot of research on the special licenses or endorsements needed in different states. And lastly, the states that couldn’t care less for CDLs, special licenses, and endorsements for fifth wheel owners.

When you need a CDL for your Fifth-wheeler Home

If Your Home is Very Big in  Four States –  DC, Indiana, Hawaii, and Wisconsin.

For DC and Hawaii, needing a CDL depends on the combined weight of your fifth wheel and towing vehicle, whether or not you are going to use the fifth wheel for commercial purposes or use it as an abode. A Class A CDL is needed for a vehicle-trailer combination with a gross combined weight of 26, 001 pounds, or more.

That said, vehicles with trailers latched on with a gross combination weight of 26,000 pounds and under that are not used for commercial purposes or are solely for living in do not need CDLs.

On the other hand, Indiana and Wisconsin consider the length of the vehicle rather than the weight. For both states, a CDL is required for a total vehicle-trailer length of greater than forty-five feet. While the average pickup truck has a length of around nineteen feet, fifth-wheel campers average twenty-eight and a half feet. A simple addition would tell you that most likely you need a CDL for your truck and trailer set-up for these states.

Another possible issue arises if your domicile state does not issue a CDL but you plan on visiting say, DC, with your twenty-seven thousand-pound fifth wheel and truck home. In that case, DC would require you to carry a CDL. For this instance, there is such a thing called a Non-Domiciled Commercial Driver’s License but we’ll get to that in a bit. 

If You Use Your Fifth-wheel for Business As Well 

If your fifth wheel does serve as your home but doubles as an office as well or, of course, if you primarily use it for business, it would already be classified as a CMV or a commercial motor vehicle. Some awesome examples of these are fifth-wheel trailers used as a concession trailer or a mobile kitchen and other mobile businesses such as a mobile office for construction projects or even a mobile dog grooming business! Living in your camper as well as using it for business makes a whole lot of sense since it gives you the freedom of living in a mobile home and it lowers down the cost versus actually renting an apartment and an office. So much win!

As previously said, the weight would matter if you live in a fifth wheeler home above 26,000 pounds and wouldn’t matter if you lived in a lighter and shorter fifth wheeler since you would not need a CDL in that case. It is worth mentioning now though, that even if the fifth wheel weighs lighter than 26,000 pounds but is still used for business, you’d still need a CDL.

Visiting Places that require CDLs

As is mentioned in the government site about CDLs, states are permitted to issue a CDL to an individual who is not domiciled within its jurisdiction. This is called a Non-domiciled Commercial Driver’s License. On the actual license or permit, the word “Non-domiciled” must be prominently displayed on the CDL or CLP, but does it not have to be necessarily contiguous with the words “Commercial Driver’s License,” “CDL”, “Commercial Learner’s Permit” or “CLP”. 

You would need this type of license when you’re visiting states with different requirements. For example, you are domiciled in New York and you plan to visit DC for a short trip but your fifth-wheel trailer and vehicle gross combination weight is well over 26,001 pounds. That, or you’re pulling a commercial fifth wheel across states and apparently, it’s easier to get a CDL from the other state. You need to get a Non-Domiciled Commercial Driver’s License for both cases.

A Non-domiciled CDL is issued by a State under only two conditions. Firstly, it can be issued to an individual domiciled in another state while that state is prohibited from issuing CDLs if the person obtained the license from any State which elected to issue non-domiciled CDLs and which complies with the testing and licensing standards required for CDL drivers.

The other reason for issuing a CDL is for an individual domiciled in a foreign country, other than Mexico and Canada if the person obtained the license from a State, which complies with the testing and licensing standards required for CDL drivers.

Getting your CDL for a Fifth-wheel

Classes of CDLs You Might Need

For Heavy Fifth-wheels – Class A CDL 

A Class A CDL is necessary for the driver to have when he or she is operating a commercial motor vehicle that has a GCWR or gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more whether it be for commercial purposes or a trailer home. This includes them operating any number of vehicles with the GCWR of 26,001 pounds and a vehicle they might be towing that weighs more than 10,000 pounds. A Dodge Ram 3500 truck weighing 11,400 lbs towing a fifth-wheel mobile kitchen of up to 22,550 lbs, makes a perfect example for this category.

For Light Fifth-wheels Used for Business – Class B CDL 

A Class B CDL, on the other hand, is required if a commercial vehicle driver is operating a single vehicle or that has a GCWR of 26,001 pounds or heavier. This CDL is required also when a driver is operating a vehicle that is towing another vehicle up to, but not more than 10,000 pounds. A perfect example for this case is the same Dodge Ram 3500 truck weighing 11, 400 lbs towing a Palomino Puma fifth wheel mobile dog grooming business trailer weighing 7,437 pounds in dry weight. While researching this, I looked up the fifth wheel and light does not mean cramped- this baby is 30 feet long!

Fifth-wheels, CDLs, and Special Licenses for Some States

Commercial Driver’s License for Fifth-wheels

We have mentioned four states requiring big fifth wheel home drivers to carry a CDL. But it gets deeper than that. There are certain details to that fact, too. 

For example, while it is true that DC requires a CDL for vehicles weighing above 26,000 pounds, the license applicant must only pass the CDL knowledge test and no road test is required. In Hawaii, trailers weighing more than 15,000 pounds and less than 26,000 pounds must have a Class 4 non-commercial license while those weighing well above 26, 000 pounds whether for commercial or non-commercial use are required to have a CDL.

For the two other states requiring big fifth wheeler homes CDLs, the length is taken into consideration. In both Indiana and Wisconsin, a CDL is only needed for recreational vehicles greater than 45 feet.

Non-commercial Special Licenses for Fifth-wheels

Although most states do not require CDLs for even the bigger

fifth wheel homes, they do have special licenses and endorsements for it. To start with, Connecticut requires a Class 2 license for trailers with a gross vehicle weight above 10,000 pounds. Georgia and South Carolina require a Class E or F for vehicles with a gross combined vehicle weight over 26,000 pounds while New Mexico has only a class E for the same weight class.

Illinois and Kansas have a different set of rules wherein vehicles with a gross combined vehicle weight above 16,000 pounds, or those towing above 10,000 pounds, require non-commercial Class A, B, or C respectively.

Maryland, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wyoming, and North Carolina all agree that vehicles with a gross combined vehicle weight above 26,000 pounds require a non-commercial Class A or B.

As to endorsements, a few States do not need a different license to pull a fifth wheel but they do need endorsements coupled with the regular driver’s license. Michigan, for example, requires an “R” endorsement if pulling two trailers. Nevada, on the other hand, requires “J” endorsement when the towing trailer weighs above 10,000 pounds. But if you go above 26,000 pounds in gross combined vehicle weight, Nevada requires a non-commercial Class A or B license.

New York requires an “R” endorsement for vehicles above 26,000 pounds in gross vehicular weight rating. A new law enacted last July 2005 has eliminated the non-CDL Class C license, which was previously for pulling non-commercial trailers.

States that Require No Commercial or Special Licenses

Although both Arizona and California license laws and CDL manuals imply that a CDL is required above 26,000 pounds in gross vehicular weight rating, A.R.S. 28-3102 exempts RV’s, thus fifth wheels, from CDL requirement. Rhode Island also has a similar rule of requiring vehicles weighing above 26,000 pounds a commercial Class A or B license. However, Rhode Island statute 31-10.3-16 (5) specifically exempts RV’s and fifth wheels from that rule.

Arkansas, Massachusetts, Montana, and New Hampshire driver’s license manuals state that a Class D license is valid for vehicles weighing up to 26,000 pounds whether they be commercial or non-commercial. Also, the Class D license is valid for all RV’s whatever the weight or length may be. In Colorado, although a CDL is required for trucks above 6,500 pounds, it is not required for any RV or fifth wheel for that matter. 

Lastly, in Florida, the driver’s license manual states that a Class E license is valid up to 26,000 pounds in gross combined vehicular weight. Also, Florida statute 322.53(2)(d) exempts all RV’s from CDL requirement, regardless of weight, thus, you don’t need one. On a side note, Florida is still the mecca for RV or fifth wheel living. 

Conclusion

Commercial fifth-wheel trailers definitely need CDLs. Other fifth-wheel campers who also need CDLs are non-commercial fifth wheels with a gross combined vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds and above in the states of DC and Hawaii. Indiana and Wisconsin require a CDL for fifth wheeler homes who are 45 feet long or greater. A non-domiciled CDL is also available if you’re passing through these states. If still in doubt about the need for a CDL, go lighter and shorter with your choice of vehicle and trailer and you’ll be okay. Most states do not bother checking on non-commercial fifth-wheel campers who have a gross combined weight below 26,000 pounds or if you’re under 45 feet in total length.

Ash

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