ATV Safety Blog

ATV Trip Planning and Rules of the Road

June 24, 2011

How to have a safe and fun ride without any troubles

By Steve Casper, NOHVCC Communications Director

Responsible ATV riders generally don't get themselves into situations that involve the words "search parties" and "rescue crews." They avoid those scenarios by following the tips listed here:

  • Ride with a partner. It is really hard to ride an ATV with a broken arm! Riding solo can leave you vulnerable in case of an accident or breakdown.
  • Check that your ATV is in proper working condition, all fluids are topped off, and there are no loose or broken parts.
  • Contact the land manager for area restrictions, and if crossing private property, be sure to ask permission from the landowners.
  • Be certain each rider in your party has a map and knows where the group is headed. If you become separated, stay on the correct trail and let the group find you. Taking different trails could result in you becoming lost.
  • Know your machine’s fuel range and plan accordingly.
  • Check the weather forecast before leaving home. For winter riders in mountainous areas, always check the avalanche forecast.
  • Always tell someone where you are going and when you will return. Provide them with a map of your intended riding area.
  • Bring along a proven lifesaver—your cell phone!
  • Be prepared for any emergency. Always carry a tool kit and spare parts, a tire repair kit, tow strap, a first aid kit, and survival equipment when you ride. Carry plenty of extra food, water, and fuel.

Know the Ride Area's Rules and Regulations

Before you think about going to any public riding area, know all the rules and regulations. This will not only keep you from being sent home as soon as you arrive, but it could keep you from getting a ticket (or even worse, from getting hurt). There are several ways to find out what the rules and regulations are: the Internet (search for the name of the ride area), by phone, or by picking up a brochure on the ride area.

Begin your search by determining which land management agency runs the show. Privately held ride areas and parks are becoming more and more common and adhere to their own set of rules, which can be quite different from the ride areas run by government agencies.

Because the rules and regulations at riding areas throughout the country differ considerably, there are a wide variety of rules. However, below is an example of some of the regulations you will encounter.

Typical Rules and Regulations

  • Wear your helmet. Some areas require all riders to wear a helmet while others do not. Some require them only for children under a certain age. But we recommend that everyone always wears a helmet when trail riding.
  • Have a registration sticker, decal, or plate. Many states with public ride areas require a sticker. Most will honor out-of-state stickers, but some do not.
  • Carry safety whips or flags. These are generally required at all dune ride areas and attach to the rear grab bar. They cost around $10 to $20 and are sometimes sold near the ride area.
  • Be aware of seasonal closures. Many ride areas prohibit ATV use during wet or snowy times of the year. Some even close down during the summer if conditions get bad, so be sure to call ahead of time.
  • Use spark arrestors. This is more of a concern in the western states. At some parks, the rangers check for a spark arrestor on every OHV coming through the gate.
  • Stay on the trail at all times. Most state and national forests strictly enforce this rule. Other parks, such as those at sand dunes, allow free ride, cross-country travel. Some ride areas have special free ride areas set aside (mud bogs, small dunes, dried lakes, etc.)
  • Know the rules about riding double. Some areas allow it, others do not. Also, there are quads designed specifically for two-up riding.
  • Know the speed limit. Some sections of a ride area may have certain speed limits (along the beach, near the parking or camping areas, etc.). Some multiple-use trails may have a set speed limit for the entire trail system.
  • Carry a safety certificate. Some states require proof that riders under a certain age have taken a safety-training course. Some have limits as to just how young a rider can be.
  • Know the sound limit. This relatively new regulation is popping up at ride areas all over the country. Rangers do a stationary sound check on your ATV to make sure it meets the decibel limit for that particular ride area. Currently, all riders on state lands in California must meet a 96 dBa limit. Most stock quads easily pass the test.
  • Check your headlight. If the ride area allows night riding, you’d better have a working headlight!
  • Know the rules about washing your ATV. With all the concern over invasive weeds, some riding areas require riders to wash their machines at the provided washing station to get rid of any seeds stuck on the quads.
  • Know the rules about riding on public roads. Virtually all states allow riders to safely cross from one side of the road to the other at a 90-degree angle. Some states and communities actually allow riders to legally operate their ATVs on public roads (either limited or unlimited), and some ATVs are even licensed to ride on the street (with some modifications such as turn signals, tires, etc).