Trailer Towing Laws in 2020

trailer towing laws

When it comes to trailer towing laws, I bet it wouldn’t surprise you to learn they vary considerably state-to-state.

Law enforcement are very strict with their application of these laws, so it’s always worth checking them before buying a new trailer or crossing state lines.

Here’s a summary of the main trailer towing laws.

Width of Trailer

In the majority of states (47 in total) you won’t need a wide-load permit if your trailer’s width is under 8 ft 6” (102 Inches).

As Jon Boats are small their trailers are around 60”, so you not likely to encounter any legal problems with trailer width.

Trailer Brakes

All but seven states legally require trailer brakes for heavier trailers. These brakes must be on all wheels and be able to operated from the cab of your vehicle.

Generally, the gross weight of the trailer must be in excess of 3,000lbs to require brakes. Again, considering the highest load capacity for Jon Boat trailers is around 2,000lbs, this shouldn’t be a problem.

If (like me) you’re wondering which states don’t require trailer brakes (but alert drivers…) they are: Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming.

For a full state-by-state list you can check this page from AAA.

Towing Speed

Again, speed limits vary on a state-by-state basis. As a general rule of thumb, with a small trailer you can legally go as fast as without. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should!

Some notable exceptions are California, where a 55 mph limit is imposed on all vehicles carrying trailers. Kansas, Conneticut and West Virigina also operate a 55 mph (unless posted) rule. You can find the full list here.

Trailer Lights

Under federal law, all trailers are required to have brake lights, tail lights, turn signals, side lights and rear and side reflectors.

The law around trailer lights is pretty stringent and varies considerably between states. In some states you need two tail lights, in others just one. Some states also require you to have a registration plate light. So you can see the trailer light laws need to be checked and you can find then by states here.

Trailer Safety Chains

Most states require safety chains when towing a trailer. You can find out which ones do and a great interactive map at the website.

Safety chain attachment is an important consideration when purchasing a trailer hitch. It’s prudent to buy one that allows for the connection of safety chains.

I’m sure you’ll agree, the thought of hitting a bump in the road and becoming disconnected from a trailer on a freeway is not one to contemplate.

The federal law Section 393.70 offers more information and guidance.