Many RVers are not aware that more than one-third of U.S. states require a special driver’s license to legally drive certain types of RVs. Texas, one of the most popular domiciles for RVers, is among those.
Do You Need a Special License in Texas for Your Rig?
Texas defines three driver’s license classes—A, B and C—based on the weight of the vehicle, including anything it’s towing. Because these license class definitions are the same for both commercially- and privately-operated vehicles, some RVers mistakenly think that they need a commercial driver’s license (CDL) if their rig falls into the A or B classes. That is not the case. Texas operators of RVs for personal use, regardless of weight, are exempt from CDL requirements. (see item 4 under “CDL Exemptions”) For this reason, their special licenses are often called “Class A (or B) Exempt” or “Class A (or B) non-CDL” to distinguish them from both CDLs and the regular Class C driver license used for regular passenger automobiles.
The table below can help you determine whether you need more than a Class C license in Texas to legally operate your rig. Find the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of your motorhome or tow vehicle in the first column, the GVWR of your trailer or toad in the second column and the combined GVWR of both vehicles in the third column. The last column shows the class of license you will need.
Be aware that all the regulations use GVWR, which is the maximum weight for which the vehicle is rated. Your vehicle’s actual weight (gross vehicle weight or GVW) does not matter.
(By the way, don’t confuse the classes of Texas driver’s licenses with “classes” of RVs. Even though they use the same letters—A, B and C—they have absolutely nothing to do with each other. For example, most Class A motorhome owners will need only a Class B license, while Class B and most Class C motorhome owners will need only a Class C license. And many owners of large fifth wheel trailers, which don’t have an RV “class” at all, will need a Class A license! Just remember that the required license class is based on GVWR, no matter what kind of rig you have.)
If you’re still confused about what kind of license you need, this free downloadable flowchart provides a visual to help you determine the right class of license for you. We’ve also included a handy pre-testing checklist to help you prepare for the Texas drivers license test!
Consequences of Not Having the Proper Required Class of License
If you don’t have the proper class of license for the rig you’re driving, you could receive a citation for driving without a license. In other words, having the wrong class of license for the vehicle you’re driving is treated the same as having no license at all.
In Texas, driving without a license is a misdemeanor that can result in a fine of up to $200 for a first offense, but penalties can be much higher if you’re also driving your rig under the influence, or if you’re cited in combination with another offense. You’re unlikely to be stopped by a law enforcement officer for the sole purpose of checking your license; however, if you’re stopped for another infraction, it’s likely you’ll receive the driving-without-a-license citation too.
The other possible consequence arises if you’re involved in an accident: an insurance company could deny your claim if they discover you were driving without the correct license.
Validity of your Texas Driver’s License in Other States
Each of the 50 U.S. states honors valid non-CDL driver’s licenses from the other states. So if you are properly licensed in Texas for your rig, you can legally drive your rig in any other state, even if that state has different licensing requirements.
For other states, check out our post titled: Do You Need a Special License to Drive an RV? State by State Requirements
However, if you are driving in a state with special licensing requirements for RVers and you don’t have the correct class of license from the State of Texas for your rig, the consequences could be the same as they would be in Texas. For example, if Texas would require you to hold a Class B Exempt license for your rig, but you have only a regular Class C license, you could be cited for driving without a license in any of the 14 states with special licensing requirements.
How To Upgrade Your License Class in Texas
If you need a Class A or B Exempt license in Texas, upgrading is a two-step process: first, submit an application and pass a knowledge test on a computer, then take a skills (driving) test. Again, contrary to what many believe, these tests are not particularly difficult, and you don’t need to be a driver with 18-wheeler wrangling skills to pass them.
Application & Knowledge Test
You can apply for the Class A or B Exempt license and take the knowledge test at any Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Driver License Office in the state. You don’t need to take the knowledge test at the same location where you take the skills (driving) test.
When you go to take the knowledge test, bring with you:
- Proof of U.S. citizenship (or lawful presence), identity, Social Security registration and Texas residency (use the Texas REAL ID Document Check Application to determine exactly which documents you need)
- Your current, unexpired Texas driver license
- Corrective lenses (eyeglasses or contacts) if you use them for driving
- $11 (cash, check or credit card) for the application fee
- A completed Texas DPS Form DL-14A, Texas Driver License or Identification Card Application
- A completed Texas DPS Form CDL-2, Texas Class-A or -B Driver License Application, Non-CDL Exempt Vehicles.
When you arrive at the DPS office, you’ll give the forms and your current driver license to the DPS representative. Then, you will take a test for visual acuity and colorblindness, and your new photograph will be taken. You will provide your thumbprints and pay the $11 fee. Finally, the agent will set up a computer in the testing area for you to take the knowledge test.
Everyone must take the “Texas Commercial Rules Test” knowledge test (formerly known as the “Texas CDL Special Requirements Test” or the “Texas CVO Knowledge Test”). You do not have to take the CDL General Knowledge Test, nor do you have to take the CDL Air Brakes Test, even if your rig has air brakes. In addition, if your rig is a combination–for example, a truck towing a trailer–you’ll also be asked to take the Texas CDL Combinations Test. (Because many DPS offices don’t do non-CDL tests very often, you may find that some of the staff are confused as to what tests you actually need to take.)
The Texas Commercial Rules Test covers the material found in Section 14 of the Texas Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers Handbook, while the Combinations Test covers the material found in Section 6. (Personally, though, I think every RVer should read Section 2 of the Handbook, plus Section 5 if your rig has air brakes. Even though these are not on the test, they contain a lot of valuable information that will help you be a safer driver.)
There are 20 questions on each of the knowledge tests, and you must answer at least 14 questions correctly to pass. Although you’re given up to eight hours to complete each test, if you’ve studied, it should take you only 15 to 30 minutes. You may not have or consult any written material during the test, nor can you use your cell phone.
Several websites offer practice exams for the Commercial Rules (formerly “Special Requirements”) Test and the Combination Vehicles Test. Just search for “Texas CDL practice tests”. Don’t waste your time on practice tests for the CDL General Knowledge Test, because that is not the test you’re taking. It’s important to make sure your practice test is for the “special requirements” or “commercial rules” test.
Scheduling and preparing for the Skills (Driving) Test
Once you’ve passed the knowledge test, you’re ready to move on to the skills (driving) test. You must pass the skills test within 90 days from when you paid the application fee. If you don’t, you’ll be required to start the application process over.
After you pass the knowledge test, you can register for the driving test in the Texas DPS appointment scheduling system. You’ll log in with your driver license number (if you already have a Texas license), date of birth, and last four digits of your Social Security number. Once logged in, go to the Road Skills section and click the “RV” button, and fill out the requested information to book your appointment. (Unlike the knowledge test that you can take at any DPS office in the state, only certain DPS offices administer the skills test.) The system will then show you available dates and times for your test and allow you to book an appointment. Within the appointment scheduling system, you can also cancel and reschedule appointments and check for, and change to, better dates and times when they become available and search other offices for better appointments.
Before you take the skills test, you’ll need to complete the new Impact Texas Drivers (ITD) Program, a free online video course about the dangers of distracted driving. Upon completing the ITD Program, you’ll be issued a certificate of completion. You must take your skills test within 90 days of completing the ITD Program. (You do not, however, need to comply with the Federal “Entry Level Driver Training (ELDT)” requirements; these apply only to CDL applicants.)
You should drive your own rig for the skills test. If you have a motorhome and you usually tow a vehicle (“toad” or “dinghy”) behind it, you are required to bring it for the test only in the unusual situation where the combination of vehicles bumps you into a higher licensing class. In this case, you would need to bring your toad connected for towing but be sure to tell the examiner if your combination can’t be safely backed up because of the risk of damaging the toad.
So, how can you legally drive your rig to the test without the proper license? Unofficially, at least, this is simply not an issue. One person who asked was told by the DPS office, “We are licensing, not enforcement.” With so many RVers unaware of the Class-A/B licensing requirements, the DPS staff is likely to be appreciative that you are trying to take appropriate measures.
In addition to your rig, also bring your:
- current Texas driver license
- eyeglasses or contacts, if you’re required to wear them for driving
- proof of current liability insurance
- most recent registration receipt (with a current registration sticker on each vehicle)
- most recent safety inspection report for each vehicle
Make Sure You're Prepared for Your Texas Drivers License Skills Test
Download our free printable PDF prep and skills test checklist to be sure you’re prepared for your new Texas License.
Beginning of the Skills Test
You’ll be relieved to know that the skills test is not the same as the rigorous CDL test described in the Texas Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers Handbook. Instead, it’s more similar to the test you took when you first obtained your driver license for a passenger car, except that you’re now driving your RV.
The examiner will review your documents and then inspect your vehicle to ensure each of the following mechanisms are working properly:
- front turn signals and emergency flashers
- brake lights
- rear turn signals and emergency flashers
If any of this equipment is not working properly, or if you’re missing current license plates (front and rear, both physically mounted to the vehicle), windshield wipers, rearview mirrors or safety belts, your vehicle is not legal to drive. You will receive a courtesy warning and not be allowed to take the driving test. For this reason, check all these items yourself before going to take your test. Unlike a commercial vehicle, you are not required to have emergency equipment on board, such as a fire extinguisher or reflector triangles.
Next, the examiner will get into the front passenger seat with you. No one else (including your spouse) is permitted to ride along. The examiner will grade you on four areas:
- vehicle control
- observation (including turning your head to look in your mirrors and blind spots)
- positioning your vehicle in the driving lane
- signaling turns
He or she will also remind you that you are responsible for the control and safe operation of your vehicle, and that if you cause an accident or break any laws, you will fail the test. This is the time to ask questions, as conversation is not permitted during the test itself.
“Off-street” Portion of the Skills Test
The skills test is administered in a single phase, and you must score at least 70 points to pass. Because the parking maneuvers are part of this single phase, you can pass the test even if you fail your “off-street” maneuver–something that is not possible for a CDL applicant.
The first part of the actual test is the “off-street” portion, during which you’ll be asked to perform one of the following maneuvers in a course marked with orange cones in a parking lot:
- Straight-line backing: back up approximately 60 feet in a straight line between two rows of cones without touching or crossing over them.
- Offset backing: back into a space that is to the left or right rear of your vehicle. You will drive straight forward to a point that the examiner designates. From that position you must back the vehicle into the opposite lane until the front of your vehicle has passed the first set of cones without striking the boundary cones.
- Parallel parking: You will drive past the entrance to the parallel parking space with your vehicle parallel to the parking area, and then back into the space without crossing front, side or rear boundaries marked by cones. You are required to maneuver your entire vehicle completely into the space without hitting the curb or side boundary.
Each of these maneuvers is explained in Section 12 of the Texas Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers Handbook.
You are not allowed to use an outside helper or “spotter.” And, unlike on the CDL test, you are not allowed to exit your vehicle to check its position. Instead, you must use your mirrors. You are allowed to pull forward to clear an encroachment or get a better position, although if you do this excessively, expect a points deduction.
“On-street” Portion of the Skills Test
After the “off-street” portion of the test, the examiner will direct you to an adjacent road. You will be instructed to turn left or right when needed and told when to change lanes. The directions are specific, so listen carefully. Many directions will be preceded by, “when it’s safe to do so…”, as a reminder that you are responsible for safe operation. You’ll drive around secondary and neighborhood roads mostly, but a highway might also be included.
You’re graded on control, observation, positioning and signaling in each of the following maneuvers:
- changing lanes
- merging into traffic
- use of lanes
- yielding right of way where required
- approaching corners
- traffic signals and signs
- left and right turns (at least three of each)
Be sure to come to a complete stop at intersections with the front of your vehicle behind the heavy white line. Then, if needed, pull forward to see into the intersection. Also, be sure to observe applicable speed limits, but don’t drive too slowly. This can also cause a points deduction. Finally, check your position in your lane frequently, using your wide-angle mirrors. The examiner will be watching this closely.
Congratulations - You Passed!
Start to finish, the skills test will last about 20 to 30 minutes. At completion, the examiner will summarize your performance, tell you if you passed and give you a copy of the test results. If you passed, the examiner will collect your driver license and ask you to wait inside for a few minutes, after which he or she will return your license with the top cut off, along with a temporary license printout. You must carry both licenses with you when driving until you receive your replacement plastic license in the mail about 2-3 weeks later.
License Expiration and Renewal in Texas for RVers
A Texas Class A or B Exempt driver license is valid for eight years, just like a Class C license. However, upgrading from a Texas Class C license to a Class A or B Exempt license does not reset your existing license renewal date, so your initial Class A or B license will have the same renewal date as your old Class C license.
Unlike Class C licenses, a Class A or B Exempt license must be renewed in person at a DPS office unless you are outside the state and can meet the eligibility requirements for out-of-state renewal by mail. Because you can renew your license anytime within the one-year period before it expires and keep the same expiration date, if you are visiting Texas anytime during this period, the easiest way to renew is to walk into a DPS office and take care of it in person.
If you can’t get back to Texas during your renewal window, you can find the entire list of eligibility requirements to renew by mail in the Out-of-State/Out-of-Country Renewal Packet. It’s a long list, but the major requirements are:
- You are a US citizen domiciled in Texas,
- Your existing license expires in less than one year and has not been expired for more than two years,
- You are less than 79 years old, and
- Your vision, physical, or mental condition have not changed in a way that affects your ability to operate a motor vehicle.
If you’re eligible, the specific requirements to renew by mail are explained on the Out-of-State Renewal or Replacement page of the Texas DPS website and in the Out-of-State/Out-of-Country Renewal Packet. Basically, most applicants will need to complete and submit the following:
- Out of State/Country Application (Form DL-16)
- Copies of two acceptable documents from different companies or agencies containing your name and Texas address, OR a notarized Texas Residency Affidavit (Form DL-5)
- Eye Specialist Examination (Form DL-63), including results of a vision test conducted by an eye specialist or authorized driver license personnel from another jurisdiction
- Texas Class A or B Driver License Application, Non-CDL Exempt Vehicles (Form CDL-2), which must be notarized since you will not be signing it in person at a DPS office
- A check for the required fee ($32.00 as of 2020)
All of the forms listed above except for the Form CDL-2 are contained in the Out-of-State/Out-of-Country Renewal Packet.
DAVID GOLDSTEIN, a former attorney and entrepreneur, is now Escapees Hangouts Director with his wife Cheryl. Since 2016, they have lived full time in their 40-foot, fifth-wheel trailer towed by a Ford F-450. Both earned their Texas Class A exempt licenses in 2016. Follow their travels at LandmarkAdventures.net.
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