All-terrain vehicles are popular in West Virginia and throughout the nation, but their use can also lead to dangerous accidents. If you own one of these vehicles, you should familiarize yourself with the laws that apply to its use. Complying with the law will help you avoid ATV accidents as well as the legal penalties that come with non-compliance.
Recent changes to state law in 2020 have made it legal to drive ATVs on certain public roads as long as the person driving that vehicle follows certain rules and restrictions.
In this article, we will go over registration and licensing requirements, where you can and can’t ride in most cases, age restrictions, and look into accident and injury liability for off-road vehicle accidents.
How Does West Virginia Define an All-terrain Vehicle?
Under state law, an all-terrain vehicle is any motorized vehicle measuring less than 52 inches long and with an unladen weight of under 800 pounds.
Additionally, any vehicle operating on three or more low-pressure tires with the driver straddling the seat that has the capability to scale rough or unimproved terrain, also falls under the umbrella of an ATV.
Do You Have to Register Your ATV?
West Virginia law requires owners to have their ATVs titled in order to ride on public lands.
If you are planning on riding your ATV or UTV on the streets, you must have it registered as a “street-legal special purpose vehicle” under the new law passed in March of 2020.
The process of registering your offroad vehicle to ride on public roads is the same as registering a motorcycle. This means that you will need to obtain a valid registration card and a certificate of insurance as well as a license plate issued by the DMV.
Are There Any License Requirements to Operate an ATV?
Riders over the age of 18 do not have to have a valid driver’s license to operate an ATV.
However, any rider under 18 years of age must have a level 2 intermediate driver’s license if they wish to carry a passenger.
Keep in mind that not all off-road vehicles are made for passengers and it is illegal to carry an extra rider on a single-rider ATV.
ATV Age Restrictions
West Virginia places no minimum age restrictions on riding ATVs. However the following rules apply to riders under 18:
- Any riders under age 18 must complete a state-accredited free vehicle rider safety awareness course.
- ATV operators under age 18 must wear a protective helmet that is size-appropriate.
- If a rider under 18 wants to carry a passenger, and the vehicle can legally hold a passenger, they must have a level 2 intermediate driver’s license.
ATV Road Laws
West Virginia’s road laws with regard to ATVs, UTVs, and side-by-sides have changed. Under Senate Bill 690, which was passed in March of 2020, operators can now ride their vehicles on some public streets with a few restrictions.
If you are only operating your vehicle on private land, the vehicle will only need to be titled and the following street-legal requirements will not apply.
First, in order to be legally driven, the vehicle must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles as a “street-legal special purpose vehicle”. You must have valid insurance in order to register and receive a license plate.In many ways the registration and licensing requirements are similar to registering a motorcycle.
ATV Required Equipment
Second, the vehicle must have the following:
- A spark arrester
- One or more headlights
- One or more tail lights
- One or more brake lights
- A white light to illuminate your registration plate
- One or more red reflectors on the rear
- Amber or red electric turn signals for each side on the front and back
- Braking system, other than a parking brake
- A horn or other warning device
- A muffler in good working order and an emission control system if required by federal law
- Rearview mirrors on both sides of the driver
- A windshield, unless the driver wears eye protection
- A speedometer, illuminated for operating in the dark
- A passenger seat for vehicles designed to carry a passenger
- Tires that have at least 2/32 inches or greater of tire tread.
What Roads are ATVs Allowed on When Registered?
Riders may not operate their vehicles on controlled-access highways, interstate highways, or on roads that a county, municipality, or Division of Natural Resources has defined as off-limits to special purpose vehicles.
County commissions may pass countywide comprehensive plans that prohibit these vehicles from certain areas and roads.
Special purpose vehicles are also not allowed to travel more than 20 miles on a highway with center line markings.
What are the General ATV Requirements if You’re Not Taking it on the Road?
We have mentioned some of these above, but you should also ensure your ATV meets the following general requirements even if you are not riding it on the road:
- A working muffler system that you have not modified
- A spark arrester
- Operable illuminated headlights and tail lights if you ride at night
- Manufacturer-designed seat for passengers if you are carrying a passenger
If your vehicle is not registered to ride on the road, you are still permitted to cross public roads by observing the following rules:
- Come to a complete stop before crossing
- Yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic
- Cross at a 90 degree angle (go straight across)
- Head- and tail-lights must be on
You may also operate your vehicle on the shoulder of some roads for less than 10 miles, traveling under 25 miles per hour, with lights on between sunrise and sunset if you are traveling between a residence and trail.
Are There Other ATV Regulations in West Virginia?
There a few more ATV laws that you should also know if you plan on operating an ATV:
- If you are riding on private property with the permission of the owner, the laws above do not apply.
- Riders who use off-road vehicles for lawful non-recreational commercial purposes do not need to comply with the restrictions above. Examples include farming, ranching, oil and gas operations, surveying, timbering, and public utility access.
- It’s against the law to operate an ATV while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
- The state, by statute, offers a free ATV safety course for anyone who wants to take it.
Private Property Exemption
ATV riders and passengers riding exclusively on private property with the owner’s permission are not required to follow the laws described above.
However, these laws are in place for your safety.
It’s best practice to always wear a helmet to protect against head trauma if an accident occurs, even though it is not legally required on private property.
Similarly, properly equipping your ATV can prevent accidents. For example, headlights help you see what is in front of you so you can avoid hitting an animal or running into another hazard.
Legal Consequences of Not Abiding by the Law
Riders who do not comply with these laws risk license suspension, up to a $100 fine, and a misdemeanor conviction and sentence of community service.
Parents, legal guardians, or others with responsibility for a child under 18 who know that their child is operating an off-road vehicle without a helmet may be charged with a misdemeanor with the following consequences:
- First offense: A $50-$100 dollar fine or up to 10 hours of community service, or both.
- Second offense: A $100-$200 dollar fine or up to 20 hours of community service, or both
- Third offense: A fine of $200-$500 or up to 100 hours of community service, or both.
Failing to follow West Virginia law also risks the physical consequences that can occur when riders get into an accident. For example, not wearing a helmet could result in a severe traumatic brain injury.
By following the state of West Virginia’s ATV laws, you can reduce your chance of injuries and avoid becoming one of the following statistics:
- More than 95 percent of ATV crash victims were not wearing a helmet.
- One out of three ATV crashes involves a passenger.
- Approximately one-quarter of fatalities related to ATV use occur in children under age 16.
- More than one out of five ATV accidents involve drugs or alcohol.
Who’s Liable in an ATV Accident?
West Virginia ATV riders who suffer injuries in accidents while riding may have legal rights to receive compensation, if their accidents result from someone else’s careless or reckless actions.
Parties who could face liability for causing an accident that injures an ATV riders could include:
- The owner (if different from the rider)
- The manufacturer (if a defective part causes an accident)
- The owner of land where the injury happened (if the owner fails to warn of a hidden, unreasonably dangerous property condition)
Always contact an experienced motor vehicle accident injury lawyer after sustaining any sort of injury in an ATV accident. You may have valuable rights to compensation, if you act quickly.
Injured in an ATV Crash? Contact an ATV Injury Lawyer Today
If you’ve suffered injuries in an off-road vehicle accident, contact the experienced ATV accident attorneys at the Miley Legal Group today for a free consultation to discuss the details of your accident and injuries.