Gone Outdoors

Four Wheeler Laws

by Aaron Gifford

Regulations for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs/four wheelers) are vastly different across the United States, according to the National Association of Off-Highway Vehicles. Some have no minimum age for driving ATVs and don't require the operators to wear helmets or goggles, or even to have their vehicle registered. Some states prohibit anyone under 12 from operating an ATV, and have strict laws governing safety, registration, lights and noise.

Helmets

Man driving ATV in woods

According to the National Association of Off-Highway Vehicles, helmets are not required for operators of any age in 17 states. Ten states require all operators to wear helmets, and the other 23 states vary by age of the drivers (under 18, 17 or 16) or locations of operation. In Iowa, for example, operators must wear helmets while operating a vehicle on a publicly-funded off-highway vehicle park. Several states also require operators to wear eye protection.

Minimum Age

Friends on ATV trail in mountains

Twenty states have no minimum age for ATV operators, according to the National Association of Off-Highway Vehicles. Minimum operator age varies in the remaining states, ranging from 8 in Pennsylvania and Utah, to 12 in Connecticut, Maryland and Ohio. Several states require adult supervision for certain age groups or the completion of youth driver safety courses. A few states limit the size of the vehicles for younger operators. In North Carolina, for example, operators under 12 can only operate ATVs that have an engine power of 70 CCs or less.

Licenses and Safety Certificates

ATV driving through mud

The vast majority of states (37) do not require operators to have ATV licenses, although many require younger drivers to obtain safety certificates. In Iowa, an ATV license is required if the four-wheeler is used on public roads for farm uses. In Oregon and Utah, an ATV license is required only for those who don't already have a driver's license to operate a car or truck. In New Jersey and New York, liability insurance is required to operate an ATV, according to the National Association of Off-Highway Vehicles.

Lights and Sounds

Friends riding ATVs

States also vary in their requirements for headlights, tail lights, mufflers and sound levels. In Alaska and Alabama, ATVs don't have to have any of those devices, and the machines can be as loud as the operator pleases. By contrast, Maine requires all of those devices on an ATV and restricts the sound of the machines to 96 decibels (measured from a distance of 20 inches), according to the National Association of Off-Highway Vehicles. Most states require the use of headlights and tail lights after sunset.

Registration and Title

ATV in air

The majority of states (30) require ATVs to be registered, but 16 of those states don't require the operators to keep a title to the vehicle. Several state require neither registration or a title. By contrast, Kansas and South Dakota require titles but not registrations. Arizona requires an off-road recreational plate.

Types

Boy next to ATV

When it comes to ATV laws, Alabama, but not New Hampshire, could employ the motto "Live Free or Die." In Alabama, children of any age can operate a four-wheeler, and they don't have to wear a helmet, complete a safety course or ride with adult supervision. ATVs there are not required to have mufflers or lights, they can be loud, and the operator or owner is not required to have a registration or title to the vehicle. In Michigan, by contrast, all operators must wear helmets and eye protection. Children under 10 can't operate ATVs and children under 16 must complete a safety course and be supervised by an adult. Lights and mufflers are required, as are registrations and titles.

About the Author

Aaron Gifford is based in New York. He has been on staff at the "Syracuse Post-Standard," the "Watertown Daily Times" and the "Oneida Daily Dispatch." He's also written for "Long Island Newsday," "Empire State Report" magazine and "In Good Health." He has been writing professionally since 1995. Gifford holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University at Buffalo.

Photo Credits

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