Ah..here, this explains it all...
Not so long ago in simpler days, the maximum width for all vehicles on
all roads in the USA was 8 feet (96 inches.) If a truck was hauling a
load wider than that, it required a special permit, and sometimes an
escort vehicle. Then a few years ago the federal government passed a law
mandating the maximum width for all vehicles on Interstate highways at
8.5 feet (102 inches.) Gradually, states began to "designate" certain
other roads as legal for 102-inch vehicles, until today nearly all
states permit them on at least some of their four-lane and even two-lane
roads. The trucking industry saw this as an opportunity to haul bigger
loads in wider trucks. According to Utility, a major truck trailer
manufacturer, orders for new 102-inch wide truck trailers now account
for over 90% of their business. Buses, even local transit buses and
school buses, are now being built on the 102-inch platform.
The RV industry, too, jumped in with both feet. At first, a few began
showing up at RV shows, and when they did, they came with considerable
fanfare with huge banners advertising: "New Wide Body!" The extra width
makes for some really interesting floor plans, including forward-facing
couches giving passengers in a motorhome a view of the road through the
windshield. If you were to visit an RV show today you might have trouble
finding a 96-inch wide unit, even if you wanted one. I would bet that
90% of people buying an RV (or renting one) don't even know how wide it
is, and they never question which roads they can or cannot drive.
The federal law only governs Interstate highways, but also mandates that
wide vehicles must have "reasonable access" to the Interstate highways.
That means that it is legal to exit the Interstate highways, and drive
on local roads for a mile or two. In Maryland, it's not to exceed one
mile, by the shortest distance possible. In Louisiana, a 102-wide
vehicle has "reasonable access, not to exceed ten (10) miles, from
designated highways or the Interstate System, to be allowed to
facilities for food, fuel, repairs, and rest, unless otherwise prohibited."
But what if you wanted to drive your 102-inch wide rig from coast to
coast on US 30 or US 50? In many of the states along the way, it may or
may not be legal, depending on the width of the pavement.
Who sets the rules?
The state agency which governs this is usually the Department of
Transportation (DOT.) Here's the deal in Alabama, Arizona, Delaware,
D.C., Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland,
Michigan, North Carolina, and West Virginia: "102 inch permitted on
Interstates and designated routes only. 96 inch limit on all other
roads." (Roads which would not be "designated routes" in these states
are generally roads with "lane widths of under 12 feet.")
In New Jersey, copy that except replace "under 12 feet" with "under 11
In New York and Pennsylvania, replace "under 12 feet" with "under 10
feet." In Oklahoma, replace "lane width of under 12 feet" with "surface
width of under 20 feet." (Which is essentially the same as lane width of
10 feet.) I wish they could all be a straightforward as Nebraska: "96
inches where posted."
Massachusetts and New Hampshire are the toughest, permitting 102" on
Interstates only. On all other roads the limit is 102" but including all
safety equipment (mirrors, for example.) If the body of your rig is 102
inches, then the total width with mirrors makes it unlawful to drive
except on Interstates.
It should be no surprise that the toughest laws are in the East, where
many roadways were laid out 200 years ago. You may have noticed that
with the exception of Arizona, all of the Western states permit 102"
wide vehicles on all roads. Hawaii permits vehicles of 108" on all
roads, the widest of any state.
In Louisiana, buses are specifically exempted, permitting them to be
102" wide on all roads. But I couldn't find ANY states which have an
exception for recreational vehicles.
But wait - it gets more confusing. I contacted the Florida Department of
Transportation, who told me that the DOT has jurisdiction only on
highways maintained by the state; saying, "There are no roads on the
[Florida] state highway system that have lanes less than 11 feet wide.
RVs with 102-inch bodies do not need an 'oversized vehicle' permit to
travel on those roads." So that's good news, right? Except the Florida
DOT continues, "You will need to contact the individual counties to
obtain lane widths and applicable restrictions for roads in their
jurisdictions." In other words, 102-inch wide vehicles are permitted on
all US-numbered highways and all state-numbered highways in Florida, but
not necessarily all county roads.
I contacted the DOT in all the restricted states asking for input for
this article. A few responded with similar opinions - it's highly
unusual to have a state highway with lanes less than 12 feet wide.
All of the states assured me that RVs ARE REQUIRED to follow the same
rules as trucks! Maryland sent me a booklet listing all the "designated"
wide body routes. In the entire state of Maryland, there are only a
dozen or so two-lane routes where wide bodies ARE permitted!
So how are you going to know which highways have lanes of less than 12
feet? Will you take out your tape measure? I think not! And how come we
have never heard of a RVer being stopped by police, who measured the
width of his rig, and wrote out a ticket? Since RVs don't stop at weigh
stations as trucks do, it is unlikely that an RVer will ever be ticketed
for unlawfully driving on a narrow road. His problems will begin only
after he's involved in a collision, and it is determined that the
unlawful width contributed to the accident.
What's the big deal, you are asking? 102 wide is only 6 inches more than
96. That's 3 inches more on the shoulder side, and 3 inches more on the
centerline side. All I need to do is drive 3 inches closer to the
shoulder, and I'm not in any more danger of a head-on crash than I would
be with a 96-wide vehicle. True, until you approach one of those old
narrow steel bridges. What if two vehicles meet on a narrow bridge, and
both are 102 inches wide? You can't pull over 3 inches; you'd hit the
guardrail. Between the two of you, you are now a full 12 inches wider
than the vehicles the bridge was designed to handle. Now, take a
102-inch vehicle and hang 4 inches of awning to the right, and maybe a
folding boat on the left, and you may be tempting a disaster!
And that's a fact, Jack