In recreational powersports, a phrase you’ll often hear from riding safety experts is “Know before you go.” This concept can also be applied to operating an ATV or UTV on paved or public roads. Riders should always educate themselves on where a machine can be ridden to increase personal safety and avoid riding illegally.
With the growing popularity of ATVs and UTVs nationwide, this is a difficult question to answer universally because laws and regulations vary widely depending on location and often vary even at the county or municipal level within the same state. While there isn’t one definitive resource to consult, it’s highly recommended to check state regulations first, then dive deeper into the local rules, ordinances and routes at the county and city level in your desired ride area. Start by exploring the internet for local sources. Visiting a local powersports dealer or ATV/UTV club can also help provide local guidance. Once you determine legal riding routes, here are some additional factors you should consider before venturing onto public roads.
The ATV Safety Institute offers interactive online and hands-on ATV rider training for all ages and experience levels to help enhance and refresh riding knowledge and skills. The courses provide information about safety tips, riding techniques, proper gear to wear and other key information to operate your ATV safely.
ATVs and UTVs are designed primarily to be used off-road. The machine’s user manual, as well as any safety classes you take, will remind you of this. In many parts of the country, connector routes between trail systems incorporate public roads consisting of asphalt or gravel surfaces that can exposure riders to varying levels of automotive traffic. When navigating these legal on-road riding areas, here are a few reminders to keep your ride safe and fun.
Your ATV/UTV was designed to operate with low pressure tires that have tall sidewalls and a large contact patch with the ground to increase off-road traction while traversing soft sand, dirt or mud. Under rapid acceleration in these conditions, these tires are designed to break loose from the surface, allowing the operator to easily compensate for loss of traction with more steering input through the handlebars or steering wheel. The design of these tires also adversely affects their handling characteristics on hardpacked surfaces including pavement. As a result, keep on-road speeds lower to maintain safe handling and control.
Dealing with automobile traffic has its challenges because ATVs and UTVs are smaller and less visible than most other vehicles on the road. Knowing your local traffic laws for ATV and UTV routes will decrease your chances of an accident, and obeying all traffic lights, signs, speed limits and proceeding cautiously at intersections with your headlights on at all times can increase your safety.
Because ATVs and UTVs were designed primarily for off-road use, most models will need some additional accessories to comply with regulations for operation and licensing on public roads. A variety of companies offer street-equipment kits, which may include LED blinker lights, a horn, license plate brackets and a rear view mirror. Other requirements may include the addition of a windshield with functioning wipers, side mounted vehicle mirrors or even DOT-approved tires.
Exploring the outdoors from the seat of an ATV or UTV is deeply satisfying and fun. Before you go, do your research on all Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) laws and regulations in your area and check regularly for potential legislative changes affecting your riding opportunities to stay safe and legal.