ATVs and UTVs are great for hitting your favorite trails and casual rides around your property but are they street legal?
The legality of driving your ATV or UTV on public roads will vary from state to state. States where ATVs and UTVs are street legal, will usually require insurance, a valid license, and the installation of certain safety features, which will need to be inspected and approved by your DMV.
If you have ever wondered why you do not see a lot of ATVs and UTVs on the street, you are not alone. These vehicles are primarily intended to be driven in designated areas that have rough and rugged conditions such as on muddy roads, rocky terrain, and even sand dunes. However, many riders still want to take their ATV or UTV on the street without breaking any laws. While most states do not allow these vehicles to be driven on public roads and highways, there are some exceptions to this - provided that you are willing to adhere to specific guidelines and make some necessary adjustments to your vehicle. To help you understand how to get your ATV or UTV on the road, we are going to take a closer look at how to make your terrain vehicle street legal.
After years of driving ATVs and UTVs around various places in the United States, I have had a lot of experience dealing with the different legal issues that come with riding these vehicles on the street. My experience has taught me that the majority of these vehicles are not street legal on most public access roads - unless specified by your state otherwise.
Street Legal ATVs & UTVs
Most riders are disappointed to find out that the legality of driving their ATV or UTV on the street is not as straightforward as they would like. At the end of the day, these vehicles have 4 wheels and have a lot of the same qualities as your average motorcycle, which leaves many riders puzzled as to why they are not allowed to go out riding wherever they want.
Given that the majority of these vehicles were designed to perform specific functions such as hauling materials, accessing rough roads, or taking care of laborious tasks, they often lack a lot of the essential safety features that state and federal laws require for vehicles to be roadworthy.
With that being said, the popularity of ATVs and UTVs has been on the rise for years, which is leading to a lot more demand from riders to take their terrain vehicles out on the street. This has forced the lawmakers of many states to make reforms in their laws for ATVs and UTVs - with some states having relatively loose restrictions these days. Let’s dive into all of the factors that will determine whether your ATV or UTV is street legal.
It’s easy to feel a little overwhelmed when trying to find information on ATV and UTV laws. The reason for this is that these vehicles have not been standardized or established as thoroughly as cars and motorcycles within the legal system.
As you begin researching your state’s laws, you should not be surprised to find that a neighboring state to yours may have completely different regulations regarding riding ATVs and UTVs. Some states such as California have very strict laws that pretty much prohibit driving these vehicles on the street completely. Whereas other states such as West Virginia and Utah have very loose laws for riding on the street and allow drivers to access most public roads - except for certain major highways. Here are some examples of state laws and guidelines that apply to riding ATVs and UTVs on the street:
- Speed Limit - Many states such as Tennessee allow ATVs and UTVs to be driven on the street so long as they stay on public roads that are 35 mph or less.
- Title - A lot of states that have easy-going restrictions for ATVs and UTVs such as Utah require that you title your vehicle and pay an annual fee to your local DMV.
- Age - The minimum age requirement for a driver can vary greatly - with some states such as Alaska currently demanding that a rider be at least 16 years old.
- UTV Preference - Some states such as Washington have strict laws for quads but are much looser with UTVs and will allow these vehicles on their public roads.
- Carbon Emissions - States such as Arizona make it pretty easy for ATVs and UTVs to be street legal, so long as they are not violating any carbon emission laws.
- County Laws - If you live in states such as Maine or Colorado, you will find that you have laws for terrain vehicles that vary from county to county - with some being strict and others relaxed.
- Designated Areas - States such as Alabama and California usually only let you drive on private property and areas that are specifically designated for riding quads and UTVs.
Many states update their laws for ATVs and UTVs annually, which is why you should always keep up with the current regulations of your region to ensure that you are within your legal rights when driving your terrain vehicle.
The obstacle that stands in the way of most ATVs and UTVs being legal is that these vehicles simply do not meet a lot of the standard safety requirements for street-legal vehicles. The United States Government has put in place standardized road safety requirements that all vehicles need to adhere to in order to officially be considered street legal.
This can become complicated when each county puts its own safety requirements in place for ATVs and UTVs. However, there are some standardized safety requirements that every ATV and UTV must comply with.
Something that many riders become conflicted with is whether putting down the cash to make their vehicle street legal is even cost-efficient. Adding these features can become quite expensive and if you are riding an older model ATV or UTV that is lower in value, you may find that the required features that you need to add are more expensive than the vehicle itself. Here are some common requirements that need to be met to make your ATV or UTV street legal.
- Insurance - A tricky requirement to adhere to is that most states that allow these vehicles to be on the street must be fully insured. This means that you need to have liability insurance for your ATV or UTV in case you get into a serious accident.
- Registration - While some states may not require insurance for these vehicles, the majority of them do require registration.
- Muffler - Most terrain vehicles are quite loud and do not have mufflers that meet the requirements of most states.
- Mirrors - Unless your vehicle is already equipped with side and rearview mirrors, you will need to get these installed.
- Headlights - The most important safety requirement for your ATV or UTV is that it needs to have headlights in order to drive on the street. Some older ATV models did not come equipped with headlights and some riders have made customizations to remove theirs.
- Speedometer - A lot of ATVs in particular do not have speedometers, which will be a requirement for every state that you want to drive on the street legally.
- Mudflaps - Given that most ATVs and UTVs were designed for rugged roads, they are often missing mudflaps, which can cause issues for other drivers on the road.
- Tires - ATVs and UTVs usually are not equipped with tires that are suitable for concrete roads.
- Brake lights & Turn Signals - If your vehicle does not have brake lights and indicators already installed, then getting your ATV or UTV equipped with these safety features will be mandatory.
In addition, to these safety features, you will be required to have a legal driver’s license that is suitable for the specs of your ATV or UTV. Once you have installed all of the required safety features and have met all of the other standards in place for being a legal driver, you can take your vehicle to the DMV to get it reviewed. If your ATV or UTV has met all of the necessary requirements, then you should not have any issues hitting the road within any states that allow it.
If you are a casual rider, then most of the time, your ability to drive your quad or UTV on the road will be pretty black and white in the eyes of the law. If you have not complied with the requirements to make your vehicle street legal, you can expect most public roads to be off-limits for riding.
However, there are circumstances that you can take advantage of to drive in some situations on the street - legally!
- Country Roads - If you are living in a rural area that has a lot of backcountry roads that are open to the public, you will be delighted to know that a lot of these are perfectly legal for driving ATVs and UTVs. With that being said, you should always confirm which roads & regions allow this with your DMV.
- Crossings - A lot of states allow ATVs and UTVs to make certain street crossings - provided that you are making the crossing to access another road that you are legally allowed to drive on.
- Public Authorization - Some circumstances allow rules to be bent for certain ATV and UTV riders. If you are regularly driving your vehicle to perform a public service or are involved in an industry that requires that you operate an ATV or UTV on public roads, you may be able to get permission from your local authority to drive your vehicle on the street legally.
As always, before driving your ATV or UTV out on the street, you should always confirm whether it is legal within your region so that you are not breaking any laws.
About THE AUTHOR
23 years old. I work at a motocross store where we specialize in gear, parts, and apparel for ATV and UTV riders.Read More About Kellie