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ATVs can be fun and cool to ride, but you might want to think again before taking yours on public roads if you haven’t checked the regulations that apply in your area. If you live in Michigan, the first thing you might want to do is check and see how the state’s law defines these vehicles. 

According to the legislation, ATVs are 3 or 4-wheeled vehicles that are specially designed for off-road use, thus featuring low-pressure tires. A seat is designed to the rider, and the vehicle itself is powered by a gasoline engine that has a power between 50cc and 500cc, or another type of engine of similar size using other types of fuel. 

Legal requirements 

When it comes to title and license, Michigan residents are required to obtain these in order to be allowed to drive the vehicle on public roads. The title can be obtained through the Secretary of State, and if you’ve recently purchased an ATV from a dealer, then the vehicle must also have a certificate of origin. This certificate has all the information you need to get the title. 

It’s also good to know that selling an ATV or UTV without a title is illegal, and it’s also illegal for a buyer that has such a vehicle without a title to not apply for it within 15 days of purchase. In addition, the owner of an ATV needs to license the vehicle with the Department of Natural Resources, in order to be allowed to use it on public lands. 

This rule doesn’t apply to non-residents, but they are required to still license it, in case they are riding in the state. In this case, you may want to check with the local authorities and see exactly in which circumstances this should be done and how this rule applies in your area. 

While the state’s laws need to be followed, you shouldn’t forget about local ones that are equally important. However, most of these regulations apply if you intend to use the vehicle on public lands, but you can also license it as a “street vehicle”. In this case, you will still need to get an ORV license, which is a license that any ATV and UTV must have if you intend to use it off-road. 

What about equipment? 

As you can imagine, these vehicles come with some safety regulations that need to be followed whether you intend to operate the ATV on the street or off-road. The first and most important one for your own safety is wearing a helmet. Any ATV operator and passenger must wear one at any given point while on the vehicle. 

When it comes to safety gear, you should keep in mind that certain standards apply, which means that when you go out to purchase yours, you need to make sure that the products you choose are compliant to these. They are usually signaled on helmets through stickers and other similar markings that let you know you are buying a safe product. 

Given that safety should be paramount, there’s no use to go for a cheaper alternative, if you suspect that it doesn’t offer the same level of protection that a more expensive one does. Furthermore, according to the law, if the helmet you choose doesn’t include a faceguard, then you must also wear goggles. 

In the case of UTVs, the helmet rule might not be mandatory, as long as seatbelts are available and worn, and the vehicle also features a roof that meets safety standards. On the other hand, even in this case, experts recommend that you should wear a helmet and put your own safety first. 

Since we’re going through the legal requirements for operating an ATV, it’s crucial to mention the braking system. This needs to be in good working condition, and it should be operated by hand or foot. The unit should also include a throttle system that is specially designed to immediately and automatically return the engine to idle when pressure is released. 

Passengers should only ride the vehicle if they have a designated seat, while the vehicle also needs to include a headlight, brake light, and taillight if the ATV is operated during night time. 


A few words on age 

One of the main questions that many of us ask ourselves is “How old does a person have to be in order to operate an ATV?”. In the case of Michigan, the answer is 16. However, young riders should know that they need to complete a safety education program and receive a certificate that must be carried by the operator at any given time while using an ATV. 

However, no person under the age of 16 is allowed to operate a 3-wheel ATV, while kids that are 10 or 11 may only operate one on their parent’s land and if they have a valid ORV safety certificate. They also need to be under the direct visual supervision of an adult when they operate the unit. 

It’s also important to note that direct visual supervision refers to having direct observation with either unaided or normally corrected eye, as well as being close enough to be able to offer immediate aid in case this is necessary. This is what the law says, but any parent should do at least this, if not more, to ensure that the kid can safely enjoy learning how to operate an ATV. 

Where can an ATV be operated? 

ATVs and UTVs can be ridden on the designated trails and roads, and not doing this can constitute a criminal violation and also damage the environment. While these can be fun vehicles, one must be aware that they can be dangerous if they are not operated in a safe manner and on the designated paths. 

Moreover, these vehicles should not be operated on a privately-owned land without the express permission of either the landowner or of someone who is legally able to grant it. Michigan has plenty of roads that are open to ATV use, and all you need to do is possess the ORV license in order to use them. 

Rules may indeed differ depending on the region, but following the street signs should be helpful in certain situations when you are already on the road and not sure which way you are allowed to go. Highways usually have a special standing, in that lower-speed vehicles are not allowed on them. 

However, these laws may vary, depending on local rules, so if you want to know which one applies in your case, checking with the local administration is the right approach. ATVs cannot be operated in state parks or recreation areas, as well as in or on any stream of water. A bridge must be used for these situations, and driving alongside shorelines or stream banks is unlawful. 


Public streets 

When it comes to paved streets, you should know that in Michigan, those that are maintained for year-round car travel, are generally closed to UTVs and ATVs. This includes the right-of-way and the shoulder. Some of the exceptions to these rules are roadways that are governed by local regulations, and that allow these vehicles to be operated there. 

In this case, as well, the best approach is simply going to the local administration and figuring out what regulations apply in your case. This way, you don’t risk to get a costly fine, and chances are that you might find out that you can still legally operate your ATV on certain streets within the area. 

All of these measures are safety ones, which means that even if you would be allowed to operate an ATV on a freeway, for example, you should avoid doing that because it would mean exposing yourself to very high risk. 

As we all know, when vehicles are traveling at very high speeds, the closing gap doesn’t allow the necessary reaction time to avoid a vehicle that is moving a lot slower. That’s why you should steer clear of any high-speed roads, and also do your best to avoid any dangerous situation when operating an ATV. 

These vehicles are handy, but they can also easily become dangerous if people are not using them as they should. 




A passionate admirer of all-leather Harley merchandise, Irina can help readers better understand the world of motorcycles. From the latest fashion trends to trip ideas for your next bike vacay, you will find everything you need to know about your two-wheel passion on this website.

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