In Wisconsin, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility terrain vehicles (UTVs) are becoming increasingly popular not only for recreation but for travel between and within local communities. In turn, more cities, villages, towns and counties are opening roads, streets and highways to ATV and UTV travel.
To start, ATVs and UTVs are regulated by state law through the Department of Natural Resources. Chapter 23.33 of the Wisconsin Statutes outlines numerous requirements from registration, to noise, to lighting and more. When it comes to access to roadways and highways, however, regulation largely falls on local communities.
State law allows local counties and municipalities to designate some or all highways and roadways under their jurisdiction as all-terrain vehicle routes. On designated routes, these local governments may enact ordinances that regulate the use of ATVs and UTVs. State law leaves local governments with discretion when it comes to regulating aspects of use on routes under their jurisdiction.
While local control is retained over travel within communities, this deference may result in a patchwork of different regulations affecting travel between communities. For example, while one community may limit hours of operation, another may have no limits. For these reasons, it is important to be familiar with the local laws of the communities you intend to travel before heading out on the road with your ATV or UTV.
Some basic things from state law to be aware of include registration as well as operator and occupant restrictions. With limited exceptions, ATV and UTV owners must register the vehicle with the State of Wisconsin. Non-residents may obtain an annual trail pass from the DNR. Generally, ATV operators must be at least 12 years of age and UTV operators must be at least 16. With some exceptions, those born on or after January 1, 1988 shall obtain a safety certificate issued by the DNR. With limited exceptions, those under 18 years of age must wear protective headgear. Furthermore, seatbelts are required for all occupants.
Remember, local communities may impose greater restrictions on operators and occupants. For example, local ordinances may require operators to be at least 16 years of age and hold a valid Wisconsin driver’s license. You should always check with local law enforcement prior to traveling between communities to ensure that you and your occupants will be in compliance with all laws governing all-terrain vehicle operation on locally designated routes.