Why Are Most ATVs Not Street Legal?

why are atvs not street legal

ATVs can get you to places that a regular vehicle never could. On top of that, the journey itself is a blast.

If you live in a place that’s near ATV trails, you’ve probably thought about just hopping on your all-terrain vehicle and heading down the street to the trailhead. However, you’re then likely confronted with the unfortunate reality that ATVs aren’t street legal vehicles.

Why are ATVs not street legal? Is there anything you can do to make them legal to drive on public streets?

Let’s take a look at what you need to know.

Why Are ATVs Not Street Legal?

You might be surprised to learn that ATVs aren’t allowed to be used on public streets or highways as a personal transportation system. The reasoning behind this is based on safety concerns.

There are certain safety requirements that many states have for vehicles to be street legal. They don’t possess many of the safety features of cars, such as seatbelts and airbags. They also don’t have turn signals, headlights, and a number of other features that are required for road vehicles.

On top of that, there are some main reasons why ATVs simply can’t be legalized in most states for road use.

The first is the tire type. ATV tires have bigger or wider tire threads than motorcycles. This is because they were designed for rough, dirt roads, rather than flat, paved roads. Basically, there is a higher likelihood that your vehicle will roll over because the lateral stability and the balance are affected when you use an ATV on smooth surfaces.

Secondly is the weight of an ATV. These are nearly twice as heavy as your standard dirt bike. This means that if you were to get into an accident, you could end up getting far more injured or someone else could get injured by the heavy vehicle rolling over.

Lastly, there is the issue discussed above of missing road ATV safety features. Even though you likely wear protective gear when you’re out on the trails, in the eyes of the law this doesn’t make up for the missing crash protection systems, headlights, turn signals, safety belts, and more.

Can You Make an ATV Street Legal?

The answer to this question depends on your location. Beyond that, you will want to determine whether or not the investment is something you’re interested in making. Typically, in order to make an ATV legal for the streets, you will need to get insurance, get it registered, and will likely need to add or adjust:

  • Brake lights
  • Headlights
  • A horn
  • Turn signals
  • Tires
  • Mirrors
  • Lighted license plate holder
  • Windshield

If you’re sick of loading your ATV onto a trailer and hauling it whenever you want to go for a ride, you might decide that this is worth doing. However, the laws differ between states so you will want to do research before jumping in.

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Finding Your State’s Requirements for Riding ATVs on Public Streets

The motor vehicle laws vary between states, and this includes the laws surrounding ATVs. Some states don’t even have explicit rules, meaning that you’ll need to look to your county or city laws. In some states, you’ll find that ATVs are forbidden on public streets no matter what you do.

In other states, you might be able to make your all-terrain vehicle road-legal with some modifications.

Unfortunately, you can’t get away with treating ATVs like motorcycles in order to argue that they are legal for the streets. This is because state statutes often make a distinction between two-wheeled vehicles and four-wheeled vehicles. This means that your ATV is seen as the same as a car in many places rather than a motorcycle.

Is It Worth the Investment to Make Your ATV Street Legal?

This is ultimately your decision and should, of course, take into account the laws in your location. Assuming that you could make modifications to your ATV and have it be deemed street legal, you’ll want to think about how useful that would be for you.

One important question is: where do you like to ride? If there aren’t any good trails within 20 miles of your house, for example, you’re likely going to end up hauling your ATV anyways. However, if there are trails a few miles from your home, this investment could end up saving you a bunch of time and energy loading and unloading your ATV every time you want to go for a ride.

One thing you’ll want to be aware of is that the Forest Service recently threatened that ATVs that aren’t street legal could be ticketed if driven on dirt roads on forest service land. If you’re planning on doing a lot of riding in National Forests, then you might find it’s necessary to make this investment.

ATVs: The American Pastime You’ll Never Tire Of

There’s nothing quite like getting out into the wilderness on an ATV. Now that you know the answer to “why are ATVs not street legal?” you can decide whether it’s possible or worth the investment for you to turn your ATV into a street legal vehicle. Depending on how far away you live from trails, your location, and how invested you feel in the convenience of riding on the street, you might determine it does or doesn’t make sense for you.

Are you looking to find an affordable sport ATV? Finding a high-quality ride that doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg isn’t as easy as you might hope. Check out this article to find a quad bike that won’t break the bank.