All-Terrain Vehicles are designed to explore the off-road. An ATV is defined as a motorized vehicle designed for off-highway use, having four tires and a straddle mounted seat for one or two passengers and a handlebar for steering. ATVs are hugely popular and great for exploring the outdoors.
ATVs may not be used on public highways, roads, streets, or in parking lots. ATVs can be made street legal, requiring minimum safety features like a mirror, horn, headlight, and brake lights. ATVs must be registered and display a license plate.
ATVs may not be used on public roads in all states in the U.S. and most countries worldwide. There may be some variations as to where they are allowed in each state or country. Local authorities are best placed to advise where the use of ATVs is allowed and the exceptions. Let’s look at what must be done to make man and machine street legal.
Why Are ATVs Not Made Street Legal?
Also known as Quad bikes, ATVs are designed for off-road surfaces like sand-dunes, dirt roads, muddy roads, and even snow. Certain design aspects of ATVs make them unsafe for use on tarred road surfaces.
The tires fitted on ATVs are made for surfaces where the tire grip is poor. The tires are designed to grip over rough, loose, muddy, or sandy surfaces. On good surfaces like tarred highways and roadways, the ATV tires have too much grip, and the risk of roll-overs when cornering is greatly increased.
ATVs are twice as heavy as off-road motorbikes but are not able to lean over when cornering. Motorbikes do not tend to flip over but rather slide away from the rider during a fall when cornering. ATVs cannot lean into a corner and thus do not slide away from the rider but rather flip over sideways, often resulting in fatal neck injuries.
ATVs also lack the safety features that street-legal off-road vehicles must have. All 4×4 Off-Road trucks and cars are fitted with seat belts, airbags, roll-over protection in addition to side mirrors, rearview mirrors, horns, headlights, turn signals, taillights, and brake lights. Even off-road motorbikes require mirrors, a horn, headlamp, and brake light to make them street legal. Motorcycle riders are required by law to wear safety helmets. Authorities have not mandated wearing protective gear and crash helmets when ATVs are driven on public roads.
Building all ATVs to be street legal would add too much cost. ATVs are generally not used on tarred surfaces, and it would thus be an unnecessary expense to add all the required features to make all ATVs street legal.
Those ATV owners who require their ATV’s occasional use on public roads can add the required minimum safety features and have their vehicle registered for use on public roads. They will be required to display registration discs and license plates. Riders of street-legal ATVs will also be required to have a valid driver’s license, wear protective gear, and a crash helmet.
Suppose the ATV is designed to carry a passenger behind the driver. In that case, the driver will also be legally responsible for ensuring that the passenger wears protective clothing and a crash helmet.
The Minimum Requirements For ATVs To Be Street Legal
Making your ATV street legal will require some changes that may make the ATV unsuitable for the designed use in off-road conditions. These changes must be well considered based on the road condition where the ATV will be used.
Tires for use on public roads must be approved by the Department of Transport and carry the DOT mark on the sidewalls. Tire pressures for use on tared surfaces are higher than for off-road surfaces. Higher tire pressures and DOT-approved tread designs will ensure that the tires are better suited to use on public roads.
Lights and Reflectors
To increase the visibility of the ATV on public roads, the vehicle is required to be fitted with a headlight, taillight, turn signals, brake lights, rear and side reflectors. Headlights have to be able to switch from high beam to low beam. ATVs need to be clearly visible to other road users in poor light conditions. Local registration authorities can provide specific legal requirements for the state or country of registration.
Mirrors are required as a legal requirement for Quad Bikes. Local authorities may require left and right side mirrors and a center-mounted rear mirror in some cases. Mirrors are an essential safety feature for ATVs to be registered as street legal. ATV riders must check their blind spots and rear traffic and use proper turn signals on public roads. Failure to look for other vehicles and road users in the rearview mirrors can cause fatal accidents.
Some states require the fitment of mufflers better able to dampen the ATV engine’s noise and prevent sparks from causing fires. Noisy mufflers also do not allow the ATV rider to hear other traffic and mask other road users’ warnings. Check with local authorities what they deem necessary to make
ATVs are fast enough to break the speed limits on public roads. Having a speedometer fitted will safeguard you against breaking the local speed limits. Some states also require the fitment of speedometers to have the ATV registered as street legal.
A horn can be used to warn other road users of your intentions or to alert them of your presence. Most states will require the fitment of a 120 dB horn as a minimum requirement to have your ATV registered as street legal. A horn is easy to install and comes in a kit form with turn signal lights and mirrors.
A windshield can protect you from dirt, debris, and bugs. Some states require that a DOT-approved helmet is worn with protective eye protection, making the fitment of a windshield optional.
License Plate Holder and Lights
A license plate is mandatory to make ATVs street legal in all states. The license plates must be installed on the ATV and must be fitted with a light visible at night. Local authorities even specify the type of license plate holder to be used.
Many other accessories can be fitted to ATVs to make them safer and more enjoyable to use. Making your ATV street legal is essential if you are going to use it on public roads. Meeting the minimum requirements should not be the objective if you are often riding your ATV on public roads. Make sure that your safety and that of fellow road users are always your main priority.
ATVs are not fitted with safety features to protect you during collisions or roll-overs. ATV accidents result in very serious injuries and even the death of riders and passengers at an alarming rate.
Can You Buy A Street Legal ATV?
ATVs are not designed for use on public roads and highways. ATV dealers will not sell street-legal models as the demand for this is very low. When purchasing your new or used ATV from a dealer, you can request that the modification required to have the ATV registered with local authorities and licensed in your name be done by the dealer.
ATVs are deployed by security authorities to patrol beachfront promenades or shopping mall parking areas. These ATVs were all converted and registered for use in these applications.
Drivers of street-legal ATVs are still required to wear protective gear and approved helmets when operating an ATV on a public road.
What Is The Easiest Way To Make My ATV Street Legal?
The easiest way to get your ATV registered and licensed in your state is to use a service provider that can guide you through the process and do much of the legwork for you. Dirt Legal is one such company that provides the service for all U.S.-based customers in any state.
The cost of having it all done for you will be around $400, excluding the items required by the Department of Transport to be fitted to your ATV. You could do it yourself for a lot cheaper, but that means it might take you longer. There are mandatory time limits in which vehicle registrations have to be completed that vary from state to state.
ATV Regulations by State in the United States
ATVs are prohibited in many states. However, most states allow counties and towns to set their standards. Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Texas, Minnesota, Wyoming, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Montana, North and South Dakota, Washington, Michigan, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, Vermont, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Colorado all have laws that allow for the conversion of ATVs to make them street legal.
It is advised to contact an expert advice service in your state to find out whether regulations permit street legal ATVs and, if so, what needs to be done to make the ATVs street legal. There is a lot of pressure from the federal and state level to impose regulations to further enhance ATV safety. More regulation from federal authorities is a political hot potato at present.
Why Is ATV Safety So Controversial?
ATVs are by far more deadly than motorcycles. According to the American College of Surgeons, the physical trauma suffered in ATV accidents is 50% more severe than in motorcycle accidents. Statistics from the period 2002 to 2006 recorded 60 000 ATV and off-road motorcycle accidents in the U.S. More than 75% of these accidents involved ATVs.
The false perception that ATVs are safer than motorbikes because they have four wheels persists. Parents buying an ATV for a child do not think their child will be at much greater risk from injury. This is exacerbated by the ATV salespeople trying to upsell the parent to buy a bigger ATV so that the child does not outgrow the vehicle too fast.
Bigger ATVs are heavier and therefore more dangerous to riders. The most likely accident scenario is when ATVs flip over sideways when cornering too fast. The result is that the ATV will likely fall on top of the rider, crushing the rider below its weight and downward momentum.
Almost 1000 deaths occur in the U.S. every year as a result of ATV accidents. Equally tragic are the lives affected by broken vertebrae resulting in paralysis. Sadly new laws imposing tougher regulations are not well received by the public.
ATVs are not designed for use on public roads due to the lack of basic passenger protection features. ATVs were designed for off-road use on surfaces where the sideway momentum of the vehicle will result in sliding. ATV tires will grip too well on hard road surfaces and cause the ATV to flip over instead of sliding sideways.
Even when ridden off-road ATVs, accidents are more severe, and the trauma resulting from such accidents is more often fatal. Off-road motorbikes lean into a corner to counter the lateral force encountered when cornering. The motorcycle tires grip the loose surface, and the engine’s power pulls the motorcycle through the corner. The most likely failure is when the motorcycle tires lose their grip, and the rider falls. In such a fall, the motorcycle slides away from the rider.
An ATV remains upright when cornering. The center of gravity of the ATV remains high when compared to a motorcycle. The ATV is designed to slide sideways in a corner. If the tires of the ATV grip too well during cornering, the result is a sideways flip over.
ATVs can be made street legal in most states in the U.S. The most important change required is the fitment of Department of Trade Approved (DOT) tires. Most states also mandate the fitment of mirrors, a horn, and lights. Contact your local authorities for the best advice on meeting the regulations in your county or state.
Regulations are there to protect the rider of an ATV, not to spoil their fun. Circumventing the regulations can have deadly consequences. Don’t let children operate and ATV. Wear protective gear when operating an ATV. Don’t just meet the minimum standards. ATVs can be great fun if operated in a safe environment.