October 28, 2010
By: Kevin McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked that we summarize the laws that apply to all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), particularly with regard to registration requirements. OLR report 2010-R-0032 discusses the issue of ATV use on state property.
Connecticut residents must register ATVs they own and plan to operate on land located in Connecticut that they do not own or lease. The registration fee is $14 for a two-year registration, plus the $10 Clean Air Act fee. Nonresidents can operate their ATVs here if their home states grant Connecticut residents reciprocity.
The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) commissioner must assign the ATV an identification number and give the owner a registration certificate and registration plate. The owner must display the registration number on each side of the ATV's front. The registration certificate must be carried on the ATV and be available for inspection whenever it is being operated.
An ATV operator must have the written permission of the land owner to operate it on land he or she does not own. The ATV owner or operator is liable for any damage done to another person's property. ATV operators cannot speed or operate the ATV negligently or while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. They cannot operate an ATV on a public
highway, except to cross it under specific conditions. There are various other state restrictions on ATV use. A municipality can impose its own restrictions on ATV use, so long as they are not inconsistent with state law.
A variety of law enforcement officers, including state and local police and conservation officers, can enforce these laws. In most cases, violation of these laws is an infraction.
By law, Connecticut residents cannot operate or allow others to operate their ATVs off their property without registering them with DMV. This requirement applies to any vehicle that is self-propelled, designed to travel over unimproved terrain, and unsuitable for operation on public highways, as determined by the DMV commissioner. Vehicles meeting these criteria are ineligible for a regular motor vehicle registration, but must obtain special registration (CGS §§ 14-379, 14-380). The registration fee for an ATV is $14 for a two-year registration, plus a $10 Clean Air Act fee. Nonresidents may operate or allow others to operate their ATV without registering it if the owner holds a valid, effective registration certificate issued by another state or by the United States and these jurisdictions grant substantially similar privileges to Connecticut residents.
Once the DMV commissioner receives a registration application and evidence of ownership, he must assign the ATV an identification number and give the owner a registration certificate and registration plate. The owner must put the registration plate on the vehicle as the commissioner prescribes. He or she must also display the registration number on each side of the ATV's front, midway between the top and bottom, in letters that are at least three inches high and made of reflective material. The registration certificate must be carried on the ATV and be available for inspection whenever it is being operated (CGS § 14-381).
The owner of a registered ATV must notify the commissioner in writing within 48 hours after changing his or her address. The owner must also notify the commissioner in writing within 24 hours after (1) transferring all or any part of his interest in the ATV, other than the creation of a security interest or (2) destroying or abandoning it. The owner must also surrender the registration certificate and plate. If someone transfers ownership of an ATV and surrenders its registration certificate, he or she may register another ATV in his or her name for the remainder of the registration period. The fee for transferring a registration is $3.50 (CGS § 14-382).
No one may operate an ATV: (1) at an unreasonable or imprudent rate of speed for existing conditions; (2) negligently so as to endanger any person or property; or (3) while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug, as defined by the driving while intoxicated (DWI) law (CGS § 14-227a). Anyone who violates the speeding or negligent operation provisions or related regulations is subject to a fine of up to $250 per offense. Anyone who violates the DWI provisions is subject to the penalties of that law (CGS § 14-386a).
The operator or owner, or both, of an ATV is responsible to owners of property where trees, shrubs, crops, fences, or other property have been damaged as a result of travel of the ATV or where consequential damage results from such travel. The identification of the ATV registration number is prima facie evidence that the ATV owner was operating it in any prosecution or action for damages (CGS § 14-386a). Conversely, no landowner may be held liable for any injury sustained by an operator or passenger on an ATV on the landowner's property, whether or not the landowner gave oral or written permission to use his or her land, unless (1) the landowner charged a fee for the operation or (2) the injury was caused by the landowner's willful or malicious conduct (CGS § 52-557j).
No one may operate an ATV on any public highway, but a licensed driver may cross a highway (other than a limited access highway) if: (1) the crossing is made at an angle of approximately 90 degrees to the direction of the highway, (2) there is no obstruction that prevents a quick and safe crossing, (3) the ATV stops completely before entering highway, and (4) the driver yields the right-of-way to vehicles using the highway.
In addition, an ATV may not be operated
1. so that its exhaust makes an excessive or unusual noise;
2. without a functioning muffler, properly operating brakes, and adequate front and rear lighting and reflecting devices (ATVs with engines of 90 cubic centimeters or less do not have be equipped with lights but may not be operated after dark);
3. in any way that would harass any game or domestic animal;
4. on any land without the written permission of (a) the owner of private land or the owner's agent, (b) the state agency or institution that controls state-owned land, or (c) the municipality in the case of land under the jurisdiction of a municipality;
5. without carrying this written permission while operating the ATV on such land; or
6. on any railroad right-of-way (CGS § 14-387).
DMV must prescribe uniform standards for safety devices and equipment and certify the types of devices and equipment that meet these standards (CGS § 14-389).
Any municipality may adopt an ordinance to regulate the operation and use of ATVs, including hours and zones of use. The ordinance cannot be inconsistent with the statutes governing ATVs and associated regulations (CGS § 14-390).
ATVs can be operated on the frozen surface of any public body of water, subject to restrictions on using reservoirs and restrictions on hours of use adopted by a municipality with regard to municipally-owned bodies of water. ATVs can also be used on any abandoned or disused railroad right-of-way or in any place or on any land specifically designated for the operation of snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles by statute, regulation, or local ordinance. Anyone who violates these provision commits a separate infraction for each violation (CGS § 14-387).
Any law enforcement officer of the Department of Environmental Protection, DMV inspector, state police officer, uniformed municipal police officer, constable, state park policeman, state forest policeman, or forest ranger may enforce the laws described above.
Anyone operating an ATV must stop after being requested or signaled to do so by an authorized law enforcement officer, the owner of property where the ATV is being operated, or the owner's agent. Anyone who does not do so commits an infraction (CGS § 14-386).