Do I Need a License To Drive an ATV?

Complying with the law is always a good idea, specially when driving an ATV. No one enjoys getting stopped by the police, not even me.. I have received this question quite a few times over the past few weeks “All states within the US require a driver’s license to operator a vehicle on the roadway, but do those same laws apply to the operation of an all terrain vehicle?

In short, the answer depends on the state in which you live and where you are driving the ATV.

The State You Live in Matters

Each state legislature creates a set of laws which apply to the operation of an ATV on and off public roadways. You can read more about each state’s law at the NCSL Website or the CPSC Website. Each state has a different set of regulations but most include these three: Helmet Safety, Minimum Age, and Operator’s License.

Helmet and Eye Safety – Like motorcycles, an ATV can reach high speeds and can present serious bodily harm to the rider or passenger if involved in an accident. To avoid this, most states will require the usage of a helmet and/or safety goggles when the vehicle is being driven on public roadways or public land. Typically if you are on private property (where you are not trespassing) this law does not apply as you are responsible for your own injuries.

Minimum Age Requirements – Most states also include a minimum age at which you can lawfully operate an ATV on public and sometimes private land. These laws are similar to what you see with a driver’s license. Operating a motorized vehicle without the knowledge or maturity to do so can cause serious harm to yourself or others.
Operator’s License – At the time of writing this article, 14 states have laws which require a license to operate an ATV on public roadways. Most states that do not have a driver’s license requirement will however require a safety education certificate to ensure riders are aware of how to operate the ATV safely and inform of road rules and signs.

Where You Are Riding Matters Too

Most statutory laws for each state apply to only “public land”, meaning privately owned land is free of these laws. If you are operating an ATV on your own land, you may not be bound by the ATV laws within your state. Remember however that as soon as you touch a public roadway or land, these laws apply, and a police offer is likely to cite you for an infraction if you are breaking the law.

If You Don’t Have a License

As I know many of my readers may not have a license, and there state does not require one, there are some additional tips I would stick to when operating a four wheeler:

1. Read the safety labels on the ATV. Depending on the quad, there may be age, weight, and number of person(s) limitations. For instance, my warrior has a single person limitation which states no more than one person should be on the ATV at one time. There is also an age requirement that no one under the age of 12 operate the ATV. These warnings are mostly to remove liability on the manufacturer but they are placed there for a reason. Time and experience has shown those limitations work to reduce accident and injuries.
2. Wear a helmet. Simple as that. If you are not an experienced rider, than this probably the best advice you will receive. ATVs can travel at speeds in excess of 60mph, fast enough to seriously injury yourself if you are not careful, especially if you don’t have a license.
3. Take lessons from an expert. Find someone with experience and pick their brain. If you’re driving an ATV you’ve never operated before, ask the owner about the throttle, brakes, clutch, shift. I had a recent experience riding a friend’s ATV who hadn’t bled the front brakes. I should have asked, but didn’t, was about 40 mph into a trail when I pulled the hand brake to no avail. Luckily the foot brake worked. It’s much safer to learn the issues at 0 mph than 40!

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