open road

State Lines

You’re happily Airstreaming on the highway—chatting hands-free on your phone with a bag of roadside produce on the passenger seat and a loaded weapon in your glove box—when you spy a sign ahead: you’re about to enter a different state. Uh oh…is what you’re doing legal when you cross state lines?

Nebraska state sign


While laws vary from state to state, “there is a reciprocity agreement between some states,” expert Airstreamer John Irwin explained to his seminar audience at an Alumaevent. “If your trailer is legal where you license it, you’re probably legal all over the United States.”

“But a good thing to do is get on the internet and look at the transportation code for your home state,” and the states you’ll be towing through. Requirements about lighting and reflectors vary, as well as rules for stopping on the side of the road should there be an emergency. (In Texas—Irwin’s home—you’d need to search the Criminal and Traffic Law Manual for the Transportation Code.)

Passing on the shoulder?

You might find specific laws you’d never think would vary, like rules about passing, and “driving on the shoulder,” said Irwin. “Texas is the only state I have ever been in where that is legal. I can actually pass other cars on a paved shoulder.”


“When I go to a different state and see a police officer, I ask them about that,” he said. “The last one, in New Mexico, said that wasn’t legal, but they’d only blink at it and let you proceed if you were doing it safely. Other states say absolutely not.”

Riding in the trailer is another rule that varies from state to state. “It’s not recommended,” said Irwin, but he added that in some states it is—only if the person occupying the trailer remains in an area designed for human habitation.


It’s critical that you know the state-by-state rules regarding gun use and transportation. Irwin, a proponent of personal protection, said “I travel on the backroads and near the border, and I don’t know what I’ll run into. If I broke down and had to walk somewhere in safety, I’d put my .380 in my pocket. I have a concealed carry permit, and I do travel armed.”

Permit reciprocity map example
Permit reciprocity map example

Study the laws and the reciprocals map online to see who honors your home state license for carrying a weapon—and look for nuances. For example, no permit is required in Texas to carry a weapon in your tow vehicle, “but you can’t legally put a gun in your pocket to hike to safety without CC permit,” he said. What about Canada? “No!” said Irwin. “Don’t even try to bring a handgun into Canada.”

Fresh produce

Several states set restrictions on bringing fresh fruit across the border; citrus and berries, in particular. Be prepared to toss—or eat—disallowed produce at agricultural inspection stations on the highway.

Eating while driving

While there’s no specific law prohibiting snacking behind the wheel, you could potentially be charged with careless or dangerous driving under a “distracted driving” law if you aren’t paying attention to the road—a rule related to the various bans on using hand-held devices to talk, text, type, dial, email, or even use a DVD player.

The “State Lines” mobile app…

…is a traveler’s guide to many variable state laws and regulations. “Traveling around the USA, you may have had some of the same experiences we have,” states the description by the developer. “You pull into a new state, decide it’s a good night for a beer, and assume you can stock up at a grocery store. You search and search, only to find none for sale, or that you can’t buy any alcohol on a Sunday, or that what is sold in stores is not ‘real’ beer. Frustrating!”

state lines mobile app
“State Lines” iPhone app

The State Lines app helps you avoid this party foul, and more. “You’re sitting at a red light, waiting to make a left from one one-way street onto another. There’s no traffic, but is it legal to make a left on red?” states the app description. “It may be in your home state, but what about here?” Other issues that vary from state to state include child safety seat laws, guidelines for rest areas, the legality of radar detectors, punishments for texting, and, of course, time zones and sales tax percentage (good to know, to save on gas prices).

“We’ve noticed major state-to-state differences in everything from public smoking bans, towing laws, alcohol laws, gas and diesel taxes, special time zone rules, helmet laws, leash laws and much more. It’s amazing how much stuff can change right under your nose when you cross a state line.”

The State Lines app—available for iPhone and Android—is a work in progress, by travelers for travelers. Users are encouraged to help with updates and feedback on state specific information.

Outside Interests readers, weigh in with your state law tip about cell phone use—and the technology you use to work around it. Send your comment to

—By RG Coleman