Do you need a CDL for your recreational vehicle?

By Jeff Todd

From trailers, campers and fifth-wheels, to motor homes and boats, people are spending their weekends on the road to the lake, rodeos, races, the river, and other recreational venues and activities. In our world of “bigger is better,” recreational vehicles are no exception. With a manufacturer’s weight rating (“GVWR” or “GCWR”) over 26,000 pounds and often towing a unit with a GVWR over 10,000 pounds, these vehicles can be as large as some commercial trucks.

Both state and federal law sets forth requirements for drivers of certain types and sizes of vehicles. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration sets minimum standards for motor vehicles used in commerce. However, states are not precluded from establishing their own laws relating to vehicle safety, which are often more specific than their federal counterpart. Oklahoma has taken an approach very similar to federal regulations, adopting the same weight ratings system to differentiate between classes of vehicles. Generally, if federal guidelines require a driver to posses a CDL, Oklahoma law does as well.

In Oklahoma, “no person…shall operate any motor vehicle upon a highway in this state unless the person has a valid Oklahoma driver license for the class of vehicle being operated under the provisions of this title.” Likewise, under federal regulations “no person shall operate a commercial vehicle unless such person has taken and passes written and driving tests which meet the Federal standards…for the commercial motor vehicle that person operates or expects to operate.”

To determine the license requirements for the driver of a particular vehicle or combination of vehicles, the weight rating of the vehicle is used to classify the vehicle. Essentially, federal and state law both require a CDL if the vehicle or combination of vehicles:

  • Has a GCWR over 26,000 pounds including a towed unit with a GVWR over 10,000 pounds; or
  • Has a GVWR over 26,000 pounds; or
  • Is designed to transport more than 15 people or hazardous materials.

Assuming the vehicle falls under one of these classifications requiring a CDL, federal regulations provide an exception for vehicles used for recreational purposes. The regulations explain that the rules do not apply to “[t]he occasional transportation of personal property by individuals not for compensation not in the furtherance of a commercial enterprise.” It has been explained that the federal recreational exemption only applies if the underlying activities are not for profit and there is no corporate sponsorship involved. If the vehicle is tagged in Oklahoma, it must also meet the more narrow Oklahoma recreation exception to avoid CDL requirements. Under Title 47 of the Oklahoma Statutes, the exemption exists for a vehicle that is “self-propelled or towed … equipped to serve as temporary living quarters for recreational, camping or travel purposes and is used solely as a family or personal conveyance.”

In summary, drivers must meet federal and state licensing requirements when operating a vehicle or combination of vehicles meeting or exceeding certain weight ratings. To be exempt from these regulations that would otherwise require a CDL, the vehicle must fit within the bounds of both federal and state exceptions. In Oklahoma, a CDL should not be required to operate a recreational vehicle used in (a) the occasional, recreational transport of persons or property, (b) strictly for non-business purposes, and (c) equipped to serve as temporary living quarters for recreational, camping or travel purposes and is used solely as a family or personal conveyance.