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How Many People Can Legally Ride in an RV While Driving?

| Updated May 10, 2024

The rule of thumb is the number of passengers should equal the number of seat belts, but what is the law? How many people can legally ride in an RV while driving?…

This was a hot topic in our RV Lifestyle Facebook group this week. The post that raised the question garnered more than 150 comments, with answers that were seemingly contradictory.

Many commentators said it depends on the number of seatbelts, and others said however many your RV fits. So, who is right?

Well, they might all be right… depending on the state they're from. The number of passengers you can transport in an RV mostly depends on which state you're traveling in. However, that's not the only factor. The type of RV and age of the passengers also matter.

So, let's try to answer this question more fully. Here's how many people can legally ride in an RV while driving based on several factors…

The Safety Rule of Thumb

How Many People Can Legally Ride in an RV While Driving?

Based on the comments in this post, we'd bet that an official poll would reveal that most RVers think you should only transport as many passengers as you have seat belts for. If you've ever seen an RV accident, you'd likely agree.

Modern passenger vehicles are structurally designed for accidents (i.e., crumple zones & airbags). RVs, on the other hand, are not. The cab of a motorhome usually has these safety features and designs, but not the livable areas of the RV.

In most cases, the only main safety feature in the livable areas are seat belts. So, most RVers will say you should take advantage of these seat belts to protect your loved ones, regardless of the law.

But what is the law?…

How Many RV Passengers Can You Legally Transport?

First off, every state requires all passengers in the cab of a motorhome to wear seatbelts. The only exception is New Hampshire, which doesn't legally require adults to wear seat belts. RV Seat Belt Laws get more complicated when talking about passengers in the back.

Here's a breakdown of state seatbelt laws…

*Disclaimer: This article is intended to inform RVers as best as possible so they can stay safe and legal during their travels. State driving laws change, and sometimes we simply get things wrong.

So, you should always double-check the RV seat belt laws of the states you're visiting. Their state transportation (i.e., DOT website) will have the most accurate, up-to-date information.

What States Require All Passengers to Wear Seat Belts?

Nineteen states plus D.C. require every occupant to wear seat belts regardless of age or where they're riding in an RV. These states are:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Delaware
  • Georgia 
  • Hawaii
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Washington D.C. 
  • Wyoming

Age-Related & Other Seat Belt Laws for RV Passengers

Twenty-four states have specific regulations depending on age and other factors. Again, all cab passengers are required to wear seat belts in every state, except adults in New Hampshire. The following applies to passengers riding in the rear of an RV.

The following are required to wear seat belts in an RV:

  • Arizona (under 16 years old)
  • Connecticut (under 17)
  • Florida (under 18)
  • Idaho (all occupants in vehicles less than 8,000 lbs.)
  • Illinois (under 16)
  • Kansas (under 15)
  • Louisiana (under 13)
  • Michigan (under 16)
  • Minnesota (under 11)
  • Mississippi (under 11)
  • Missouri (under 16)
  • Nebraska (under 18)
  • New Hampshire (under 18)
  • New Jersey (under 18)
  • New York (under 16)
  • North Carolina (under 16)
  • North Dakota (under 18)
  • Oklahoma (under 13)
  • Pennsylvania (under 18)
  • South Dakota (under 18)
  • Tennessee (under 17)
  • Texas (under 18)
  • Virginia (under 17)
  • West Virginia (under 18)
  • Wisconsin (under 16)

IMPORTANT NOTE: Seat belts cannot be used in lieu of car seats as required by state law! Every state has car seat and booster seat laws that must be followed in RVs as well as passenger vehicles. 

How Many People Can Legally Ride in an RV While Driving?

The Legal Rule of Thumb

As you can see from the above lists, the legal rule of thumb aligns with the safety rule of thumb. Most states either require all rear passengers or all younger passengers to wear seat belts. So, if you don't know specific state laws, it's best to assume that all passengers or, at the very least, all minors are required to wear seat belts

If you did the math, you may be wondering what six states aren't listed above:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Indiana
  • Maryland
  • Ohio

RV Sleeping Capacity vs. Passenger Capacity

It's important to note that RV sleeping capacity is often not the same as passenger capacity. In fact, passenger capacity is often less than sleeping capacity.

So, if an RV sleeps 8, don't assume it has 8 seat belts. Passenger capacity in states that require everyone to wear seat belts is equivalent to the number of seat belts in the RV.

Now, passenger capacity in states with age and other restrictions falls more into the gray area. Restricted passengers (e.g., minors) must wear seat belts, but what about any additional passengers who aren't required to wear seat belts? Can you pile them in like a clown car?

We don't know the answer to this. This falls more into the gray area, and you'd really need to dig down into individual state laws if you plan to transport a bunch of people in your RV. However, keep in mind that states have various endangerment laws that they can probably invoke if they think you've crossed a line.

Can You Add Seat Belts to an RV?

Technically, yes, you can add seat belts, but making them meet federal regulations may be difficult or even impossible. Many auto shops won't touch this job with a 10-foot pole for liability reasons.

Even if you do find someone to install them properly or you properly install them yourself, they may still not be officially recognized as seat belts. So, you will achieve additional safety (which may be all you care about), but not necessarily be covered legally or by insurance.

If you throw a strap across a seat and try to call it a seat belt, you're not providing additional safety or legal coverage. Seat belts and seats must be properly anchored to provide real value.

You're best bet to be covered legally and by insurance is to speak with the manufacturer or dealer on customizing an RV for your needs.

Motorhomes vs. Towable RVs (5th Wheels & TTs)

Is It Legal to Ride in a 5th Wheel? (Is It Safe?!)

In 26 states, riding in a fifth wheel is illegal, and in 7 additional states, it is only allowed with certain regulations. As for travel trailers, riding in them while being towed is illegal in 39 states.

Many 5th wheels and travel trailers do not come equipped with seatbelts. So, that creates additional confusion regarding being allowed to ride in one vs. seat belt laws. A state might allow you to have passengers in a 5th wheel, but they must also be properly restrained.

Again, the simplest, safest (both physically and legally) is to have all passengers wear a seat belt regardless of age or location in any type of RV.

We have an entire article dedicated to this topic. We recommend you read Is It Legal to Ride in a 5th Wheel? (Is It Safe?!).

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Mike Wendland

Published on 2024-05-10

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

2 Responses to “How Many People Can Legally Ride in an RV While Driving?”

May 10, 2024at1:57 pm, Russ Smith said:

I did not know that! Useful info. Note correction: “Twenty FIVE states have specific regulations depending on age and other factors”

Reply

May 10, 2024at9:59 am, Matthew Ross said:

Great information, thanks. What about laying on the bed in a motorhome?

Reply

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