Other States laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report

June 21, 2002





By: James J. Fazzalaro, Principal Research Analyst

You asked for an explanation of the laws governing the use of all-terrain vehicles (ATV) in Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. In particular, you wanted to know on what types of property they may be used and what penalties apply if they are used in violation of the law.


In Massachusetts, all-terrain vehicles come under the general heading of “recreational vehicles”, which includes all motor vehicles designed or modified for use over unimproved terrain if used for recreation or pleasure “off a public way” (Mass G.L.A. 90B 20 et seq.) Owners must obtain a registration for the vehicle from the Division of Law Enforcement of the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Environmental Law Enforcement. The two-year registration costs $30. The registration certificate must be kept on the recreational vehicle at all times and must be shown on demand to any law enforcement officer or the owner of any land on which the vehicle operates. No one may operate an unregistered recreation vehicle except on land he owns.

Recreational vehicles must have one or more headlights, a red rear light, a red rear reflector, an adequate muffler, and any other safety equipment the department requires. It also must be “capable of decelerating in a reasonable manner.”

Massachusetts law prohibits operation of a snowmobile or recreation vehicle: (1) so as to endanger any person or property, (2) in a reforested or planted area in a manner that damages growing stock, (3) across a public highway by anyone under age 16 and one-half, (4) by anyone under age 14 unless supervised by an adult, or (5) in a manner that harasses wildlife.

Also, the law states that it cannot be construed to supercede the authority of any state department, city, town commission, or body with authority to regulate the use of lands, waters, or ways under its control or jurisdiction to adopt rules, regulations, ordinances, or by-laws “not repugnant to the law” with respect to the operation of snow vehicles or recreation vehicles in such areas, including the prohibition of such operation. It also states that its provisions cannot be deemed to constitute a license to operate these vehicles on private land ( 33). However, specific provisions of the law that relate only to snowmobiles authorize their operation on private property if the operator (1) is the owner or lessee of the property, or an immediate family member of the owner or lessee, (2) has in his possession a document signed by the property owner or lessee granting permission to operate on the property, or (3) is operating on property that the owner or lessee has designated for use by snowmobiles by posting a notice to this effect. Anyone who operates a snowmobile on another's land must stop and identify himself upon the landowners request and, if requested, must immediately remove the snowmobile from the premises.

The law provides for a fine of $20-$100 for most violations. If a snowmobile or recreation vehicle is operated illegally on a public way or in violation of any departmental regulations governing its operation, the penalty is a fine of $50-$300, up to 60 days imprisonment, or both ( 34).


In New York, an all-terrain vehicle operated anywhere in the state, including on the owner's property, must be registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles (Vehicle and Traffic Law 2280-2413). The registration fee is $10 per year. The owner must also pay a $4.25 one-time license plate fee. The license plate must be attached to the rear of the vehicle, a registration sticker must be affixed to it, and the registration receipt must be carried by the operator.

Liability insurance is mandatory except if the vehicle is operated only on the owner's own property. Minimum coverage limits are $50,000 (one person) and $100,000 (two or more people) for death, $25,000 (one person) and $50,000 (two or more people) for injury, and $10,000 for property damage in any one accident.

Someone from ages 10 through 15 may only operate an ATV (1) under adult supervision, (2) without supervision if on land owned or leased by his parent or guardian, or (3) on land where ATV use is permitted without adult supervision if the operator has completed an approved ATV safety course and carries his safety certificate while operating. Someone under age 10 may only operate an ATV with adult supervision or, without supervision, on his parent's or guardian's property. In this context, the law defines adult supervision as being accompanied by someone who is at least age 18 or by a 16- or 17-year old who holds an ATV safety course certificate from an approved program.

ATV operating rules under New York law require (1) crossing a highway at approximately a 90-degree angle at a place where no obstructions prevent a quick and safe crossing, (2) completely stopping and yielding to all traffic before crossing, and (3) crossing a divided highway only where it intersects another street or highway. An ATV may not cross an interstate or other controlled-access highway under any circumstances.

ATVs may not be operated on any public highway unless it has been designated and posted for ATV use by a state or local authority. (Usually, only a part of a highway between two off-highway trails will be posted for ATV use.) ATVs may only be operated on public land when it has been specifically designated for ATV use and a sign is posted to that effect. To operate on any private land, the operator must have the property owner's or lessee's permission.

Local laws may impose additional restrictions or rules on ATV operation, but localities may not require additional licenses or registrations. However, localities may require a permit to use an ATV in a local park or other public land and may charge a permit fee. Local restrictions and conditions on ATV operations must be consistent with the authority to protect “order, conduct, health, safety and general welfare” of people and property.

Violations of ATV registration requirements are traffic infractions. However, we found no specific penalties for violations of operating rules. Likewise, there appear to be no specific penalties for illegally operating on private land other than the regular laws against trespass.


In Rhode Island, an ATV is defined and regulated as a “recreational vehicle” (Gen. Laws of R.I. 31-3.2-1 through 10). An ATV must be registered with the Director of Natural Resources for an annual fee of $10. Registration requirement violations are punishable by $100 fine. Localities may not also require licensing or registration of ATVs or snowmobiles. The state director of environmental management must, among other things he establishes by regulation, specify the requirements for display of registration numbers, specifications for mufflers, and use of ATVs and snowmobiles on lands and waters under his jurisdiction.

The law prohibits operating a snowmobile or recreational vehicle on any property owned by another person without the owner's written consent. Operating on someone else's property without permission is punishable by a fine of up to $100 for each offense.

A snowmobile or recreational vehicle may not be operated within the right-of-way, on the road shoulder, or on the inside bank or slope of any highway except as provided in the law and may under no circumstances be operated within the right-of-way of a limited access highway. Snowmobiles and recreational vehicles may make a direct crossing of a highway if (1) it is made at an angle of approximately 90 degrees to the direction of the highway and at a location where no obstruction prevents a quick and safe crossing, (2) it is completely stopped before crossing, (3) the drivers yields to all other traffic, (4) if crossing a divided highway, it is done only where it intersects another street or highway, and (5) if done at night or during periods of reduced visibility, the vehicle's front and rear lights are on.

A snowmobile or recreational vehicle may not be driven (1) at a speed that is not reasonable or proper for the surrounding circumstances, (2) in a careless, negligent, or reckless manner so as to endanger or cause injury or damage to another person or property, (3) under the influence of alcohol or drugs, (4) without operating lights when so required, (5) in a tree nursery or planting in a manner that damages growing stock, or (6) without wearing an approved helmet and face guard. Violating these requirements can result in a fine of up to $50 for a first offense and a fine of $100 for any subsequent offense.

The law provides criminal penalties for anyone who operates a motorcycle, recreational vehicle or other motorized vehicle in an area known as the Blackstone Valley Flood Plains or Marshes.