Last week an RVtravel.com reader, “Tal,” commented, “I’d like to see an article on the legal requirements for trailer brake controllers by state. I’d guess there are many RVers that are violating state laws that don’t know it.”
They may be, so we decided to look at the trailer brake laws of the 50 states to clear up any questions about the legal requirements. (The article assumes that a vehicle towing an RV travel trailer with brakes is equipped with a brake controller. The state laws do not separately address the issue.)
Fifty state trailer brake laws but only a few differences
Because the laws are similar from state to state, the easiest way to look at the state requirements is to break them down into a few categories.
For example, five states, CA, ID, NV, NH, and OR, require brakes for all trailers more than 1,500 lbs.
Kansas and Ohio set the requirement at 2,000 lbs.
These 36 states require a brake system on any trailer weighing 3,000 lbs. or more:
The remaining seven states have regulations with different requirements: DE, NC, and RI require brakes on trailers of 4,000 lbs. or greater, AK law says 5,000 lbs., while TX is 4,500 lbs. and MA is 10,000 lbs. In MO, only fifth wheel trailers require independent brake systems.
Don’t forget the breakaway cable requirements
In addition to the requirement for independent trailer brake systems, most states also require that the trailer be equipped with a “break away” system that will activate the trailer brakes in the event that the RV becomes separated from the tow vehicle.
Those are the statutory requirements. The practical reality is twofold: First, virtually all towable RVs today leave the factory equipped with independent brakes. Vintage trailers may not have them, and it is helpful to know the state rules. Trailers close to the threshold of 3,000 lbs. (i.e., Casitas, Scamps, teardrop campers, etc.), representing the majority of state requirements, are still most likely to be equipped with brakes. The reason is that having trailer brakes is by far the safest and most sensible way to travel. Secondly, if you are RVing across the country, you will likely cross the boundary of one or more states with the lowest weight threshold.
Now that you’re familiar with the specific trailer brake laws in each U.S. state, you can confidently embark on your RV journey while ensuring the safety of you, your passengers and fellow travelers on the road. Remember to double-check the current regulations before setting off, as laws may change over time.
This is good info (for the most part) for those pulling trailers. However, I think the main confusion on this subject is not about pulling trailers, but pulling Toads behind motorhomes. Where is the list of state laws that apply to this….is it the same as the trailer laws, or different????
If the tow dolly has surge brakes, is that acceptable?
Hey guys, you blew a bit of this advice. If your vehicle is legal in THE STATE WHERE IT’S REGISTERED then it’s legal anywhere you drive it. It’s called reciprocity. You will never become illegal by driving across a state line. Make sure you’re complying with YOUR state’s requirements, and drive on…
Unfortunately, reciprocity only applies to driver’s license……You need to research a little more.
No Ron L. that’s not correct. Reciprocity also applies to most equipment. Another catch all is that if you have a tandem axle trailer you cannot have brakes on only one axle, must be on both.
Most states “may” observe reciprocity, meaning you “shouldn’t” get a ticket if you violate a state’s law but are legal in your licensed state. Colorado, Delaware and Georgia are exceptions. As mentioned…. only driver’s license and registration is reciprocal in all states and Canada.
You are correct, sir. Driver’s license and vehicle license. Not required equipment.
The list is not accurate. New York State requires any trailer over 1,000 pounds empty to have brakes and any trailer that’s rated over 3,000 pounds loaded weight.
Randall, it is probably a typo, but you have MS in two categories and do not list MO. Please update
Don’t be stupid cheap! The cost of trailer brakes compared to a wreck where your trailer “pushed” your tow vehicle into a jackknifed position possibly turning it over a injuring or even killing a family member is not worth it.
EXACTLY, I also replace my tires and brakes sooner than required.
When we bought a new enclosed 14′ trailer for hauling (and storing) our rzr, I asked the sales guy if it had brakes. He said all two axle trailers have to have brakes, which our new trailer had. I’m not sure if he meant it was Nevada law or all-states law, but having brakes on this new trailer makes towing it much easier for my wife. She tows the rzr while I tow our TT when heading off on an off-road adventure.
Your list is misleading. New York State (and some others) brake requirements are any trailer weighing over 1,000 pounds empty or it’s GVW (gross vehicle rating) is over 3000 pounds. https://dmv.ny.gov/forms/mv529c.pdf
We have an after-market installed toad braking system. It is great. A very comforting feeling that when you are braking, the toad is helping. Under hard braking, you can really feel the assist.
Don’t leave home without it.