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Vacationing with your family in a truck camper can be a lot of fun, allowing you to go pretty much anywhere and camp wherever you want. Just pop the camper into the bed of your truck, tie it down and you’re good to go. But is it legal to ride in a truck camper? The short answer is yes in most states but every state has different laws you need to be aware of.

If your family includes more than just yourself and a partner, you need to decide where everyone will sit. Kids and pets especially need to ride securely.

One solution to this problem is to buy a truck with an extended cab or crew cab. Extended cabs have smaller seats behind the front seat, while crew cabs have full-sized seats and separate doors. Usually, the back seat will comfortably and safely seat three, with seat belts to match.

However, if you have a standard pickup, the front seat probably accommodates just two. Where to put the rest of the family? The logical answer is for them to ride in the truck camper. But is that legal? Even more important…. Is it safe?

Is it Legal to Ride in the Back of a Truck Camper?

In general, the answer is yes. With just a few exceptions, most states allow passengers to ride in the camper while the truck is in motion.

This is a little surprising since most of the same states don’t allow passengers in a travel trailer or 5th-wheel. This may just be the result of poor classification. According to the RV Industry Association (RVIA), the laws of most states simply don’t address the issue of truck campers.

Among the states that do discuss truck campers or pickup campers in their statutes, some explicitly forbid passengers, and a few others place some conditions on them. Here’s a list of states that specifically outlaw passengers from riding inside a truck camper:

  • Arkansas
  • Maine
  • Mississippi
  • New Hampshire
  • Pennsylvania (although riding in a 5th-wheel is ok)

Other states have specific restrictions on passengers in a truck camper. These are mostly restrictions on the age of the passengers, although some states require that passengers be able to access the truck cabin – a feature not always standard on truck campers.

Here are the states that set limits on passengers riding inside a truck camper:

  • California – Passengers in a pickup truck camper must be able to communicate with the driver. The camper exit must be able to be opened from both inside and outside. Safety glass in windows and seat belts are required.
  • Georgia – Riders in a pickup truck camper must-have “free access to the drive compartment.”
  • Hawaii – Passengers in a truck camper must be 13 years old or older.
  • Kansas – Passengers fourteen years and older are permitted in 5th-wheels, travel trailers and truck campers.

Laws are constantly changing, so it’s a good idea to check your state regulations as well as those of the states you’ll be traveling through before hitting the road.

Is It Safe to Ride in a Truck Camper?

Legal or not, a few precautions will make it safer if you decide to let people ride in the truck camper while you are driving down the road.

  • Triple check your tie-downs and turnbuckles. The idea of losing your camper as you ride down the road (and it happens) is horrific.
  • Whatever the regulations, never let kids ride in a truck camper unsupervised. The same goes for pets who might panic if left alone.
  • Pets should be secured in a carrier for the trip, not left loose inside the camper – however, we never recommend leaving your pet unattended in the back of a truck camper.
  • Think about installing seat belts in the camper – and insist on riders using them. Imagine a sudden stop and the injuries that might result.
  • Secure all loose objects before setting off. A can of coffee or video game controller can cause untold damage.
  • States that require communication between the truck cab and the camper area have the right idea. If a pass-through window is out of the question, consider walkie talkies or an intercom. Relying on cell phones does not work consistently.
  • Be sure the door of the camper is unlocked. In the event of an accident, emergency crews may need to get inside fast, or your passengers may need to get out.
  • Install a carbon monoxide monitor in the camper, to be sure exhaust isn’t leaking into the cabin as you drive. Battery operated and 12-volt models are available to keep your riders safe on the road.

Can I Legally Ride in a 5th Wheel?

A 5th wheel trailer is far bigger than a typical flatbed or pickup truck trailer and often loaded down with luxury features such as a hot tub, tiled baths, and numerous slide-outs. But it still presents many of the same limitations as a truck camper, in particular, the limited seating in the tow vehicle.

As far as regulations go, riding in a 5th wheel while in motion is legal – or at least not specifically forbidden – in only 23 of our 50 states. It’s not allowed in the states listed above that don’t allow passengers in a truck camper – except for Pennsylvania, where riding in a 5th wheel is allowed, but not in a truck camper.

States that permit passengers to ride in a 5th wheel currently include Arizona, California, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The legal situation is made more difficult by the fact that many of these states don’t specifically address 5th wheel trailers in their statutes. So riding in them is assumed to be ok by default. Definitions vary as well, with mobile home, house trailer, recreational vehicle, trailer coach, semi-trailer and travel trailer all taking on sometimes contradictory meanings. Even lists of states’ regulations from sources like the RVIA and AAA often contradict each other, and state laws can change without warning.

Specific regulations by state currently include:

  • California and Oregon require safety glass in windows and doors, audible or visual signaling device between driver and 5th-wheel passengers, and at least one unobstructed exit which can be opened from both inside and outside.
  • Kansas enforces its 14 and older rule.
  • Montana requires that the 5th-wheel trailer hitch be mounted on no less than a half-ton truck.
  • Pennsylvania requires that the 5th-wheel have safety glass in all windows, be attached to the tow truck by a 5th-wheel coupling device with a 2″ or larger kingpin. And must have a state-approved electronic communication system between the truck and 5th-wheel.
  • South Dakota requires that the 5th-wheel be attached with a 5th-wheel device and equipped with safety glass in windows and doors, an audible or visual signaling device between the driver and 5th-wheel passengers, and at least one unobstructed exit capable of being opened from both the inside and outside.
  • In Wisconsin, 5th-wheel passengers under 12 must be accompanied by someone 16 or over, the trailer must have safety glass and a working two-way voice communication system between 5th-wheel passengers and the driver of the towing vehicle.

With this ever-shifting pattern of regulations, planning a trip can become complicated, especially if you plan to cross a lot of state lines. It’s always best to check current statutes in the states you’ll be traveling in before you set out.

The same safety precautions should be taken for passengers in a 5th wheel as are listed above for riders in a truck camper. Special attention needs to be paid to the security of the hitch mechanism, and you should seriously consider installing seat belts to keep your family safe.

Another issue is the possibility of the 5th-wheel swaying and getting out of control, even flipping. Avoid driving in high winds, use a lower gear to slow down instead of hitting the brakes, and, above all, keep your speed down.

Keep in mind that it is always unsafe, and usually illegal, for anyone to ride unbelted in any vehicle, whether a truck camper, 5th wheel, pickup truck or motorhome. No matter how safely you drive, accidents can happen. And as a driver, you have limited control over what’s happening in your truck camper or 5th wheel. Are you sure the kids will remain in their seats? That they won’t try to open the door?

Our advice is: play it safe! Don’t transport passengers in your truck camper or 5th wheel, except during an emergency such as an evacuation.

Do you have any tips or advice about riding in a truck camper? Please leave your comments below!

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