What Is a Street Legal ATV?

C. Mitchell

A street legal all-terrain vehicle (ATV) is an ATV that can be permissibly driven on streets and in regular traffic. Whether an all-terrain vehicle is street legal is entirely a matter of local law. Different countries, regions and even cities have nuanced laws regarding which kinds of vehicles can be driven on regular roads. Just because an ATV is legal in one place does not mean that driving privileges are ubiquitous. Even localities that allow ATVs on public streets generally require a variety of licensing, insurance documentation and safety specifications, and the rules are not always consistent from place to place.

An on-road ATV is equipped with headlights.
An on-road ATV is equipped with headlights.

ATVs, as their names suggest, are primarily designed as off-roading sport vehicles. There are many types of ATVs, but most are intended to be driven on private property, often out in the country on large plots of rugged land. No driver’s license usually is required to operate an ATV, but this might change if the vehicle is driven on regular roads.

An ATV is a vehicle designed for driving on a large variety of terrains.
An ATV is a vehicle designed for driving on a large variety of terrains.

The main reason that ATVs are not automatically street legal in most places is because of safety. ATVs are not, by and large, designed to be operated in traffic. They often lack turn signals, headlights and seat belts, for instance, and few are durable enough to withstand a crash with a larger vehicle. Protecting citizens is the main reason that local authorities limit when and how ATVs can be used on city streets and government-maintained roads.

It is difficult to say what distinguishes a street legal ATV from a non-street legal ATV in large part because the definition can change so dramatically from place to place. Almost everywhere that they are allowed, however, the vehicles must be outfitted with street tires and must comply with standard emissions, licensing, registration and insurance requirements. The driver typically must wear a helmet and carry a valid driver's licenses. A specific ATV license might also be required.

These and other local differences make buying a street legal ATV something of a gamble in many places. Prospective purchasers would be wise to research the laws of their home city or county before investing in a vehicle that might be restricted to trails or open land. Many manufacturers sell street legal ATV parts and retrofitting kits, but again, these usually are designed to meet the requirements of one specific place. ATV owners who move are often displeased to note that, although their vehicle was street legal before, it is not legal on the streets around their new home.

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