State Brake Laws

Brake Laws - Motorhome and Travel Trailer By Mark Polk

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 motor home. 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. For a complete list of braking laws for the U.S. and Canada go to [Webmaster's Note: site page no longer available, link removed].

The brakes on a tow vehicle or motor home are designed by the vehicle manufacturer to stop the weight of that particular vehicle, not the additional weight being towed behind it. This additional weight adds a substantial increase to the distance required to stop safely.

Travel trailers and 5th wheels come equipped with electric brakes and RV dealers educate the RV consumer on the requirements for adding an electronic brake control to the tow vehicle. Some pop-ups are ordered with brakes and some without. Again, this is often times based on the braking laws for the state you live in. Keep in mind that once you cross a state line it could become illegal. My advice is if you're going to purchase a pop-up get one that has brakes.

The real culprit for disregarding braking laws is a motor home towing a vehicle behind it. Most people assume that because of the size of the motor home there is no need for a supplemental brake system on the towed vehicle and sometimes RV dealers fail to communicate the requirement for a supplemental braking system.

I for one was guilty of towing a vehicle without a braking system for quite some time. A close call, while driving through a major city during rush hour, suddenly educated me on how important it is. Another thing that surprises people is how much the vehicle they're towing actually weighs. Take your towed vehicle to a set of scales and have it weighed. Make sure it has everything in it that will be in it when you are towing it. After you weigh it double check to make sure the receiver on the motor home is rated to tow that amount of weight and that you aren't exceeding any of the motor home weight ratings like the Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR). The GCWR is the maximum permissible weight of the fully loaded motor home and the fully loaded towed vehicle combined. Most RV chassis manufacturers base their GCWR on the assumption that a supplemental brake system is being used.

Regardless of the brake system that best suits your individual needs the important thing is that you have one. There are many reasons to have a braking system on your towed vehicle.

1) It's the law
2) It can void your vehicle warranty
3) It can void your insurance
4) It will reduce wear and tear on RV brakes and other components
5) Liability
But, most importantly it SAFELY reduces the stopping distance and helps to protect you, your loved ones and the safety of others.

Happy Camping!

Copyright 2006 by Mark J. Polk, owner of RV Education 101
RV Expert Mark Polk, seen on TV, is the producer & host of America's most highly regarded series of DVD's, videos, books, and e-books.

Mark Polk is a retired U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer Three, specializing in wheeled and track vehicle fleet maintenance operations. In addition to owning and operating RV Education 101, (based in North Carolina) since 1999, Polk also has a very extensive RV background working in RV service, sales and management. Polk has a degree in Industrial Management Technology and his 30 plus years of experience in maintenance includes working as an RV technician, a wheeled vehicle and power generation mechanic, an automotive maintenance technician, Battalion and Brigade level Maintenance Officer, an RV sales manager and also in the RV financing department as the Finance & Insurance manager.

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