If you’ve recently purchased an ATV as well as one of those cool ATV helmets and everything else needed for off-road adventures like the snow tires described in this article, then you might also be interested in knowing if and how you can ride such a vehicle on public roads. It’s no secret that ATVs and UTVs are super fun and you can even use them in wintertime to plow snow, so we’ve put together a list of such devices and you can check it out. Don’t forget that safety must always come first and a good helmet like this is mandatory whether you ride a snowmobile an ATV or UTV because you need to comply with the law.
The good part is that laws and regulations tend to differ from one state to another, so it might be possible to legally ride it on the streets of your city or area and not only use it on the field together with an ATV broadcast spreader. Moreover, you can also equip the vehicle with everything necessary to make it legal, but first, you need to take a look and see what local regulations apply in your case.
Since in some states it’s completely illegal to ride such vehicles on public roads, while in others you are good to go after some simple formalities, it’s always a good idea to talk to someone in the local administration in order to get the right directions and information.
Furthermore, many times making an ATV legal is not actually that difficult, although it might cost you a couple of hundred dollars. However, if you think about how expensive a ticket can be if you risk riding it around unregistered or without a license, then you shouldn’t hesitate to spend this money on making it suitable for public roads.
Some reasons for which to make your ATV legal
If you are still wondering whether making your ATV legal is worth the cost, then you should consider some of the main benefits you can enjoy. First of all, it’s convenient, since you won’t have to take your car anytime you feel like going for a little adventure in the woods. If it’s a nice and sunny day out and you don’t feel like loading the ATV into your truck, you won’t have to.
Of course, this also depends on the distance, but for those convenient and nearby favorite riding spots, having an ATV that can be legally ridden on public roads is ideal. Imagine going around a farm, to the beach, or on secluded trails without all the hassle of having to load the ATV into another vehicle.
Another reason for which you should definitely consider making your ATV legal is that it’s fun since you’ll be able to customize it just like you would a car or a motorcycle. But the difference is that an ATV can do tricks that regular vehicles cannot during off-road adventures.
Of course, you should only ride an ATV where it’s legal to do so. If you are not sure about a certain area, it’s better to take a bit of time and check beforehand, just to avoid any fine that could otherwise ruin your fun.
And last, but not least, you should consider making your ATV legal because it’s actually easy to do so in most states. There are not that many steps involved in making such a vehicle street legal, so you can take the time and research what the requirements are in your area.
If you don’t have too much time on your hands, there are specialized services that can take the entire process off your hands.
How can you make an ATV legal?
Each state has different rules, regulations, and laws when it comes to motor vehicles. You should also be careful since some states don’t explicitly say whether you should ride an ATV on public roads, but the law can include certain particularities regarding seat belts, carrying passengers, or fenders, that can make an ATV illegal.
However, if you don’t want to hire the services of a company to help you with all the details, then you should at least have an idea about what the main requirements might entail. In the following lines, we’ll see what some of these are, to give you a hand.
Among the items and pieces that you might need to add to your vehicle in order to safely and legally ride it on public roads, there’s usually a horn, license plate lights and holder, blinkers (with the required controls for comfortable operation), as well as mirrors.
Moreover, since adding some extra safety is always a good policy, you should consider getting some good street tires for the ATV as well. Of course, this depends on how often you intend to ride it on pavement and on the area you live in, but it’s still something to keep in mind.
What street tires can bring you is the extra grip to comfortably and safely tackle corners, as well as for enhanced braking. Also, since we’re talking about safety, it’s a good moment to mention that you should get a tether kill switch. If you are still getting the hang of what operating an ATV entails, this may be a new concept to you.
This little device is very useful, since you can attach it to the wrist or gear, and in the unfortunate event of an accident during which you fall off the unit, the engine will be turned off. We know that this is not something you want to think about, but the truth is that an ATV on the loose can create a lot more damage than needed.
You may also need to purchase and add a bright headlight, adapted for road conditions. While most ATV headlights work very well for riding around forests or a farm, they are not powerful enough for public streets, especially if we’re talking about those in the middle of nowhere, where bright city lights cannot help.
As any seasoned driver knows very well, brighter is always better, especially if you are in an area that has deers and other animals that might get on the road.
What about some examples of states and their regulations?
When it comes to this, we’ve already mentioned that you should check the laws that apply in your particular area, but there are some general rules that most states have in common. For example, in Alabama and Alaska, as well as in most of the other ones, you cannot ride an ATV on highways.
Alaska only allows ATVs for off-road use and the vehicles can be registered only to prevent theft. The same cannot be said about Arizona, as this state allows users to register ATVs and UTVs just as if they were regular vehicles, and they can also be used on highways.
If we’re going toward California, we learn that users need to wear safety helmets at all times and that they cannot carry a passenger unless the ATV is specially designed to allow more than one person riding it. In Connecticut, these vehicles need to be registered if they are operated outside of private property, and a registration plate is required.
This is better than in Delaware, where registration is required as well, but ATVs and UTVs cannot be used on public property at all. The same goes for the District of Columbia. In Idaho, on the other hand, users can operate the vehicles on public roads as long as they have insurance and they carry a license.
If someone younger plans on riding an ATV and lives in Kansas, then he or she is in luck since there is no age limit established for riders there. The same cannot be said about other states that require riders to be at least 16 or 18 years old.
No matter where you live, some general information is always available online, so you can quickly check and see at least the level of regulation that applies in your state.
However, do keep in mind that laws can also change throughout time, so don’t rely on the information you find online alone, because you might get a fine if something has recently changed and hasn’t made it into online articles yet.
A bit about safety
Of course, safety should always come first, especially since you are planning to ride your ATV on public roads where there are many other traffic participants, so things could go wrong. Besides the obvious safety rules that you should follow, namely the law-required ones, you should also think about what tires you are going to use.
It’s true that changing your tires will most probably mean that you’ll have to pay quite a significant amount of money on a new set, nevertheless, there are several reasons for which you should consider doing this. First of all, street tires are specially made to ensure the user’s comfort at all times.
Furthermore, as we’ve already mentioned, street tires do a great job in ensuring the necessary grip, and this will surely be very useful in a lot of situations that include pulls and cornering. On the other hand, it’s true that you might not be sure which type of tires you should go for, given that this category as well comes with plenty of options, so it can be difficult to know which one you actually need.
How to choose the tire size
It’s true that ATVs are specially made for off-road use, so getting them on the road might be a bit more difficult than one might expect. On the other hand, this is not something impossible to do, and if you know the legal requirements applicable in your area, you can start thinking about the tires that you are going to use.
You should know that off-road tires are, first of all, pretty uncomfortable to use on pavement, so it’s not recommended to do that for extensive periods. Not to mention that you can also damage the tires themselves, which means wasting the money spent on them. With this in mind, let’s take a look at what you should know when you are getting ready to choose a new set of tires.
Although many people assume that ATVs that have the same engine size usually use similar tires, the truth is that these two things are not necessarily related, so you shouldn’t count on this rule of thumb when you are trying to determine the right tire size.
The first thing you should do to determine this aspect for your vehicle is to see what the stock recommendation is for your quad. You shouldn’t be limited to a single size, but there is a range mentioned there that you should follow.
Otherwise, going for tire sizes that don’t fall into these recommendations might have a negative impact on various elements, such as horsepower, torque, balance, or handling. You can figure out the recommended range if you have the owner’s manual or by simply going online. However, those of you who are still rather new to this might not be sure what to look for.
When it comes to tire sizes, there are three numbers used to identify them, and they are always used in the same particular order. The format begins with the inches, then the thread width follows, and then the tire’s diameter.
Therefore, if you see a 21 X 7-10 reference, this means that the actual tire is 21-inch-tall, with a 7-inch tread that goes from side to side, and that the wheel features a 10-inch diameter. This will surely help you figure out both the recommended range, as well as to understand what going outside of it might mean from a technical point of view.
As we’ve already seen, most of the tires made for these vehicles are not meant to be used on paved streets. In fact, since this is a very important safety issue as well, you should take a close look at what the law states in your particular area so that you comply with it. In many areas, you need to get street tires in order to be allowed to drive your vehicle on the pavement.
Furthermore, street tires should always be used when you are extensively driving your vehicle on the pavement because off-road ones that come with large treads will have these gone in a very short amount of time, meaning that you’ve wasted your money.
There are several ways in which you can make sure that the tires you choose are street legal, and the easiest way is to check for the DOT approval. This is a safety standard issued by the Department of Transportation which applies to a wide range of accessories and gear used for any type of vehicle that is used on public roads.
From tires to motorcycle helmets, if you see the DOT certification sign, this means that you can safely use that particular product. In the case of tires, this certification is signaled by a code that is molded on the tire’s sidewall. If it’s there, then you should be all set for using the tires on public streets.
In case you’ve read the last section thinking that having a bit of both street performance and off-road capabilities in the same set of tires would be great, we have great news for you. All-terrain tires are probably the most popular alternative you can go for, and you should know that these are somewhat tougher and stiffer, so that they can resist punctures.
There are many types of items you can drive over, especially if we’re talking about both pavement and off-road conditions, so having a reliable and tough set of tires is very important. Even though some people say that all-terrain tires might not be the best choice, given that they are not specialized for one thing or the other, the truth is that they work very well.
This goes especially if you are still getting the hang of using your ATV, which means that you are probably not familiar yet with very specialized off-road driving that might require a highly specialized set of tires. If you find a model that fits within recommendations, your budget, and that still ensures decent performance on trails, then you should be all set.
List of states
Alabama – riding an ATV is forbidden on beaches and sand dunes along the Gulf of Mexico.
Alaska – here, you can ride an ATV on highways only under certain circumstances.
Arizona – you need to ensure that you have all the equipment required by law for making ATVs street-legal; ATVs are allowed only on roads open to off-road vehicles.
Arkansas – only when crossing the street to get from one field to another, public road access for ATVs is allowed.
California – provisions regarding the legal speed allowed, as well as the necessary gear, are stipulated by local laws.
Colorado – only when crossing public roads for emergencies and agricultural purposes, the use of ATVs is allowed.
Connecticut – crossing public highways is permitted, but only if the ATV is equipped with all the necessary gear, according to the law.
Delaware – special events and permits grant the use of ATVs on public roads, but only temporary and under certain restrictions.
District of Columbia – riding an ATV on public roads is completely forbidden.
Florida – in the daytime, ATVs have access to unpaved roadways, with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour.
Georgia – ATVs are considered motor vehicles, and therefore their use is regulated by the Uniform Rules of the Road.
Hawaii – when used as farming equipment, ATVs are allowed on public roads, but certain restrictions like speed limits and a number of lanes apply.
Idaho – a protective safety helmet is required for riders under 18.
Illinois – an Off-Highway Vehicle Usage Stamp must be purchased annually by ATV owners.
Indiana – local laws mostly govern the use of ATVs, and some limited allowances are made.
Iowa – for agricultural purposes, ATVs can be used when crossing or on a road adjacent to the field.
Kansas – when crossing highways, ATVs are allowed, but there are limitations regarding their use on ice.
Kentucky – the use of ATVs is very limited on public roads, and even on private properties.
Louisiana – for farm-related activities, some allowance is made for ATVs, but they are not allowed on highways.
Maine – here, ATVs and their use are governed by the Rules of the Road.
Maryland – ATVs must be registered and have the registration sticker visible; certain safety gear must be present.
Massachusetts – only road crossing and emergency conditions allow access of ATVs on public roads.
Michigan – such vehicles need a safety certification, and riders between 12 and 16 years of age are allowed to cross public roads.
Minnesota – limitations regard non-motorized trails, forbidden access on public land where applicable, and designated forest trails during the hunting season.
Mississippi – while access on public roads is allowed, riders under 16 years of age are required to wear a crash helmet.
Missouri – riders under 16 must be accompanied by their legal guardians; a decal with the registration must be displayed.
Montana – public highway access is permitted only for crossing, while forest-development roads are subjected to limitations.
Nebraska – even though crossing highways is allowed, there are strict limitations, such as crossing only two-lane highways.
Nevada – you can ride your ATV on a highway in the case of an emergency only, while unpaved road access is allowed.
New Hampshire – highway crossing is allowed under very specific circumstances, and other regulations are in place for riding an ATV after dark.
New Jersey – registration of ATVs is required, and other regulations govern their use on public roads, but it is allowed.
New Mexico – limited access highways and freeways are not to be used by ATVs, but when properly equipped, some access to public roads is allowed.
New York – access to highways is forbidden, except when the ATV rider must engage in crossing the street for emergencies.
North Carolina – you can ride your ATV on public roads, but strict provisions regarding safety gear are in effect.
North Dakota – you can ride your registered ATV on ditch bottoms, back-slopes, and the top of the back-slope on highways.
Ohio – emergency travel is the only exception for riding an ATV on highways; where local laws permit, such vehicles can be used.
Oklahoma – when you need to make a direct crossing, you can use your ATV on a highway, but otherwise, access is limited to unpaved roads.
Oregon – highways opened to the public and forbidding passenger traffic can be used by ATV riders.
Pennsylvania – ATVs must be registered, but they are not allowed on highways except for emergencies and when crossing.
Rhode Island – limited access is allowed by the local laws, but only to emergencies and crossing; safety courses are required for riders.
South Carolina – access to public roads is granted, but riders under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
South Dakota – public streets and highways can be crossed by ATV riders, but otherwise, access is limited to the highway ditch and that, with limitations, as well.
Tennessee – you can cross a highway while riding your ATV, but only if it’s a two-lane highway; headlights are required.
Texas – public roadway access is prohibited unless you want to cross it; public streets and roads can be used for short periods under certain exceptions.
Utah – as long as the public roads are opened to off-highway vehicles, access is granted; you must register your ATV.
Vermont – access to public roads is restricted to emergencies, crossing, and situations where the local regulators allow it for all-terrain vehicles.
Virginia – you are not required to have a registration for your ATV, but you can’t use the highways except for crossing the street as the shortest route available.
Washington – access to public roads is allowed, with the primary condition being that you should never drive at speeds higher than 35 miles per hour.
West Virginia – operation on interstate highways is limited to emergencies; operation on the shoulder of a highway is allowed, but for no more than 10 miles.
Wisconsin – access to public roads is prohibited, with the exception of when you need to cross the street or for agricultural purposes.
Wyoming – you cannot use an ATV on a public road unless you must cross it or as part of agricultural activities.
ATV basic knowledge
As you probably know, ATV is the acronym for “all-terrain vehicle”. This means that this type of vehicle should be properly equipped with 4 wheels and tires that are able to perform well in any type of environment, so ATV tires have to be strong enough to have a high performance on soil, rocks, as well as on the street.
However, in some states, an ATV is also called an OTV, the acronym for “off-road terrain vehicle”, because these states do not allow the use of ATVs on the streets. In states that make it legal for ATVs to be driven on a public road, it is also called a street legal quad.
Unlike dirt bikes, ATVs, in general, are equipped with turn lights. They are very different from a regular bike because a bike is specially designed to be used on public roads. The difference stands in the wheels as well, as a bike obviously has wheels that are more appropriate for the roads.
The problem with dirt bikes is that they do not have some of the features that a vehicle that is allowed on the streets has, so it obviously can not be a means of transportation for people who want to use it on a public road and they are not legal.
Quad owners that do not keep their number plates intact and clean can get a fine. It is very important for people who use their quad offroad to be very careful when they get back on the road because their number plates have to be clean so that they can be easily read by everybody.
Another very important thing to know if you own an ATV that is allowed to be used on a public road is that you should never ever allow somebody that is not permitted by the state’s laws that you are using it in to drive it on public land and public streets under any circumstances because in many states you will be committing a contravention.
In what states do you need a license to operate an ATV?
As with any means of transportation, there are special laws that regulate what safety measures have to be taken for quad drivers, as well as passengers for everything to be legal. Even though there is a general acknowledgment regarding vehicle safety across the United States, some states have different regulations, but the differences are not major.
An important safety issue is the minimum age that is needed for an ATV driver, as well as licensing and registration. 33 states in the US require ATV owners to register their ATVs, whether they use it on the streets or just off-road. In 15 of these states, they have to register the ATV at a recreation agency, and in the other 18, owners have to register it at a motor vehicle agency.
It is important to know that in 6 of these 33 states, you do not have to register your ATV if you only use it for agricultural activities.
Although ATV drivers have similar responsibilities as bike drivers, there is the need to have a driver’s license to be able to operate an ATV in only 13 states. These states are Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Utah, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Missouri, North Dakota, Maryland, and New Hampshire.
However, in 8 of these states, you need a license only on public roads and crossings. Four of them make the license mandatory only for public land use and only in North Dakota having a license is mandatory for both of these situations.
What about safety courses?
For every motor vehicle in most states, if you are underage, there are laws that make safety courses compulsory. However, there are only 23 states that require the completion of a safety course for ATV riders. Of all these 23 states, Connecticut is the only one that states that all riders have to follow such a course regardless of their age and only on public land.
Even if a safety course is not compulsory in every state and for everyone, following such a course is a great asset because you have to remember that, the same as when driving motorcycles, your safety comes first. Riding an ATV is the same as riding a bike – you are not protected.
Are there any special regulations when it comes to passengers?
When you have passengers on motorcycles, mopeds or ATVs, their safety is as important as the safety of the driver, especially when you drive on the street. That is why many states have special safety regulations for drivers as well as for passengers even though, the same as it applies to bike drivers, not all of them are aware of the risks they face while having a passenger.
One important thing to take into consideration when you think of passengers is if they are specially designed to carry passengers or not. Of the 19 states that do not allow passengers on ATVs, 14 states prohibit that only in the case in which the ATV is not designed especially to carry passengers.
There is only one state that does not allow passengers at all on an ATV, and that is Connecticut. As you have probably noticed, Connecticut has pretty strong regulations when it comes to ATV safety.
The South California laws say that riders are not allowed to carry passengers on their ATVs if the did not follow a safety course.
What regulations do US states have when it comes to speed and highway shoulder use?
Even if an ATV is not able to reach a high maximum speed because the passengers are not protected by the vehicle’s body, there are special regulations on this topic. However, when it comes to highways, the ATVs have to have a minimum speed so that they do not impair traffic. There are many states which limit speed when it comes to ATVs on the highway.
In North Dakota, for example, there is a law that states that the operator of an ATV has to keep a minimum speed of 30 miles per hour. Anything below that is not legal.
In Indiana, Utah, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Kentucky, Illinois, Maine, and Kansas, ATVs are allowed to operate on highway shoulders only in some special circumstances. For people who have mobility disabilities, Arkansas has a law that allows them to ride as a passenger on an ATV while on a Highway shoulder. They are also allowed to operate an ATV.