Guide to the ATV and UTV Laws in Iowa

Continuing in our series of articles analyzing the ATV laws in every state, which stemmed from this article, we are addressing the ATV laws in Iowa in this article.  It should also be noted that, while I am an attorney, I am not your attorney and am not giving legal advice.  If you have questions, you should consult a local attorney.

How does Iowa Define an ATV?

Iowa defines an ATV or all-terrain vehicle as “a motorized vehicle with not less than three and not more than six nonhighway tires that is limited in engine displacement to less than 1,000 cubic centimeters and in total dry weight is less than 1,200 pounds and that has a seat or saddle designed to be straddled by the operator and handlebars for steering control.”

If you want to see the weight of common ATVs, check out this guide.

Iowa further refers to off-highway vehicles or OHVs, which encompasses both ATVs and UTVs.  An OHV is defined as an all-terrain vehicle, off-road motorcycle and off-road utility vehicle.

Iowa defines an off-road utility vehicle or ORV (we refer to them herein by their more common name, UTV) as “a motorized vehicle with not less than four and not more than eight nonhighway tires or rubberized tracks that has a seat that is of bucket or bench design, not intended to be straddled by the operator, and a steering wheel or control levers for control.”

Iowa further defines ORVs (UTVs) into three different categories.  A type 1 ORV has a total dry weight of 1,200 pounds or less and a width of 50 inches or less.  A type 2 ORV has a total dry weight between 1,200 and 2,000 pounds and a width between 50 and 65 inches.  Finally, a type 3 ORV has a total dry weight over 2,000 pounds or a width over 65 inches.

To see what UTVs fit into which type, refer to this guide on UTV weight and this guide on UTV dimensions.

ATV and UTV Registration Requirements in Iowa

 Any ATV or UTV to be used on public lands in Iowa must first be registered with the DNR.  The application for registration can be filed through the County Recorder.  If you purchase your ATV or UTV from a dealer, the dealer is required to handle the application and pay all fees on your behalf.

When you file an application to register your ATV or UTV, you must provide the following:

  • bill of sale;
  • prior registration, if applicable; and
  • any other proof of ownership if required by your County.

You must carry your registration certificate whenever the ATV or UTV is in use.  Further, you must be able to provide your registration certificate a peace officer upon request, to a person injured in an accident involving your ATV or UTV; to the owner or operator of another vehicle involved in an accident with your vehicle, to the owner of real property upon which any such accident occurs and to the owner of property upon which your ATV or UTV is being operated without permission.

Upon registration, you will also receive a decal that is required to be displayed on your ATV or UTV.  On an ATV or UTV, the decal shall be clearly visible on the rear of the ATV or UTV. 

If you have purchased your ATV or UTV from a dealer or if it was previously registered in Iowa, you may operate the ATV or UTV for 45 days following the purchase before completing the registration.

Your registration will expire on December 31 of the year the ATV or UTV is registered.

If your ATV or UTV is registered in another state, you do not need to register it in Iowa, but you do need to obtain a DNR Nonresident User Permit.  A nonresident is only permitted a permit for one ATV or UTV.  The permit must be displayed on the rear of your ATV or UTV.

Registration of ATVs and UTVs is not required for the following:

  • Enforcement vehicles;
  • Search and Rescue vehicles;
  • Official research and studies vehicles; and
  • Vehicles used exclusively for agricultural purposes.

Iowa ATV and UTV Titling Requirements

If you acquired your ATV or UTV on or after January 1, 2000, you are required to apply to the County Recorder for a certificate of title.  The application must be made within 30 days after the ATV or UTV.

When you apply for a title, you must provide the following:

  • date of sale;
  • gross price of sale or, if no sale preceded the transfer, the fair market value; and
  • whether the vehicle was last registered in another state.

When a titled ATV or UTV is sold, the certificate of title must be transferred to the new owner.

Youth Regulations

Youth riders aged 12-17 must have taken and passed an ATV education course and received an approved education certificate, which they must have in their possession when operating an ATV or UTV on public land.

ohv, orv, utv

Where you can Ride an ATV or UTV in Iowa

It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV on any public land or trail unless signage indicates the trail or area is open to the operation of ORVs.  Note that an ATV or UTV may not be used on snowmobile trails unless permitted use is designated.

There are eight riding parks in Iowa which offer a variety of riding experiences.  The riding parks are located at the following places:

  • Bluff Creek in Mashaska County (ATV use only);
  • Gypsum City in Webster County;
  • Lake View in Johnson County;
  • Nicholson-Ford in Marshall County;
  • Rathbun in Appanoose County;
  • Riverview in Black Hawk County; and
  • Tama Park in Tama County.

You can find more about current regulations at these parks here.  You can also check at anytime to see if any of the above parks closed to use by checking here.

Rules for Iowa OHV Parks

The following rules apply to ATV or UTV usage in Iowa OHV Parks:

  • All machines must have valid registration decals and, where applicable, nonresident user permits affixed, with registration certificates available.
  • All operators and passengers must wear helmets.  If you need to pick up a new helmet to go riding, we recommend this O’Neal helmet as the perfect combination of value and quality.
  • Passengers are only allowed where their presence has been designed by the manufacturer of the ATV or UTV.
  • You must comply with all posted signs.
  • Unless posted otherwise, you may not ride between sunset and sunrise.
  • All ATVs and UTVs must have working brakes, headlights and taillights.
  • All vehicles and trailers must be parked in designated parking areas.
  • You may not operate an ATV or UTV at excessive speeds or in a careless, reckless or negligent manner.
  • You may not operate an ATV or UTV under the influence of alcohol or narcotics.
  • Sound leves above 96 decibels are not permitted.
  • You may not consume or possess alcohol in the designated riding area.
  • Pets are only permitted in the parking area, not in the designated riding areas.
  • Youth aged 12-17 must be under the direct supervision of a parent or guardian who is an experienced rider and who possesses a valid driver’s license unless the youth has a valid education certificate in their possession.  Note this supervision rule does not apply for UTVs.
  • Youth under the age of 12 may only operate (under the direct supervision of a parent or guardian experienced with UTVs) a UTV with an engine under 200cc and a dry weight of not more than 550 pounds.
  • You must possess a valid driver’s license to carry a passenger.
  • UTVs must be equipped with a roll-over protection system and seat belts (which must be worn).
  • Passengers in a UTV must keep hands and feet inside the vehicle whenever it is in motion.
  • Vehicles cannot be home built or substantially modified from the manufacturer’s specifications.

Can you Operate an ATV or UTV on Public Streets in Iowa?

In general, it is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV upon public roads in Iowa.  Notwithstanding, counties or cities may designate streets under their jurisdiction open for ATV or UTV operation.

An ATV or UTV may make a direct crossing of a public street with the following conditions:

  • the crossing is made at an approximately 90 degree angle;
  • there is no obstruction which prevents a quick and safe crossing;
  • you come to a complete stop before crossing;
  • you yield the right of way to oncoming traffic;
  • the crossing is made at an intersection if crossing a divided highway; and
  • you are crossing from a trail where you are legally riding the ATV or UTV.

Where you are legally able to operate an ATV or UTV on a public street, Iowa law requires that you have insurance.

Hunting from an ATV or UTV in Iowa

It is unlawful for any person to operate an ATV or UTV while carrying a firearm unless the firearm is unloaded and enclosed in a carrying case.  This restriction does not extend to the following:

  • non-ambulatory people; 
  • a person operating an ATV or UTV on their own private property;
  • a pistol or revolver, whether concealed or not;

Furthermore, it is unlawful to discharge a firearm from an ATV or UTV unless you are a non-ambulatory person, lawfully hunting and the ATV or UTV is not moving at the time of discharge.

Finally, the following ATV and UTV laws specifically relate to hunting:

  • It is unlawful to chase any game animal in an ATV or UTV.
  • It is unlawful to use an ATV or UTV to assist in the taking of any game animal.
  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV on DNR wildlife management areas.

Required Equipment

  • Any ATV or UTV operated from sunset to sunrise or in conditions of insufficient lighting must be equipped with a headlight and taillight of sufficient light to render clearly discernible people and vehicles from five hundred feet.
  • Any ATV or UTV must be equipped with a working muffler that limits the emitted noise to 96 decibels or less.
  • Any ATV or UTV must be equipped with working brakes.

What to do if you are in an ATV or UTV Accident in Iowa

If you are involved in an ATV or UTV accident in Iowa where there is an injury or death to any person, or property damage of $1,500 or more, you must immediately notify law enforcement.

If such an accident occurred on public land, you must file a report of the accident within 72 hours.  You can obtain a copy of the report to be filed by calling 515-725-8200 or at this website

Other regulations:

  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV at a rate of speed greater than reasonable or proper under existing circumstances.
  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV in a careless, reckless or negligent manner that endangers another person or their property.
  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV in any tree nursery or planting in a manner which damages growing stock.
  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV in violation of any official signage.
  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV in a wildlife area, preserve, refuge or game management area.
  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV in any portion of an unfrozen stream or navigable water  except at a ford crossing when used for agricultural or stream maintenance.
  • It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV on a railroad right of way except at an established crossing.
  • Except during farming operations, you may not carry a passenger for which the ATV or UTV was not designed to carry.

Brent Huntley

Brent Huntley is the owner of ATV Man and is responsible for almost all the material on the website. He also runs and loves to travel and ride ATVs with his family. When he isn't playing, his day job consists of owning Huntley Law.

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