The weight – not the length – may be the factor determining whether motorhome drivers will need “a special endorsement” on their California driver’s licenses in order to operate larger motorhomes in that state.

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the California Legislature requiring a special license endorsement for the drivers of motorhomes with gross vehicle weight ratings (gvwrs) of 26,000 pounds and above, according to Jim Sheldon, special assistant to the chairman of Monaco Coach Corp. and head of ad hoc Coalition of Highline Manufacturers that is following the issue on behalf of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA).

Obtaining a special endorsement would not be as rigorous as getting a commercial vehicle operator’s license. It would require the motorhome owner passing a “self-administered medical test” and a driving test, Sheldon said during a recent RVIA Board meeting.

Sheldon recommended that the board support the bill in California requiring special license endorsements for people driving motorhomes with gvwrs of 26,000 pounds and above. “We (the highline manufacturers committee) don’t feel that (26,000-pound gvwr testing threshold) will dampen sales,” Sheldon said. “We informally polled Monaco customers and they wouldn’t be upset about having to take a (medical and driving) test.”

RVIA President Dave Humphreys also said support for the measure should be considered. “It’s hard to argue against making sure people know how to operate what they drive,” he said.

Last year, the RVIA, the Good Sam Club and other organizations representing RV enthusiasts successfully lobbied the California Legislature to increase the maximum allowable motorhome length to 45 feet. However, Gov. Gray Davis vetoed the bill.

Davis currently is preoccupied with addressing California’s electric power shortage, so it is unlikely that he will give much attention to the motorhome length issue until this summer, Sheldon said.

Consequently, the board decided to take a wait-and-see approach, agreeing to hire an independent survey firm, if needed, to question current RV owners and potential RV buyers to determine whether the additional testing requirement for bigger, heavier motorhomes would discourage people from entering the RV lifestyle.

The survey firm would be hired if it becomes clear that Davis supports the 26,000-pound gvwr-testing threshold.

At least one RVIA board member, Winnebago Industries Inc. Chairman Bruce Hertzke said he is concerned “about bringing more coaches under the testing umbrella.”

There are motorhomes in the 36-foot length range with 26,000-pound gvwrs, which means the California testing requirement would include a significant part of the motorhome industry’s mainstream, Hertzke said.

Passage of the bill in California also “could trickle down to tow vehicle-trailer combinations,” said Dianne Farrell, the RVIA’s vice president for government affairs.

Currently, between 12 and 15 states require special licenses for tow vehicle-trailer combinations exceeding 26,000 pounds gvwr, although enforcement may be lax, Farrell added.