ATVs are perfect for riding the muddy trails that crisscross all over America’s rural landscapes, but sometimes there are roads and maybe even highways between your home and those trails. For most, this means that you have to load your ATV on a trailer and take it to the trails, adding stress to what was supposed to be a fun ride.
This is necessary because most standard ATVs, and UTVs for that matter, are not street legal. You cannot hop on your ATV and take it to where it needs to be if that means traveling on public, paved roads.
That being said, what if we told you there was a way to get street legal? Since you’re here, you’ve probably seen that, yes, there is a way to get your ATVs street legal and do it in a way that won’t be too taxing on your back or your wallet.
It can still get quite complicated, what with differing state laws on the street-legal requirement and the like, but we’ll be going through all of that below, so you know exactly where you stand.
Can You Afford It?
If you’re anything like us, you may be wary of how hard this will hit your wallet. Also, since you’re here, we’re assuming that you’ve already determined that your ATV needs to be street legal. There’s no need to make any unnecessary expenses if you can get away with it.
Making ATVs street-legal can be a large investment on your part, depending on how many of the needed accessories you’ll need to buy, so it’s only cost-effective if you’re somewhere where a lot of trails are accessible across paved roads, and you plan on traveling them all frequently.
If you don’t have anywhere worth riding within a reasonable distance of your home, there’s little point in spending time and money getting your ATV street legal since you’re likely used to hauling it, and that’d be more comfortable for the long journey. This is likely the case for those of you in cities and heavily urbanized environments, so although it may sound counter-intuitive, you want a rural area where a town connects to trains in the flats and mountains surrounding it. That’s where ATV street legalization is most worth the time and effort.
In more recent years, we have seen that certain agencies like the Forest Service are cracking down on ATV street legalization, such as expecting them to be street legal even when riding on dirt roads on their land. It’s easy to flout street legal requirements, too, since even if you momentarily cross a road whilst riding a trail that intersects through it, you have broken the law.
How to Find State Requirements
So, where do you find the state requirements that you’ll need to know to make your ATVs street legal? We also don’t need to tell you that the laws differ between states, but even then a lot of states don’t have a set rule system in place for ATV street legalization as they have more pressing issues to write laws on. Add to this that the requirements, and the application of the relevant laws, can also differ between the county, city, and town, and you now realize why this is something that may need explaining.
States will generally fall into three categories, the first being those states that don’t allow street legal quads, full stop, with some forbidding it in legislation and others outlawing it by the omission of street legalization opportunities in its relevant legislation. Others, the ones that you’re interested in, do allow you to get your quads street legal after some modification on your part.
A common problem for street legalization is that states will have statutes that demand four-wheeled vehicles have a seat belt, with no exceptions. Yes, that means you too, and so by virtue of this law, you cannot take your ATV on the street since it’d need a seatbelt that practically doesn’t exist. It’d be easier if quads were considered more as motorbikes than cars in terms of the laws that apply to them, but that isn’t always the case. Keep an eye out for these traps, since expecting an ATV to be street legal to the standards of a car is a very tall order.
At the bottom of this page, we’ve included a shortlist of state requirements for some of the most popular trail-riding states in the nation. Take a look to see if your state is there since we’ve included a lot of states that have specific requirements that you may not have been aware of.
What Needs Modifying
Let’s go through what requires modifying in order to turn an illegal ATV into a street-legal one. If you’ve already started the modification process and just need to find a specific feature, we’ve presented them in the subtitled sections below.
We’re starting off simple here with a horn. It’s easy to understand why you’d like a horn when you’re taking to the streets since you now have to contend with the traffic that you wouldn’t encounter on the trail. Even if the law disagrees in many states, ATVs have a road presence more like a motorcycle than a car, in that they can easily get lost in congested traffic and be subject to a higher possibility of an accident occurring.
Besides, when you’re out on the road, having a horn is good for whipping people into shape when they cut you off or take too long to pass a green light because some things never change. It’d be ideal if your horn comes with a turn signal kit for added safety but don’t stress too much about getting them if you can’t, you can get some later.
License Plate and Accessories
What is a requirement, however, is a license plate. You won’t just need the plate but also the accessories needed to mount that plate and make it visible to drivers near you. Having a street-legal, plated ATV is great but, if the authorities can’t see it very well, expect to get stopped so they can get a better look at it.
To avoid this, first, get a plate holder that holds the plate over the mud flap and has lighting elements that keep it visible in dark. You don’t want the plate to be obscured, after all. In most states, you’ll be putting this holder on the back of your ATV. If you have a UTV, most of those have roll bars that are capable of accommodating a license plate much easier than an ATV can.
Continuing with the more obvious requirements, a street-legal vehicle also needs turn signals. We mentioned them above, saying that if you can get a horn as part of a turn signal kit, then you’ve effectively killed two birds with one stone. The traffic around you needs to know where you’re going and when, and no, you can’t use hand signals in many places and some people won’t notice in time.
These kits are very easy to install, literally plugging into your ATV. The most important part, we’d say, is that it has a switch that mounts to the steering column that makes it reachable, and so convenient to use.
Speaking of the important features that should be on your handlebars and steering column, you’re going to need mirrors. Out on the trail, in the wild with nothing but your ATV around you, you aren’t checking over your shoulder for a hatchback that has personal space issues. Well, when you’re on the road, you’ll have to and to avoid getting chronic neck strain you should grab some side mirrors and a rearview mirror.
They’re easy to install as long as you get ones with universal mounting options. As with the license plate, UTV roll bars also make it much easier than the standard ATV. When buying the mirrors, make sure you know the tube size of the ATV you’re riding so that you can get mirrors (and mirror mounts) of the right sizes.
Most of them are made out of plastic or aluminum, and you can probably guess what we’d recommend if you’re expecting a bumpy ride. Aluminum is best for tougher trails whilst the plastic variants are cheaper but more fragile.
The single biggest reason that standard ATVs have been restricted from public roads is the fact that their tires aren’t safe for use there. ATVs need tires that can tackle any terrain, it’s kind of in the name, but this means very aggressive treads and thicker tires that are very gripping. This makes driving on the road uncomfortable since the ride is bumpier, and costly since it’ll wear down the off-road tires very fast. Depending on the road, these wheels can also accelerate damage on the roads themselves, too, which will anger the local authorities.
You should check out the Department of Transportation to see if the tires you own are street legal. You can do this by finding the code on the sidewall of your tire and looking it up. DOT-approved tires are very light on off-road capabilities, so you have a problem in that you need to find a decent balance between off-road performance and on-road safety.
Tail Lights and Brake Lights
You can’t get away with just turn signal lights, you’ll need tail and brake lights too. You probably already have some on your ATV depending on how much you use it, so it may not be a big deal for you. If not, however, you can get them in the same kit as tail lights and brake lights if you’re an efficient customer.
Streets have speed limits that the trails do not, so you should grab a speedometer to make sure you’re in the clear. You don’t want to be caught over or under the limits, after all. Most ATVs will come with a speedometer, so you probably have one lying around somewhere. If not, you can find an almost infinite selection available to you online.
The question here is whether you have enough reflection since most ATVs and UTVs you can buy nowadays will have reflectors packaged with them. Check your state requirements to see if they need to be of a certain quantity, size, or color, and don’t worry if you do need to buy some more since they’re very easy to install.
We don’t need to tell you that ATVs, and UTVs for that matter, can get messy. Even when you’re driving on the road, you’re likely to just end up throwing up stones. This is pretty dangerous, not least for other people’s cars, so don’t ditch those mud flaps that your ATV likely came with. If you haven’t got mud flaps on your ATV, then get some.
Speaking of things getting thrown up, you’re going to want a windshield. Just because you have mud flaps to protect everyone else’s cars around you, that doesn’t mean debris won’t get thrown at you. Even then, you usually need to have a windshield if you want to drive on the street. We say usually because some states may not require one or they make a compromise by letting you wear goggles to protect your eyes. Find which one is legal for you, and then go with what you feel is safest.
There’s a lot of different windshields available, so if you go for a proper screen covering you should be able to find one that looks good and affords you the protection you want. Again, states that mandate windshields might even dictate which windshields you have, from a choice of full, half, or flip-out windshields.
There aren’t many restrictions on the materials used, but some states will restrict even this. If you’re shopping for simple, strong protection, you should go for trusty glass windshields. The downside to glass is that it’s usually just a full windshield, and of course, they’re heavy. Polycarbonate windshields are cheaper and lighter but are prone to scratching.
ATVs are generally louder than cars. This might not be a problem where you are, so check your state requirements to see if you can skip this step and save some of your hard-earned cash. If you do need a muffler, however, it’s because states get finicky over how quiet the mufflers are, or whether that muffler has a spark arrestor. If you do need one of these, you can find many available online or at your local workshop.
Your ATV should have come with headlights, we’d be surprised if they didn’t, so this step is already complete. That said, if you’re in a state where the local government is very stringent in what they allow on the road, you may have issues with how bright those headlights are. For once, we’re talking about scaling up a feature of your ATV instead of downgrading it to be road-worthy since ATV lights tend to be weaker than car headlights.
We’d have assumed you have the following before even looking at how to modify your ATV for the road but, if you haven’t thought about the things you’d need that aren’t part of your ATV or UTV, check some of them out below.
Your ride can’t be street legal if it isn’t registered, no matter what you do to your ATV. In fact, the above requirements are what you need to register your vehicle in the first place to get access to public roads.
You’ll need insurance too, obviously. Just because you’re in an ATV, that doesn’t mean you can drive amongst insured cars on the street without being insured yourself. Your auto policy should let you add an ATV but, if they don’t, then you can find specialty ATV policies.
Most states that let you make ATVs road-worthy require you to pass an inspection before the registration process is complete. The depth of this inspection depends on the state. Sometimes it’ll be a state official who’s been told what to look for, other times it’ll be a signature from an approved auto shop, or maybe you can get away with receipts and other documentation of your modifications. Get familiar with your state regulations so you know which method is best to go with.
Some states will let you drive an ATV without a driver’s license, and some won’t, and we’d hope that you know where your state lies if you own one. However, when you drive on public roads, you’re going to need a driver’s license. Once again, you must follow the same rules as cars do, essentially.
Tethered Kill Switch
Okay, so this one is tied to your ATV but isn’t in any way necessary, hence why we’ve put it here. A tethered kill switch is a safe addition to your quad and it’ll usually only set you back five dollars. Attacking to your gear, or sometimes your wrist, the kill switch turns the engine off if you fall off of the quad. On the trail, there’s little risk of you harming anyone but now that you’re on the road, it may go on to hurt someone or hit someone’s expensive car.
Street Legal Kits
Universal street legal kits are a good option for most ATV/UTV models. They’re a handy and fast way to get most of what you’d need to get your ATV street legal. That said, these kits aren’t supposed to be state-specific, so you can’t just grab one of these kits and call it a day. It’ll include all of the basic requirements that you will need to get street legal in every state that polices it, but some of the added features may be absent, so consult the list above to make sure you have everything you need.
Kits can require some knowledge of wiring, so be careful that you don’t get a kit that goes over your head with the skill needed to implement it. We’d suggest consulting a wiring diagram for your vehicle so that you can know what you’re doing.
Some Choice State Requirements
Before we get down to these state requirements, there are some general state-related rules that need to be hammered out. Firstly, the full faith and credit clause doesn’t apply to ATVs as it does for cars, so you can’t drive your ATVs to different states. Some states might accept your registrations even if they’re out of state, usually a registration from a neighboring state works best. This doesn’t make an illegal driving habit legal just because the next state over lets it happen, but instead gives you a benefit of the doubt if there’s a grey area in the legislation.
The downside here is that some states may have requirements completely separate from registrations. We had mentioned before how some states punish ATVs as if they’re cars, and so will go after those without seatbelts. You’ll get a ticket for this no matter how you’re registered.
To round off this article, we’ve put the requirements for those states where ATVs are more popular below. There are 27 sets of requirements, to be exact, some explaining how you can make your ATV and even a few explain why you can’t make your ATVs state legal in certain areas. The overwhelming majority of you should find your state listed here. They’re listed in alphabetical order for ease of navigation.
Arizona is a very popular state for ATV and UTVs because of how easy it is to get street legal. If you’ve seen an ATV riding around on the southwest coast, there’s every chance that it’s licensed in Arizona and has been brought over to places like California. So, let’s get down to brass tacks.
If you’re in one of the larger urban areas in Arizona, like Phoenix or Tucson, you will first need to have your ATV emissions tested so that it isn’t too pollutive. From there, you will need to have a brake, brake light, one to two headlights that are capable of shining 500 feet ahead, and one tail light that has the same visibility range. It should also have a red reflector, a lighted license plate, a horn that’s audible from 200 feet, a constant-operation muffler, a rearview mirror, a seat, and accompanying footrests for the rider and a cap for the fuel tank. Your ATV probably has most of these already, so even though the list is quite long, you should have a lot of them pre-installed.
Since we already mentioned it, California is opposite to Arizona in that registering a road-safe ATV in this state can be pretty tough. The laws are so obtuse that people disagree over whether street-legalizing an ATV is possible or not. The CARB, or California Air Resources Board office, has strict emission standards for vehicles both on and off the highway due to the state’s stringent environmental preservation laws. Approval is marked by a sticker, so you’ll need this to use the roads.
Colorado is like California in that there’s a debate over whether the current legislation makes street-legalization for ATVs possible. Many think that the regulations against ATV driving on most public streets make street-legalization as a whole untenable. The reality is that these regulations differ between counties, so you’ll need to check those regulations instead. This is because some areas in Colorado do treat ATVs more like motorcycles than cars, allowing you to register them for the streets as if they were a motorbike.
Idaho defines an ATV as a recreational vehicle with three or more tires that simultaneously weights under 900 pounds and is up to 50 inches wide, all with a handlebar steering and a straddle seat. You need to have an IDPR sticker to be registered in Idaho unless you’re on farmland. As for modifications, you need a brake light, headlight, and taillight, a horn that’s audible from 200 feet, and a mirror that shows 200 feet behind your ATV or UTV.
In Indiana, you generally can’t drive ATVs or UTVs on public streets. The closest you can get is riding on right-of-way paths routes that are adjacent to public highways, and not limited access highways, and only when you can do so with sufficient room and no endangerment of life or property. If traveling from one riding area to another, you can cross a public highway at a 90-degree angle but must also yield to all traffic first. Individual towns have different laws on what gets permitted on county roads so consult the relevant requirements there.
As for requirements, you need one headlight and taillight, a working brake system, a working muffler, and of course a helmet for anyone under 18.
Federal or state roads in Kansas are off-limits for ATV riders for the most part. The exception is that you can operate an ATV and UTV on public streets in second- or third-class cities, which are places with less than 15,000 residents. County and township roads can also be driven on, even in evening hours if your ATV is equipped with a light. You need to have a valid driving license to operate it and the ATV must be registered as a passenger car.
You’re generally not permitted to ride an ATV on a public highway, roadway, or right-of-way path in Kentucky. That said, the Transportation Cabinet and the local county and city governments can designate certain areas, including portions of highways, open to ATVs and UTVs. You need to have a valid driver’s license but, if you can drive on the street, you’re limited to driving during daylight hours unless you’re removing snow or providing some other emergency road maintenance services.
You still need working headlights and taillights if you’re driving in public, however, as well as protective wear and a suitable muffler.
Michigan regulations are known to be some of the more stringent when it comes to legalizing an ATV or UTV for the street. This is, in part, due to the state’s demand that you have a full windshield made from glass that’s complete with a wiper and a washing system, which will make it more expensive than usual to modify.
Montana is a haven for ATV drivers, so it’s not much of a surprise that the state has some of the lightest legalization standards in the nation. All you need to do is have brake lights, mirrors, a horn, turn signals, reflectors, mud flaps, a quieting muffler, and a license plate holder that’s complete with a lighting element for that plate.
In Nevada, you need to have your ATV titled and registered as per new laws in the state to protect against theft and tax evasion, respectively. You don’t need to insure it and must be 16 years old.
However, operating on public streets in Nevada is generally prohibited, even on gravel roads. Some of the exceptions are where local governing agencies allow licensed drivers to use ATVs on roads, usually with a 45 miles-per-hour speed limit.
Utah has some comprehensive regulations that allow you to ride your ATV on the street. First, you have to title and register it, which means an annual fee, and it has to pass a safety inspection too. For modifications, you’ll need a headlight, taillight, a license plate illuminated by a white light, a red reflector, a stoplight, either amber or red front turn signals and red ones at the rear, a braking system, rearview mirrors, eye protection, an illuminated speedometer, a windshield, and a working muffler. The tire tread has to be 2/32 inches and not over 29 inches.
Washington state is known to be one of the easier states for UTV legalization. ATV legalization is tougher, which is to be expected. You just need to grab the right modifications when you find them, such as a headlight, two taillights, a stoplight, turn signals and reflectors, working brakes, horn, and a spark arrestor, a windshield, and a pair of mirrors.
The downside is that Washington is one of those states with stringent seatbelt requirements, ruling out most ATVs for public road travel but making UTVs viable. If you have an ATV, you can drive it on roads if you’re going under 45 miles-per-hour.