California ATV Laws – An Ultimate Guide

Last Updated on November 19, 2023 by ATVNotes

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ATVs are fun to ride. But with the fun comes the responsibility to ensure your and others’ safety while enjoying your ATV ride. So, there are ATV laws you must abide by to guarantee your and others’ safety in California. You might be well aware of the ATV laws in Alabama, Colorado, and elsewhere in the United States, but that will not give exposure to the nuances of likely but not the same laws in California. 

Say, Green Stickers and Red Stickers rules, California Lemon Law is not something to meet in laws for other states. Wearing helmets is mandatory to ensure that all riders are safe in this US state, and it’s recommended for all ages. And adults can easily take advantage of the opportunity to go out without a safety certificate while on an ATV but riders under 18 must have a safety certificate while riding. 

So, knowing California ATV laws in detail is much more than being well-informed of the rules and regulations of California.  

We will comprehensively tell you about all the laws and regulations decreed by the states and the rules enforced by the trails in the California OHV map

Google Map of California Off-road Spots

What Defines an ATV in California and Who can operate?

The definition of ATV varies from state to state in the USA, but a close inspection of ATV Laws in other states like Utah, Maine, and the likes tells the variations do not differ much. The following features define an OHV in California: 

  • There must be at most three or four low-pressure wheels on the ATV’s wheels, depending on the age of the ATV.
  • The framework of the ATVs must not be broader than 50 inches and not be heavier than 900 pounds.
  • The ATV has only one seat while the rider rides or operates. In simple terms, only one additional seat for a passenger is permitted in the ATV.
  • As for a steering aid, handlebars must be used.

Now, who can operate an ATV in California?

The rider must be at least 18 years old to ride an ATV, while people aged 14-17 need to have the parent’s or guardian’s supervision or must have the ATV safety certificate California OHV adventure demands. The person must be able to operate the ATV’s controls ultimately fully.

Laws for ATV Riders in California

All-terrain vehicles (ATV) use is a popular recreational activity in California, but knowing the laws and regulations regarding ATV riding is important. Following these rules and regulations ensures your safety and the well-being of others around you while enjoying California’s beautiful outdoors.

  1. The riders must have complete control over the ATV. The rider must reach the pedal and know about the ride’s controllers.
  2. The rider must carry one passenger only.
  3. The rider from 14-17 must have the safety certificate or carry someone with the safety certificate.
  4. All riders under 18 must have their parent’s permission and supervision while using and buying ATVs.
  5. All riders of any age group must have a safety certificate while carrying a child.
  6. All ATV riders are strictly directed to wear helmets while riding an ATV.
  7. The administration of California has set ATV riding laws of California in which ATVs can only be operated in the designated area, not on the highways. 


ATV, UTV, and Sise-by-side riders in California must adhere to a set of general restrictions by state law. ATV riders in California must familiarize themselves with these regulations before hitting the trails.

  • Riders of ATVs must also follow the rules of OHV general traffic.
  • ATV riders must ride according to the posted speed restrictions and follow all the traffic regulations on public roads.
  • On the off-roads, the rider must use discretion when deciding how fast to go unless they are 50 feet or less from other people, animals, or any heavy substances like rocks, buildings, etc. The required speed in this situation is 15 mph.
  • Riders of ATVs are not permitted to ride recklessly off-road. They must follow all posted signs in authorized zones of California.
  • Once the DMV reinstates their license, those riders with suspended or revoked licenses are permitted to drive.
  • ATVs must have functional lights, and the rider is directed to turn them on 30 minutes before nightfall and 30 minutes after sunrise.

Be Aware of Green Sticker and Red Sticker in California

Understanding the Green & Red stickers is crucial for the riders of the ATV. The Department of Motor Vehicles issues the green & red stickers according to the air safety limit of off-roading vehicles.

Green Stickers

The ATV riders with green stickers can drive their cars on state-designated public roads for off-highway vehicle activity with green stickers. A vehicle must fulfill the California Air Resource Board (CARB) air emission guidelines to get the green sticker.

With these guidelines followed you can earn the green sticker that implies the owner of an OHV who may drive their car throughout the year. Every two years, drivers must renew their green stickers at $52.

Red Stickers

ATVs tagged with red stickers are forbidden from using their vehicle during non-designated riding seasons. Red stickers are required for OHVs manufactured after 2003. As it doesn’t live up to the California Air Resource Board (CARB) ‘s air emission rules, the owners of the red stickers ride cannot modify their ATVs.

The state enforces this law at the manufacturer level. Regardless of the rider’s modifications, any OHV with a vehicle identifying number (VIN) indicating red sticker status will continue to fall under this categorization. Buying a car from a dealership with DMV approval stops customers from purchasing OHVs with red stickers.

Does California Lemon Law Apply to ATVs?

A vehicle with manufacturing flaws but projected as a new or reliable used vehicle is referred to as a “lemon.” The California Lemon Law obliges automakers to maintain their warranties, which commit them to fixing or replacing defective automobiles. Before releasing the car into the hands of the consumer, the manufacturer must make reasonable repair attempts.

The California Lemon Law does not particularly cover ATVs. But it implies that producers can only release risky or flawed ATVs with consequences. The Lemon law will apply different consumer warranty and product responsibility charges to the producer.

What Equipment do you need to Ride ATVs in California? 

Riding ATVs mentioned in the California SVRA map, OHV map, and other US ATV zones like Minnesota and Maine requires several pieces of equipment to ensure your safety and comply with the state’s laws.

Helmet: All riders must always wear a DOT-approved helmet while riding an ATV. In addition to helmets, riders must wear eye protection such as goggles or a face shield.

Muffler: California law mandates that every ATV must have a working muffler system to reduce noise levels and minimize any disturbance for residents and wildlife. On its top, each ATV rider should have appropriate clothing, such as long pants, gloves, and boots that cover the ankles. This will help protect you from mud splatters, scrapes, or bruises from branches or rocks.

Headlamp: Last but not least important is having proper lighting on your vehicle during night hours (30 minutes after and before sunset). Your vehicle should be equipped with at least one headlamp producing light visible up to 300 feet away for visibility purposes. 

Taillamp: When riding off-road vehicles like ATVs, UTVs, and the like, safety should always be a top priority. One essential part of an ATV is the taillamp serving as a warning signal to other drivers or riders behind you. The taillamp lets you know exactly where and when you’re slowing down or stopping. A bright and visible taillamp can prevent accidents and save lives.

Working Brakes: Braking is one of the most important aspects of ATV riding, and ensuring your vehicle’s braking system is in good working order can help prevent accidents. Most ATVs come with hydraulic disc brakes, known for their powerful stopping ability and durability. However, like any vehicle component, these brakes require regular maintenance to ensure they function correctly.

Spark Arrestor: An ATV spark arrestor is an essential safety feature for off-road vehicles. It is a device installed in the exhaust system of an ATV to prevent sparks from escaping and starting fires while riding on public lands. The spark arrestor functions by trapping or cooling down hot particles in the exhaust, preventing them from igniting surrounding vegetation.

Like ATV trails in Maine, Pennsylvania, and other states, California trails also require ATVs to have a spark arrestor installed before they can be used on public land. 

Ensuring you have all the necessary equipment on your ATV before hitting the trails in California ensures an enjoyable adventure without legal complications or injuries.

Is There an Age Restriction for Operating ATVs in California? 

There are age restrictions in operating ATVs and OHVs (Off-Highway Vehicles) in California. According to California law, individuals under 18 are not allowed to operate an ATV or OHV unless they have obtained a safety certificate from the state. The safety certificate can be obtained by completing an approved training course that covers the operation and safety practices for ATVs and OHVs.

Furthermore, children between the ages of 14 and 17 may operate an ATV/OHV without adult supervision if they have a safety certificate and their parents/guardians have signed a consent form. However, it is important to note that individuals under the age of 14 years old may only operate an ATV/OHV on private property with permission from the landowner.

It is also important to adhere to local regulations regarding ATVs/OHVs, as some counties or cities may have additional laws or ordinances. It is recommended that all riders wear appropriate protective gear such as helmets, goggles, gloves, boots, and long-sleeved shirts/pants while riding ATVs/OHVs, regardless of their age. 

Can You Carry passengers while Riding ATVs in California? 

According to California state law, carrying passengers on an ATV is illegal unless the vehicle is specifically designed for more than one rider. This means a standard ATV not built with a passenger seat or footrest cannot legally carry a passenger. Breaking this law can result in hefty fines and legal consequences.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. If the ATV has been modified with proper safety equipment, such as an added seat and footrest, riding with a passenger may be considered legal. Additionally, children under 14 may ride as passengers if supervised by an adult at least 18.

It’s important to note that even if an ATV is designed for more than one rider, all passengers must still wear helmets and other protective gear while riding. It’s always best to check local laws and regulations before operating any recreational vehicle in California or elsewhere. 

Is a Safety Course Mandatory to Operate ATVs in California? 

California imposes certain regulations on their use to ensure safety and prevent accidents. One of the most important regulations is the mandatory safety course requirement.

The California State Parks Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division (OHMVR) mandates that all ATV riders complete an approved ATV Safety Training Course before operating off-highway lands. The course must be taken from an approved training provider, and it covers topics such as proper riding techniques, understanding vehicle controls, and safe operation in different terrains.

The requirement applies to anyone aged 18 years or younger. As for riders below 18, to be specific for 6-17 years old riders, there is funding available for the safety courses to be conducted by ATV Safety Institute. Those over 18 years are not mandated by law but are strongly recommended to take the safety course before operating any ATV.

It’s essential to note that compliance with this regulation is crucial as failure to adhere may result in fines, penalties, or even imprisonment if convicted of causing injury or death while using an ATV without completing a safety course. 

California ATV Laws

Popular ATV Riding Spots in California 

California is a hotbed for ATV enthusiasts, with several popular riding spots to choose from. Whatever your preference – sand dunes or mountain trails – OHV parks in California has plenty to offer for ATV riding spots for every level of rider, from beginner to expert. 

Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) boasts over 85,000 acres of desert terrain to explore on your ATV or dirt bike. Another top pick is the Glamis Sand Dunes, offering miles of sand dunes and challenging terrain for experienced riders.

Moving up north, the Hollister Hills SVRA in San Benito County offers over 6,800 acres of rolling hills and steep slopes perfect for off-roading adventures. The nearby Carnegie SVRA in Tracy attracts thrill-seekers with its steep hills and rocky terrain.

Further north still lies the Mendocino National Forest, home to thousands of miles of roads and trails perfect for ATV exploration amidst picturesque forests and mountainscapes.

Heber Dunes is one of the best-designed areas for ATV rides, from 7 am to 7 pm from March 1 to October 31 and from 7 am to 5 pm November 1 to February 28. All the ATV riders must have a CA OHMVR sticker to operate in this area. 

Knoxville Recreation Area is considered the perfect area for ATV rides as it covers 51 miles of rugged area for off-road vehicles and some single-track motorcycle trails. 

There are many more to add to the list: 

  • La Grange OHV Regional Park
  • Rowher Flat OHV
  • Dove Springs

Are ATVs Street legal in California?

Like ATV laws in Michigan, Colorado, and elsewhere in the US, California law prohibits ATVs on public streets and highways. ATVs are designed for off-road use only and are not equipped with the necessary features such as turn signals, mirrors, brake lights, and proper tires to meet the requirements for street-legal vehicles. 

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. Specifically designed “street legal” ATVs that meet all state regulations can be operated on public roads. To qualify as street legal in California, an ATV must have certain safety features such as headlights/taillights, turn signals, a horn, mirrors, and DOT-approved tires, among others. It must also pass a smog test and be registered with the DMV.

Is Wearing a Helmet Mandatory in California?

In California, all ATV riders must wear a helmet when driving on public roads. This applies not only to the driver but also to any passengers on the ATV. Failure to do so can result in fines and potential legal consequences.

The law requires that helmets meet certain safety standards, including those set by the Department of Transportation (DOT) or Snell Memorial Foundation. So, if you don’t have one matching that standard, find the perfect ATV helmet.

Remember, the helmet should be adequately secured and fit snugly on the rider’s head. Knowing how to find the right size ATV helmet is akin to ensuring safety. 

What is the Difference between ATV and UTV?

ATVs, or All-Terrain Vehicles, are typically designed to be ridden by a single rider and have three or four wheels. They’re also known as quads and can come in varying sizes for different age groups. ATVs are often used for recreational purposes like off-roading and exploring trails.

In contrast, UTVs, or Utility Task Vehicles, are larger vehicles that can seat multiple passengers and have a steering wheel similar to a car. UTVs are designed with work-related tasks in mind, such as hauling cargo or performing farm work. They’re also commonly used in racing events due to their stability and durability.

The main difference between the two is their primary function. ATVs are geared towards individual recreation, while UTVs serve more practical purposes like transportation and labor-intensive tasks. Additionally, UTVs are more expensive than ATVs because of their size and capabilities. But the difference is slim between California UTV laws and that of ATVs. 


What is the California non-resident OHV use permit? 

The California non-resident OHV use permit is required for out-of-state riders who want to operate off-highway vehicles (OHVs) in California. This permit is valid for one year from the date of purchase, and California OHV sticker placement must be done. It should always display on the vehicle while operating in designated OHV areas. The permit costs $30 and can be purchased online or from a participating vendor.

Can I use My ATV in California, which is Registered in Arizona?

No, ATV registration California ATV ride requires doesn’t recognize the registration of Arizona. There may be several rules common in Arizona ATV Laws and those of California, but it is not possible to be registered in one of the states and be recognized to be registered in both. So, you must abide by the California OHV registration rules when riding in California. 

Do I Need a Driver’s License to Ride an ATV in California?

No, above the age of 17 doesn’t require the license, but 17 or below the age of 17 to 14 requires a safety certificate or adult supervision while operating an ATV. 

How Do I Register for OHV in California?

To register for OHV in California, follow a few simple steps. Firstly, obtain an Application for Title or Registration (REG 343) form from the DMV office or download it from their website. Next, complete the form with accurate information and submit it along with the required documents, such as proof of ownership, smog certification (if applicable), and payment for fees related to registration. 

After that, you will receive a new registration certificate indicating that your OHV is registered in California. 

Is Insurance Required for OHV in California?

In California, all off-highway vehicles (OHVs) must meet certain requirements to be operated legally. One of these requirements is insurance coverage. OHV owners must carry liability insurance covering at least $15,000 for injury or death to one person and $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person in an accident. Additionally, they must have property damage coverage that pays at least $5,000 per accident.

This insurance requirement aims to protect riders and others who may be affected by accidents involving OHVs. 

What is the New ATV Law in California?

The new ATV law in California states that children under 18 must wear a helmet while riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) on public lands. In addition to this requirement, the law also mandates that children under 14 years old are not allowed to operate an ATV on public lands unless supervised by someone at least 18 years of age.

This new law aims to improve safety measures for ATV riders and reduce the number of fatalities and injuries that occur each year. 

How Old Do You Have to Be to Drive an ATV in California?

California’s minimum age to operate an ATV is 16 years old. Individuals who are not yet 16 years old may only operate an ATV under direct adult supervision or if they possess a safety certificate. Additionally, it is important to note that individuals under 18 must wear a helmet while operating an ATV.

Bottom Line

All the set of ATVs rules and regulations in California are made for the safety of the riders and the other people as the ATV is the off-highway vehicle used in specifically designed areas. Many accidents have been caused by ATVs rider, especially in the age group of 14-17. That prompts the ATV age requirements California Off-highway vehicles must meet. In 2021 the ratio of accidents rapidly increases. So, the administration of California set some ATV rules and regulations so the situation could be under control. 

If you want to keep safe and on the right side of the laws and rules, go through the ATV laws imposed by California State and the rules made by the respective trails there. 

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