How Trailer Towing Regulations Work

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trailer towing
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You should look into several laws and safety precautions before setting out for your vacation with trailer in tow. See more car safety pictures.

If you ever feel the need to escape the stress-filled material world, there's nothing like taking the family on a camping getaway for fresh air, taking a dip in the lake and eating campfire food. You couldn't get farther away from your cubicle office and incompetent boss. It's also a great way to create family memories and bond with kids. One memory you wouldn't want to forge, however, is getting pulled over by authorities throughout the trip for violating trailer towing regulations.

To that end, don't get carried away when it comes to the trailer. Although you may want to get the biggest, baddest camper on the market, trailer towing rules in many states restrict the length, width and even height of trailers. There are also towing regulations regarding weight. Braking is more dangerous when you're towing because of the added weight of a trailer. So, if it weighs too much, you'll need special brakes. Although a police officer might not be likely to pull you over under suspicion of not having proper brakes, you'll be in hot water if it's discovered after you get into an accident.

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Planning your trip will involve more than just remembering the flashlights and hot dogs. To avoid getting tickets, getting sunk with liability costs or even causing an accident in the first place, it's wise to obey trailer towing safety rules. You'll not only have to find out the trailer towing guidelines for your state, but any state you will drive through as well. If it turns out that your trailer exceeds certain legal limits, you may need to get a special license to travel through that state.

After trudging through all these regulations, towing can seem like so much of a pain that it might not feel worth the trouble. But don't be dismayed -- on the next page we'll simplify things for you. We'll go through the basics that all states in the U.S. require and some things that several stricter states require.

 

Trailer Towing Laws by State

When you take a road trip in the U.S., you may cross multiple states. Although you may be a law-abiding tower in one state, you could be breaking trailer towing laws in another.

For instance, if you cross over from Alabama to Mississippi, you could suddenly be exceeding the maximum towing speed, which falls 10 mph (16 kph). Your trailer could be too wide -- as maximum width narrows by a six inches (15 centimeters) -- and you could suddenly need trailer brakes -- because the weight limit falls 1000 pounds [source: Bayliner.com]. In addition, states differ on their rules about multiple trailers. If you're hauling a camper and a Jet Ski behind it, you'd be OK in South Carolina, but breaking the law once you cross the Georgia state line.

Obviously, the laws for towing trailers can get confusing, so we'll break them down. First, let's get the bare necessities out of the way. No matter where you are in the U.S., you'll have to make sure the trailer you're towing is equipped with:

  • Taillights: The trailer needs operable taillights for basic road safety.
  • License plate light: Make sure to clearly display your license plate with its own light.

There's also equipment that, aside from being common sense to have for safety, is also required in the vast majority of states:

  • Safety chains: These chains, which cross over in the shape of an X to connect the trailer to the towing vehicle, help prevent separation if the hitch connection fails.
  • Brake lights: Your trailer isn't transparent. The people behind you are already having enough trouble seeing around your trailer for stops ahead, so the trailer should have brake lights of its own to prevent a rear-end collision.
  • Clearance lights: These might be required only if your trailer exceeds a certain width.
  • Turn signals: If, for instance, your trailer blocks your vehicle's signal lights, it's good to have separate turn signal lights on the trailer.
  • Reflectors: These are an invaluable precaution to keep your large trailer visible.

The following is extra safety equipment that some states require:

  • Breakaway brakes: Like safety chains, these prevent accidents when your hitch fails. These are power brakes that apply to the trailer upon separation from the tow vehicle.
  • Flares: Keep these at hand to clear off a section of the road after an accident.
  • Tie-downs: If you are loading anything on a trailer that could possibly fall off, you'll need tie-downs to secure it at multiple angles.
trailering laws by state
Luis Castaneda Inc./The Image Bank/Getty Images
Be careful at high speeds -- braking takes a lot more space when you are towing a heavy trailer. This is why all states have a maximum towing speed, which may be lower than the posted speed limit.

Improper braking is one of the biggest mistakes to make while towing. It's also the easiest for those unused to hauling such weight. The more weight you are pulling, the more momentum you have, and the longer distance it will take to stop. This is why most states require towers to get trailer brakes when their rig exceeds a certain weight limit, sometimes as low as 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms). Braking is also more dangerous as speed increases, so all states stipulate a max towing speed, which can be as low as 45 mph (72 kph).

As we saw in the earlier example, there are also some important differences in dimension requirements among trailer towing laws by state. For instance, the trailer typically must be as narrow as 8 or 8 1/2 feet. The length of the entire rig could be restricted, sometimes as low as 53 feet (16 meters). Or the trailer itself may not be longer than 35 feet (10.7 meters) in some places. The height is often capped at 12 to 14 feet (3.7 to 4.3 meters).

If you do end up in an accident, you'll want to be insured. So next we'll talk about trailer towing insurance.

Trailer Towing Insurance

As insurance companies love to remind you: Accidents happen, especially when you're not expecting them. It's easy to forget about trailer towing insurance, but you may live to regret not looking into it.

towing insurance
Andy Reynolds/Lifesize/Getty Images
You may want to look for extensive trailer towing insurance that will tow your towing vehicle and your trailer should you need it.

Many auto insurance policies also cover liability on your towed vehicle if an accident happens on the road. So, if you're towing a trailer and jackknife, your trailer would be covered under the auto policy of the vehicle you're driving -- you wouldn't need separate towing insurance for the trailer. But not all auto policies cover this. Some policies only partially cover trailers. To be sure, check your policy's fine print. If you have questions about your policy, call your insurance company.

If it turns out that certain aspects aren't covered, like physical damage, you may want to buy an insurance policy that will cover all of these things. Companies that specialize in recreational vehicle (RV) insurance often provide insurance for trailers as well. For instance, damage due to things like fire and flooding that may occur while the trailer is in storage can be covered by trailer insurance. A policy may even cover the cost of staying in a hotel if damage to your trailer makes it unlivable. If something happens to your trailer while it's on your property, the costs may be covered in your homeowner's insurance, but you should check this as well.

The cost of insurance for a policy that covers physical damage to your trailer can vary. It depends on the value of the trailer. It may also depend on your driving record, your age and gender, or even the area where you live.

Special RV Insurance
Some advise getting a separate RV insurance policy from a company that specializes in it, rather than adding it on to your auto policy. RV insurance, like some of the travel trailer insurance policies, will pay for a hotel stay if your RV breaks down on the road. RV insurance isn't very expensive -- motor home drivers aren't known to be reckless or irresponsible [source: Baker].

When you get insurance on a trailer, see if your insurance company has its own safety standards. Your policy may call for particulars that might go beyond the state requirements listed on the previous page. Still uneasy about towing? Look at the links on the next page for more on towing tips and safety hazards of towing.

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Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • "Do you need Trailer or RV Insurance?" Internet-Trailer.com. [Oct. 16, 2008]
    http://internet-trailer.com/RV-Insurance.aspx
  • "Travel Trailer & Fifth-Wheel Insurance Coverage." RVInsurancePro.com. [Oct. 16, 2008]
    http://www.rvinsurancepro.com/rvinspro_v3/traveltrailers.html
  • Baker, Kim, Sunny Baker. "The RVer's Bible." Simon and Schuster, 1997. [Oct. 15, 2008]
    http://books.google.com/books?id=OpVdSpJrg8UC
  • Bayliner. "Tow Guide." Bayliner, 2006. [Oct. 15, 2008]
    http://www.bayliner.com/towing_guide.asp
  • CA DMV. "Towing Your Trailer Safely." California Department of Motor Vehicles. [Oct. 16, 2008]
    http://www.dmv.ca.gov/pubs/dl648/dl648pt12.htm
  • The Silver Lake. "The Insurance Buying Guide." Silver Lake Publishing, 1999. [Oct. 16, 2008]
    http://books.google.com/books?id=ve2ZkDmDwOYC

2008 State Towing Laws A-B

­ ­­
­

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
Height (ft)
13.5
14
13.5
13.5
Width (ft)
8.5
8.5
8 2
8.5
Trailer Length (ft)
40
40
40
43.5
Motorhome Length (ft)
45
45
45
45
Two-Vehicle Combined Length
65
75
65
65
Triple Towing Allowed




Safety Chain




Breakaway Switch
  • 1
  • 1
  • 1
  • 1
Weight Brakes Required




Towing Speed Limit (mph)
70
45
70
70

­­­­

Note: While every attempt has been made to verify this information,
HowStuffWorks cannot guarantee its accuracy, and assumes no
responsibility for errors or omissions. Changes may have been made
since this data was compiled in September 2007. Call state and provincial
tourism offices for additional details.

  • ­ indicates “yes,” item is permitted or required.
    1
    Required on trailers over 3000 lbs.
    2
     8.5 ft. on certain federal road systems.
­­

2008 State Towing Laws C-D

­ ­­­ ­
­
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
D.C.
Height (ft)
14
13
13.5
13.5
13.5
Width (ft)
8.5
8.5
8.5
8.5
81
Trailer Length (ft)
40
­NS
NS
40
NS
Motorhome Length (ft)
454
45
45
45
40
Two-Vehicle Combined Length (ft)
65
70
602,3
65
55
Triple Towing Allowed

  • 4



Safety Chain





Towing Speed Limit (mph)
70
45
70
70

­­Note: While every attempt has been made to verify this information,
HowStuffWorks cannot guarantee its accuracy, and assumes no
responsibility for errors or omissions. Changes may have been made
since this data was compiled in September 2007. Call state and provincial
tourism offices for additional details.

  •  indicates “yes,” item is permitted or required.
    “NS“ indicates not specified.
    1
    Special wide-body regulations.
    2
     On designated rural interstates; some exceptions.
    3
    Trailer limited to 48’ in a 60’ combination.
    4
     Some exceptions or restrictions. 
­

2008 State Towing Laws F-Il

­­­

­

­
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Height (ft)
13.5
13.5
14
14
13.5
Width (ft)
8.5 7
8.5
9
8.5
8.5

Trailer Length (ft)
­40
­NS
NS
48
45
Motorhome Length (ft)
45
45
48
45
45
Two-Vehicle Combined Length (ft)
65
60
65
75
60
Triple Towing Allowed



  •  6
  •  5
Safety Chain




  •  1
Breakaway Switch


  •  2

  • 3
Weight Brakes Required

  • 4



Towing Speed Limit (mph) 70
55
60
75
55

Note: While every attempt has been made to verify this information,
HowStuffWorks cannot guarantee its accuracy, and assumes no
responsibility for errors or omissions. Changes may have been made
since this data was compiled in September 2007. Call state and provincial
tourism offices for additional details.

  •  indicates “yes,” item is permitted or required.
    “NS“ indicates not specified.
    1
    On designated rural interstates; some exceptions.
    2 Required on trailers over 3000 lbs.
    3 Required on trucks over 3700 kgs.
    4 Headlights must be used when visibility is less
         than 500 ft. YT: always, outside of city.
    5 Maximum combined length 60 ft. on selected
         highways.
    6 Total maximum combined length of 75 ft.
    7 8.5 ft. on certain federal road systems.

 

 





­­­­

2008 State Towing Laws Ind-L

­ ­ ­ ­
­
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Height (ft)
13.5
13.5
14
13.5
14
Width (ft)
­8.5
8.5
8.5
8.5
8.5
Trailer Length (ft)
40
­53
NS
NS
40
Motorhome Length (ft)
45
45
45
45
45
Two-Vehicle Combined Length (ft)
60
65
65
65
70
Triple Towing Allowed
  • 1
  •  
  • 1
  • 1

Safety Chain


  • 2

  • 3
Breakaway Switch





Weight Brakes Required




Towing Speed Limit (mph)
70
70
55
65
70

Note: While every attempt has been made to verify this information,
HowStuffWorks cannot guarantee its accuracy, and assumes no
responsibility for errors or omissions. Changes may have been made
since this data was compiled in September 2007. Call state and provincial
tourism offices for additional details.

  •  indicates “yes,” item is permitted or required.
    “NS“ indicates not specified.
    1 Total maximum combined length of 65 ft.
    2 Required on bumper hitches only.
    3 Required on trailers over 6000 lbs.

 

 





­­­

2008 State Towing Laws M-Mich

­ ­ ­
­
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Height (ft)
­13.5
13.5
13.5
13.5
Width (ft)
8.5
8.5
8.5
8.5

Trailer Length (ft)
48
­40
40
45
Motorhome Length (ft)
45
40
45
45
Two-Vehicle Combined Length (ft)
65
55
60
65
Triple Towing Allowed



  • 1
Safety Chain




Breakaway Switch

  • 2


Weight Brakes Required




Towing Speed Limit (mph)
65
65
65
55

Note: While every attempt has been made to verify this information,
HowStuffWorks cannot guarantee its accuracy, and assumes no
responsibility for errors or omissions. Changes may have been made
since this data was compiled in September 2007. Call state and provincial
tourism offices for additional details.

  • indicates “yes,” item is permitted or required.
    “NS“ indicates not specified.
    1 Maximum combined length 60 ft. on selected
       highways.
    2 Required if weight of trailer exceeds 40% of
       tow-vehicle weight.

 

 





­­­­

2008 State Towing Laws Min-N

­ ­ ­ ­
­
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Height (ft)
­13.5
13.5
14 1
14
Width (ft)
8.5
8.5
8.5 1
8.5 2

Trailer Length (ft)
­45
­40
NS
NS
Motorhome Length (ft)
45
45
45
55
Two-Vehicle Combined Length (ft)
60
53
65
65
Triple Towing Allowed
  • 3

  • 1,4

Safety Chain


  • 5

Breakaway Switch
  • 6



Weight Brakes Required




Towing Speed Limit (mph)
70
55
70
75

Note: While every attempt has been made to verify this information,
HowStuffWorks cannot guarantee its accuracy, and assumes no
responsibility for errors or omissions. Changes may have been made
since this data was compiled in September 2007. Call state and provincial
tourism offices for additional details.

  • indicates “yes,” item is permitted or required.
    “NS“ indicates not specified.
    1 Some exceptions or restrictions.
    2 Special wide-body regulations.
    3 Maximum combined length 60 ft. on selected
    highways.
    4 Total maximum combined length of 65 ft
    5 Required on bumper hitches only.
    6 Required on trailers over 6000 lbs.

 

 





­­­­­

2008 State Towing Laws N-NM

­
­
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
Height (ft)
­14.5
14
13.5
13.5
14 1
Width (ft)
8.5
8.5
8.5
8 3
8.5

Trailer Length (ft)
­40
­NS
48
40
40
Motorhome Length (ft)
45
45
45
40
45
Two-Vehicle Combined Length (ft)
65
70
NS
62
65
Triple Towing Allowed
  • 4




Safety Chain





Breakaway Switch
  • 2
  • 2



Weight Brakes Required




Towing Speed Limit (mph)
50
75
65
65
75

 

Note: While every attempt has been made to verify this information,
HowStuffWorks cannot guarantee its accuracy, and assumes no
responsibility for errors or omissions. Changes may have been made
since this data was compiled in September 2007. Call state and provincial
tourism offices for additional details.

  • indicates “yes,” item is permitted or required.
    “NS“ indicates not specified.
    1 On designated rural interstates; some exceptions.
    2 Required on trailers over 3000 lbs.
    3 8.5 ft. on certain federal road systems.
    4 Total maximum combined length of 65 ft.

 

 





­­­­

2008 State Towing Laws NY-OK

­ ­ ­­ ­ ­
­
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Height (ft)
­13.5
13.5
14
13.5
13.5
Width (ft)
8.51
8.5
8.5
8.5
8.5

Trailer Length (ft)
48
­35
53
40
40
Motorhome Length (ft)
45
45
50
45
45
Two-Vehicle Combined Length (ft)
65
60
75
65
65
Triple Towing Allowed


  • 2
  • 3
  • 3
Safety Chain





Breakaway Switch





Weight Brakes Required





Towing Speed Limit (mph)
65
55
70
55
75

Note: While every attempt has been made to verify this information,
HowStuffWorks cannot guarantee its accuracy, and assumes no
responsibility for errors or omissions. Changes may have been made
since this data was compiled in September 2007. Call state and provincial
tourism offices for additional details.

  • indicates “yes,” item is permitted or required.
    “NS“ indicates not specified.
    1 Some exceptions or restrictions.
    2 Total maximum combined length of 75 ft.
    3 Total maximum combined length of 65 ft.

 

 





­­­­

2008 State Towing Laws Ore-S

­ ­ ­ ­ ­
­­
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Height (ft)
­14
13.5
13.5
13.5
14 1
Width (ft)
8.5
8.5 2
8.5
8.5
8.5

Trailer Length (ft)
45
­NS3
NS
48
53
Motorhome Length (ft)
45
45
40
45
45
Two-Vehicle Combined Length (ft)
653
60
60
NS
80
Triple Towing Allowed




  • 4
Safety Chain





Breakaway Switch





Weight Brakes Required




Towing Speed Limit (mph)
65
65
65
55
75

Note: While every attempt has been made to verify this information,
HowStuffWorks cannot guarantee its accuracy, and assumes no
responsibility for errors or omissions. Changes may have been made
since this data was compiled in September 2007. Call state and provincial
tourism offices for additional details.

  • indicates “yes,” item is permitted or required.
    “NS“ indicates not specified.
    1 On designated rural interstates; some exceptions.
    2 8.5' on all state routes. On some other roads 8’
    3 Maximum combined length 60 ft. on selected
       highways. Special permit in OR, WI. MI maximum
       length 70 ft
    4 Total maximum combined length of 75 ft.
       limits are posted.

 

 





­­­­

2008 State Towing Laws T-V

­ ­ ­ ­ ­
­
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Height (ft)
­13.5
14
14
13.5
13.5
Width (ft)
8.5
8.5
8.5
8.5
8.5

Trailer Length (ft)
­40
­NS
40
53
45
Motorhome Length (ft)
45
45
45
46
45
Two-Vehicle Combined Length (ft)
65
65
65
68
65
Triple Towing Allowed
  • 1
  • 1
  • 3,1


Safety Chain





Breakaway Switch
  • 2
  • 2
  • 2
  • 2
  • 4
Weight Brakes Required





Towing Speed Limit (mph)
70
75
75
65
65

Note: While every attempt has been made to verify this information,
HowStuffWorks cannot guarantee its accuracy, and assumes no
responsibility for errors or omissions. Changes may have been made
since this data was compiled in September 2007. Call state and provincial
tourism offices for additional details.

  • indicates “yes,” item is permitted or required.
    “NS“ indicates not specified.
    1 Total maximum combined length of 65 ft.
    2 Required on trailers over 3000 lbs.
    3 Some exceptions or restrictions.
    4 Required on trailers 3000 lbs. and over.

 

 





­­­­

2008 State Towing Laws W-Z

­ ­ ­ ­ ­
­
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming
Height (ft)
­14
13.5
13.5
14
Width (ft)
8.5
8.5
8.5
8.5

Trailer Length (ft)
­53
­40
48
45
Motorhome Length (ft)
46
45
40L
60
Two-Vehicle Combined Length (ft)
75
65
60 1
85
Triple Towing Allowed



NS

Safety Chain



NS
Breakaway Switch
  • 2


NS
Weight Brakes Required



Towing Speed Limit (mph)
60
55
65
­75

Note: While every attempt has been made to verify this information,
HowStuffWorks cannot guarantee its accuracy, and assumes no
responsibility for errors or omissions. Changes may have been made
since this data was compiled in September 2007. Call state and provincial
tourism offices for additional details.

  • indicates “yes,” item is permitted or required.
    “NS“ indicates not specified.
    “L” indicates legislation pending to increase length
       allowance.
    1 Maximum combined length 60 ft. on selected
       highways. Special permit in OR, WI. MI maximum
       length 70 ft, WA maximum 56 ft. with permit.
    2 Required on trailers over 3000 lbs.

 

 





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