John Swartley
September 25, 2022

Highway Bus Laws

Gary Hatt sent me an interesting article on the size limits of RV motorhomes. This piqued my interest, so I started researching the Motor Carriers act of 1935, then the Bus Regulatory Reform act of 1982, and other related Regulatory acts. To my dismay, all these acts were about who could go where and other issues that had no regulations on bus sizes.

After considerable research, I realized each state had its own width, length, and height regulation. The Good Sam web page gave me easy access to all the states and their regulations. Most states are basically the same. Since the larger motorhomes are 102 inches wide and 45-foot-long some of the states had to modify their regulations to satisfy the huge motorhomes industry. Like Missouri, they had to modify their appurtenances to allow awnings, etc. that are standard features of motorhomes and conversion buses.

This Missouri’s Traffic Regulations Section 304.170 Regulations as to width, height, and length of vehicles — tractor parades permitted. — 1. No vehicle operated upon the highways of this state shall have a width, including load, in excess of one hundred two inches, except clearance lights, rearview mirrors, or other accessories required by federal, state, or city law or regulation.

Provided however, a recreational vehicle as defined in section 700.010 may exceed the foregoing width limits if the appurtenances on such recreational vehicle extend no further than the rearview mirrors. Such mirrors may only extend the distance necessary to provide the required field of view before the appurtenances were attached.

Colorado’s motorhome regulations, total length: 65 feet (up to 75 feet in certain circumstances); trailer length: 28 feet 6 inches; motorhome length: 40 feet (38 feet for a single-axle fifth-wheel travel trailer; 40 feet for 2- or more axle fifth-wheel travel trailer); width: 102 inches (excluding safety equipment and RV appurtenances up to 6 inches.

I found a couple of states that required the highway to be 12-foot-wide to operate a 102-inch motorhome. Not sure how motorhome operators were able to access the highways from their homes. Maybe streets come under a different regulation. By now I am sure all you have driven your Converted Buses in every state without concern about the regulations.

I did find this tidbit of information, if your RV is 40 feet in length, you will be able to access 53% of the country’s national parks. If your RV is 37 feet long, you will fit within 60% of the parks, and if it is 35 feet, you will fit in 73% of the US national parks. I guess 27% of the national parks do not allow RV’s.

In my research, I found that ten states require a special license to drive or pull an RV over a certain weight, most of the weights were 26,000 pounds. In some states, you had to take a driving test with your RV. California requires you to get a DOT physical and pass a test comparable to getting a commercial license for a truck.

I called Eagle Bus Club member Leroy Willis who lives in Kansas and questioned him about the required license. His bus is registered in a different state, so he did not have to apply for a special license. Leroy did tell me about a friend who bought an RV in Kansas and went to apply for the RV license at the local license bureau, they had no knowledge of the requirement.

When his friend showed them, the statute requiring RV endorsement, they just added the RV endorsement to his license without asking any more questions. I keep getting different answers on web pages on what these 10 states require. I did call an RV salesperson in Kansas and she informed me I would not need a special license. I doubt if anybody cares, so I am not sure what’s what.

The next article I found in my research has nothing to do with RVs or bus conversions, I just found it interesting.

The National Truck Network was authorized by the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 (P.L. 97-424) and specified in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (23 CFR 658) to require states to allow conventional combinations on “the Interstate System and those portions of the Federal-aid Primary System …serving to link principal cities and densely developed portions of the States … [on] high volume route[s] utilized extensively by large vehicles for interstate commerce … [which do] not have any unusual characteristics causing current or anticipated safety problems.” Conventional combinations are tractors with one semi-trailer up to 48 feet in length or with one 28-foot semi-trailer and one 28-foot trailer and can be up to 102 inches wide.

The way I interpret this Act was to allow cross-country truckers to have the same size regulations in each state regardless of the state’s regulations. Each state decides which routes will be added to the network map.

The official act web page had drawings and sizes on almost every conceivable type of transport or trailer, including one just for boat haulers. There are a lot of boat haulers in this area. Note the different length regulations on the car haulers above, depending on how they were connected.

I found this seat belt regulation for motorhomes in the RV section of regulations. Booster seat:
4 years less than 8 years and more than 40 lbs. less than 80 lbs. and less than 4’9” Child safety restraint: Less than 4 years or 40 lbs. Seat belt: Less than 16 years old. I assume they are the same for a bus conversion as a car.

As a general rule, passengers are not allowed to travel in a fifth-wheel trailer while it is being towed, but 21 states do allow it, including California, New York, and Pennsylvania. Restrictions apply, however, usually stipulating that there must be one unlocked exit that can be opened from inside or outside, or that passengers must be over 14 years old. Some states require that safety glass be fitted in windows of trailers carrying passengers and that all passengers wear seat belts.

I found this in my research: Most U.S. States and Canadian Provinces have their own laws on the requirement for brakes on a towed trailer. The word trailer also applies to a vehicle being towed behind a motorhome. These laws are normally based on the amount of weight being towed. One problem with this is that it might be legal to tow a 2,000-pound trailer with no brakes in the state where you live, but as soon as you cross the state line of a bordering state it is illegal to tow the same trailer without brakes.

Add to this your insurance company may not cover you in the event of an accident involving a trailer with no braking system. Again, the most important reason is for your safety and the safety of others. In some states, you are just required to be able to stop at a certain distance. In Missouri, there are no requirements for breaking a towed vehicle. Only fifth-wheel trailers must have brakes.

I lived in Steamboat Springs Colorado for 10 years and my boys never lost a day of school because of the weather. They had the snow removal equipment needed to keep all the school bus routes open. They also did not have the ice to deal with, as we do here in Missouri. There may be additional laws to abide by in snowy or hazardous conditions on a bus.

By now all BCM’s readers know all they need to know about all this information. From what I read due to the pandemic, the RV industry is booming. I wonder how many salespersons will inform the new owners of all the conflicting regulations of driving a large vehicle?

I hope you enjoy reading this article as much as I did research it. Now, if I could just remember what I learned.


Editor’s Note: You are responsible for adhering to the state laws in the state your vehicle is registered in. If you are not in compliance, then your insurance company may not cover you in the event of an accident.

Article written by John Swartley

Ten years after retiring from AT&T in 1990, John realized he needed something to keep his brain functioning. He bought a computer, (something he swore he would never do) and he started researching and writing his family’s history. This started his addiction to researching and writing.

In December of 2012, John’s first article was published in Bus Conversion Magazine. He says, “Thanks to Gary for publishing many of my articles I have been able to satisfy my “Bus Nut” addiction.”

To keep busy he writes a newsletter and publishes it in PDF format for about 150 people, whenever he finds something interesting to write about. He writes Swartley, “war stories” about his telephone career that Telecommunication History Group publishes in their Connection news, a quarterly newsletter.

He has written history booklets about the Silver Cliff/Westcliffe and Springfield Missouri telephone companies.

When he is not writing, he keeps busy by helping build hands-on exhibits for the Springfield Discovery Center which he has done for over twenty years.

You can email John with any questions or comments at

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