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 Wisconsin in this article. It should also be noted that, while I am an attorney, I am not your attorney, not licensed in Wisconsin and am not giving legal advice. If you have questions, you should consult a local attorney.
How does Wisconsin define an ATV and UTV?
Wisconsin defines an ATV or All-Terrain Vehicle as “a commercially designed and manufactured motor-driven device that has a weight, without fluids, of 900 pounds or less, has a width of 50 inches or less, is equipped with a seat designed to be straddled by the
operator and on 3 or more low-pressure or non-pneumatic tires.”
Note, Wisconsin also defines a separate category of ATVs as “small all-terrain vehicles.” The definition of a small ATV is “an all-terrain vehicle that has 4 wheels and that has either an engine certified by the manufacturer at not more than 130 cubic centimeters or
an equivalent power unit.”
To get an idea for what ATVs fit into Wisconsin’s definitions, check out these guides to ATV Weight
and ATV Dimension
Small Utility Terrain Vehicle—means a utility terrain vehicle
that has 4 wheels and that has either an engine certified by
the manufacturer at not more than 200 cubic centimeters or
an equivalent power unit.
Wisconsin defines a UTV or Utility Terrain Vehicle
as “a commercially designed and manufactured motor driven device
that does not meet federal motor vehicle safety standards in effect on July 1, 2012, that is not a golf cart, low-speed vehicle, dune buggy, mini-truck, or tracked vehicle, that is designed to be used primarily off of a highway, and that has, and was originally manufactured with
, all of the following:
- A net weight, without fluids, of 2,000 pounds or less.
- Four or more low pressure or non-pneumatic tires.
- A steering wheel.
- A tail light.
- A brake light.
- Two headlights.
- A width of not more than 65 inches.
- A system of seat belts, or a similar system, for restraining
each occupant of the device in the event of an accident.
- A system of structural members designed to reduce the
likelihood that an occupant would be crushed as the result
of a rollover of the device.
Similar to small ATVs, Wisconsin also has a separate designation for small UTVs. A Small Utility Terrain Vehicle is defined as “a utility terrain vehicle
that has 4 wheels and that has either an engine certified by the manufacturer at not more than 200 cubic centimeters or an equivalent power unit.”
To get an idea for what UTVs fit into Wisconsin’s definitions, check out these guides to UTV Weight
and UTV Dimension
Are you required to register your ATV or UTV in Wisconsin?
You are required to register your ATV as an ATV and your UTV as a UTV if you plan to ride on any public land in Wisconsin. Registration must be completed within 10 days of the purchase of the ATV or UTV. If you purchased from a dealer, they have 5 days to submit the registration. Note that, should your ATV meet all the definition of an ATV except it is too heavy and/or wide, it can be registered as a UTV. Small ATVs and UTVs must also be registered.
Upon registering your ATV or UTV, you will received a temporary operating receipt that you must carry with you while riding until you receive, by mail, your two registration decals. You are required to display a decal on each side of your ATV or UTV, in front of the operator, in a place where they are visible to law enforcement.
Registration Free Weekend
The only exception to this registration requirement for non-exempt vehicles is the first full weekend every June, when you are free to ride ATVs and UTVs without complying with the registration and trail pass requirements.
Private Use Registration
If you qualify, you may register your ATV or UTV under Private Use, Agricultural. This registration costs $15 and lasts until ownership of the ATV or UTV is transferred.
You may only take advantage of this registration option if your ATV or UTV is used for an agricultural purpose. Agricultural purpose is defined as “a purpose related to the transportation of farm implements, equipment, supplies, or products on a farm or between farms.
This form of registration is valid during operation on public roads for agricultural purposes, but is not valid for operation on public, frozen waterways or public lands otherwise open to ATVs/UTVs. If you want to use your ATV or UTV recreationally as well, you may dual register it for public use also.
You may also register an ATV or UTV under Private Use, Non-Agricultural. This form of registration is available if you use your ATV or UTV exclusively on private property owned by you or an immediate family member. Like the agricultural registration, this registration also costs $15 and remains valid until ownership of the ATV or UTV is transferred.
After you register your ATV or UTV in Wisconsin, you are required to attach a license plate to the rear of the ATV or UTV, unless your obtained a private registration. Unfortunately, this plate is not included with your registration, and you must either construct your own plate or purchase one.
The license plate must be at least 4 inches high and 7 1/2 inches wide. It must be white in color and display in black characters the four-number and
two-letter registration ID you were issued for the ATV or UTV. The characters must be at least 1.5 inches high with a minimum brush stroke of 3/16 of an inch wide.
Non-Resident Trail Passes
If you are not a Wisconsin resident, you either need to obtain a valid Public Use registration for your ATV or UTV, or you will need to obtain and display a non-resident trail pass.
When you purchase an annual trail pass, you will receive a temporary operating receipt that you must carry with you to operate your ATV or UTV in Wisconsin until you receive the trail pass decal, which should arrive by mail in 2 weeks or less.
The annual trail pass expires each year on March 31, regardless of when it was purchased. You may purchase the annual trail pass online, at select authorized sales locations or by calling WDNR at 1-888-WDNRINFo (1-888-936-7463).
If you do not want to purchase an annual trail pass, you may choose the 5-day Trail Pass. This pass must be printed from your computer or the Go Wild location where it is purchased. You must carry the pass with you whenever you are operating your ATV or UTV in Wisconsin during the 5 days. You do not receive a sticker or decal with the 5-day pass.
Note, you do not need a license plate if you are operating with an trail pass instead of a registration.
What to do when you move
When you change your address, you must submit written notification within 15 days to DNR. The notification must include your new address and the certificate number for the ATV or UTV you own. This process can also be accomplished by changing your address in your GoWild account information.
Other Registration Exemptions
Other ATV and UTV registration exemptions in Wisconsin include the following:
- Advertising. If you bring an ATV or UTV into Wisconsin for less than 15 days as part of an advertisement being made for the
manufacturer of the ATV or UTV, you are exempt from the registration
and trail pass requirements.
- Government. ATVs and UTVs owned by government agencies are exempt from registration requirements if the name of the agency that owns the ATV or UTV is clearly displayed on the outside of the ATV or UTV.
- Racing. ATVs and UTVs that are used exclusively for racing on a raceway facility are exempt from registration requirements.
Youth Regulations for ATV and UTV Operation in Wisconsin
The following regulations apply for youth operation of ATVs and/or UTVs in Wisconsin:
- Anyone over the age of 11 operating an ATV or UTV must possess a valid ATV safety certificate issued by any state or province. Said operators must have the safety certificate in their possession while operating in areas open to the public such as trails, routes and frozen waterways. Note, the popular ATV Safety Institute (ASI) and Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROVHA) certificates are not valid in Wisconsin. The only valid safety certificate must be obtained by completing a classroom course or an Internet course offered by www.atvcourse.com and www.offroad-ed.com. Prior to enrolling in a safety class, you must obtain a DNR Customer ID number using the DNR website, calling 1-888-936-7463 or visiting a DNR service center.
- Youth that possess a safety certificate may carry a passenger on an ATV or UTV.
- Children under the age of 12 may not operate an ATV, and children under 16 may not operate a UTV, on a roadway for any event, including crossing the road.
- All ATV and UTV operators aged 12-15 must be accompanied by a designated adult while operating on a designated ATV Route except
while operating for agricultural purposes with adult supervision.
- Anyone operating or riding as a passenger on an ATV or UTV that is under the age of 18 is required to wear a minimum DOT standard ATV or motorcycle helmet unless they are operating on private land owned by their immediate family, while operating for agricultural purposes or for the purpose of hunting or fishing. Check out our favorite ATV helmet, or this guide for how to pick out the best helmet for you.
Exceptions to Safety Certificate Requirements
There are a number of exceptions to the safety certificate requirements in Wisconsin. A safety certificate is not required in the following circumstances:
- While operating on private property owned by the operator’s immediate family;
- Children under the age of 12 operating on any private property with permission of the landowner and with the accompaniment of a designated adult.
- Children under the age of 12 operating a small ATV (see definition above) on a public ATV trail while accompanied by a designated adult;
- Operating during a demonstration even on a closed course while accompanied by a designated adult.
Agricultural Use of ATVs/UTVs in Wisconsin
As discussed above, you may register your ATV or UTV for private use, agricultural. This registration requires the ATV or UTV be used only for agricultural purposes, which means “a purpose related to the transportation of farm implements, equipment, supplies, or products on a farm or between farms.”
Note that operation between a dwelling and a farm or piece of non-agricultural property does not meet an agricultural purpose unless the dwelling is on the same piece of property as the farm.
The following regulations apply to ATVs and UTVs registered for private use, agricultural:
- You may operate your ATV or UTV on roadways while transporting farm implements, equipment, supplies, or products on a farm or between farms in the following manner:
- You must be at the extreme right side of the roadway, except for when making left turns.
- You must have you headlight(s) and taillight(s) activated and visible.
- You must obey the roadway speed limit.
- Helmets are not required when riding for agricultural use, but we still recommend them.
- Children aged 12 and higher may operate an ATV on roadways if they possess a valid ATV Safety Certificate.
- Children under the age of 12 may not operate an ATV or UTV on roadways.
- Children under the age of 12 may operate an ATV on private lands if they are under the supervision of an adult.
- Children under the age of 16 may operate a UTV on private lands if they are under the supervision of an adult.
- Children under the age of 16 may operate a UTV on roadways if they possess an ATV Safety Certificate
- No safety certificate is required while operating an ATV or UTV on property under the management and control of the operator’s immediate family
Where can you ride an ATV or UTV in Wisconsin?
Most ATV and UTV trail riding opportunities in Wisconsin are located on County owned land, with some also available on State and Federal lands. Generally, ATV and UTV operation is strictly restricted to designated and marked ATV trails and routes only.
Marked ATV Trails in Wisconsin are generally open to UTV operation unless specifically marked as closed to UTVs.
ATV trails in Wisconsin are identified by small (6”x6”) brown signs with the white silhouette of an ATV and orange blazer (diamond) signs. An ATV trail will generally never be on a road or in a ditch, whereas an ATV route may be.
You may encounter some trails that are designated as multiple use trails. These trails typically permit horses, motorcycles, ATVs, UTVs and bicyclists.
Unlike an ATV trail, an ATV Route is a public roadway that is designated as being open to legal ATV and UTV use. Routes are designated through passage of a local ordinance and posted with ATV Route (24”x 18”) green signs with the white silhouette of an ATV along with appropriate directional arrows. All roads designated as ATV Routes must be signed at the beginning and end of a route and at such intervals that enable riders to follow the route.
You can find ATV Routes through your local law enforcement agency as ATV Route ordinances must be filed with any law enforcement agencies that have jurisdiction over the roadway. Official copies of all ATV Route ordinances are also filed with the Department of Natural Resources located at: WI DNR ATV Safety Program 101 South Webster Street LE/8 Madison,WI 53707.
You will have to haul your ATV or UTV to any route or trail as there is no residential access allowance that permits you to ride on a roadway from your house to a trail or route.
When it comes to riding on snowmobile trails in Wisconsin, there is, unfortunately, no state-wide rule to make it easy. Different counties in Wisconsin have different rules for whether or not you can operate ATVs or UTVs on snowmobile trails. That being the case, you should check with your county before you head out to ride on any snowmobile trails. Note, simply adding tracks to an ATV or UTV does not permit you to ride on a snowmobile trail. Also, be careful as snowmobile trails, like ATV trails, are also marked by an orange blazer to mark the pathway of a trail.
Finally, you are not permitted to operate your ATV or UTV in any navigable water or on the exposed bed of any navigable water (including exposed lake beds) except in the following circumstances:
- To cross a stream via bridge, culvert, ford or similar structure
in the most direct manner practical.
- To launch or load a boat or other watercraft in the most
direct manner practical.
- To access the frozen surfaces of any navigable waters in the most direct manner practical.
Note, “Bed of a navigable water” refers to “all of the area below the ordinary high water mark of a lake or stream.”
If you aren’t sure about riding in a location, you should check with local County, State and Federal offices for special regulations. Here are some ideas:
- County Forestry Offices
- DNR website dnr.wi.gov, search keyword “ATV”
- U.S. Forest Service fs.fed.gov website, search “ChequamegonNicolet National Forest” and “Motor Vehicle Use Map”
- Dept. of Tourism travelwisconsin.com search keyword “ATV”
- Wisconsin ATV Association watva.org
- Area Chamber of Commerce
Are you permitted to ride an ATV or UTV on the public streets or highways in Wisconsin?
While ATV and UTV use is permitted on designated routes, it is otherwise prohibited on public streets and highways in Wisconsin that have not been designated as Routes.
Despite this general prohibition, operation of ATVs and UTVs is permitted on the streets in Wisconsin in the following circumstances:
- For agricultural purposes, as discussed above.
- On designated and signed ATV Routes.
- On roads not seasonally maintained for roadway use, during the time in which no maintenance occurs if the road hasn’t been closed to ATV or UTV use.
- To cross a roadway, bridge, culvert or railroad right-of-way when operating on a designated and marked trail, route or private property so long as the location is safe to cross, you come to a complete stop and yield to all motor vehicles and pedestrians.
- On the roadway or shoulder of any highway to cross a bridge that is 1,000 feet in length or less if the operation is in compliance with a county, city, village, or town ordinance that applies to that bridge.
In situations where you are permitted to operate an ATV or UTV on the street in Wisconsin, you must abide by the following:
- You must operate at the extreme right side of the roadway surface.
- You can make left turns from any part of the roadway surface as
long as it’s safe.
- You may not ride side by side, but rather single file.
- You must ride with your head lamps and tail lamps on.
- Children 12-15 must be accompanied by an adult, regardless of a safety certificate, unless it is a crossing or agricultural use.
- children under 12 may not operate an ATV and children under 12 may not operate a UTV.
Can you ride ATVs/UTVs on an Unimproved Right-of-Way or Ditch?
Generally, you are not permitted to operate an ATV or UTV on the unimproved right-of-way or ditch on the side of a public street. The exceptions where such operation is permitted are as follows:
- On town roads where it has been designated as an ATV trail or route;
- On town roads where the right-of-way or ditch is on private permission and you have permission from the land owner;
- On a county or state highway that has been designated as an ATV trail or route;
- On a trail adjacent to a county or state highway;
- On a county or state highway if you are riding at least 10 feed from the roadway;
Note that operation of an ATV or UTV is never permitted on the right-of-way or ditch alongside an Interstate Highway.
In addition, you should know that when you are legally operating alongside roadways during the hours of darkness, you must ride in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic in the nearest lane unless the trail or route is located at least 40 feet from the roadway or separated by a headlight barrier. When you are riding during the day, you may ride in either direction regardless of the flow of motor vehicle traffic.
ATV and UTV Equipment Regulations in Wisconsin
The following equipment regulations apply to ATVs and UTVs in Wisconsin:
- While most states do not permit you to carry a passenger on an ATV unless it is designed with a seat for the passenger, Wisconsin has no such restriction. That being said, a large portion of serious injuries and deaths on ATVs occur when passengers are on ATVs not designed for passengers, so please be careful.
- On the other hand, if you have a UTV, it is not legal in Wisconsin to operate with passengers in any after-market seating placed in the cargo area of a UTV, or on any part of the UTV not originally manufactured as seating.
- Your ATV must be equipped with at least a single white headlamp and a red tail lamp that must be activated during the hours of
darkness or while operating on or along a roadway. A UTV has the same requirements, but it must have two headlamps.
- Your ATV or UTV may not have colored headlamp covers, lens covers or colored headlamp bulbs if you are riding during the hours of darkness or while operating on or along a roadway.
- Your headlamp(s) must be able to illuminate a person or object
at a distance of at least 200 feet in front of your machine.
- You may have other auxiliary lighting on your ATV or UTV as long as it doesn’t interfere with legal lighting requirements.
- The tail lamp on your ATV or UTV must make it visible from 500
feet to the rear during the hours of darkness.
- Your ATV or UTV must be equipped with at least one brake, operated
either by hand or by foot.
- If you have a UTV, all passengers must have their seatbelts fastened at all times.
- An ATV or UTV must be equipped with a functioning muffler that
prevents noise above 96 decibels when measured on the “A” scale.
- An ATV or UTV must be equipped with a spark arrester.
What to do if you are in an ATV or UTV accident in Wisconsin
If you are in an ATV or UTV accident in Wisconsin that results in death or an injury requiring treatment by a physician must be reported as soon as possible to a Conservation Warden or other law enforcement officer. In addition, you must file a written report of the incident within 10 days to the
DNR. The Incident Report can be obtained dnr.wi.gov. Just search for crash.
Can you use an ATV or UTV for hunting in Wisconsin?
There are no blanket restrictions against hunting on an ATV or UTV, however the following restrictions are applicable.
- Firearms, other than handguns, must be unloaded when in or on
any vehicle, except that a loaded firearm may be placed on, but not
in, a vehicle which is stationary.
- In Wisconsin, it is unlawful to place, possess, or transport a cocked crossbow in or on a motorized vehicle unless it is unloaded and enclosed within a case.
- It is unlawful in Wisconsin to load a firearm, other than a handgun, while it is in a vehicle or to discharge any firearm, including handguns, in or from any moving or stationary vehicle except for certain disabled hunters with proper permits.
- Qualified disabled hunters with a permit authorizing them to shoot from a stationary vehicle must have all firearms (other than handguns) unloaded while the vehicle is in motion.
• It is unlawful in Wisconsin to drive, pursue or harass any wild animal
Using an ATV or UTV for snow removal
You may operate an ATV or UTV with a snow removal device attached
for snow removal purposes and under the following restrictions:
- You may not exceed 5 mph while on a public sidewalk;
- You may not exceed 15 mph while on or adjacent to a roadway;
- Operation is only allowed on roadways where the speed limit is 45 mph or less;
- You must stay to the far right hand side of the road;
- You must be 16 years or older and possess a valid ATV Safety Certificate;
- Snow removal by ATV or UTV is only allowed between October 1 and April 30;
- You may not travel greater than 2 miles from your original starting or loading point; and
- Your ATV or UTV must display one or more illuminated, yellow lights that are flashing or rotating and visible for 360 degrees.
Other Wisconsin ATV and UTV Regulations
- It is unlawful to operate an ATV or UTV on public lands while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- You must not exceed 10 mph on your ATV or UTV if you are within 100 feet of a person who is not in or on a motorized vehicle, unless you are on a designated ATV Road Route.
- You must not exceed 10 mph on your ATV or UTV if you are within 100 feet of an ice fishing shanty while on the ice, unless you on a designated ATV Road Route.
- You must not exceed 10 mph on your ATV or UTV if you are within 150 feet of a home or dwelling, unless you on a designated ATV Road Route.
- When operating on or along roadways you cannot exceed the posted roadway speed limits for motor vehicle traffic unless there is a specific speed limit posted for ATVs/UTVs.
- You are required to obey all regulatory and traffic signs.
- Regardless of any posted speed, you my not operate at an unreasonable or improper speed.
- It is unlawful to operate in careless manner that endangers a person or property.
- You must have permission of the land owner to ride on private property.
- It is unlawful to permit another person to operate your ATV or UTV if they are incapable of operating because they are physically or mentally unable to exercise physical control over the speed or direction of the ATV or UTV.
- If you are requested to stop by a law enforcement officer, you must do so.