September 27, 2002
CONNECTICUT ALL-TERRAIN VEHICLE LAWS
By: James J. Fazzalaro, Principal Research Analyst
You asked for a summary of Connecticut laws regarding all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
The statutory requirements for the definition of an ATV, registration requirements, operation requirements, municipal regulation, operation on state land designated for their use, and requirements applicable to ATV dealers are provided under separate headings below.
Two ATV definitions apply in the statutes. The first, which covers general registration and operation requirements, defines an ATV as a self-propelled vehicle designed to travel over unimproved terrain which the motor vehicle commissioner has determined to be unsuitable for operation on public highways and thus ineligible for a regular motor vehicle registration (CGS § 14-379). The second, more specific, definition appears in the environmental protection laws and defines ATVs for purposes of identifying the types of vehicles that can receive certificates for operating on state land. It defines an ATV as a motorized vehicle not suitable for operation on a highway that (1) is not more than 50 inches wide, (2) has a dry weight of no more than 600 pounds, (3) travels on two or more tires specifically designed for unimproved terrain, (4) has a seat or saddle designed to be straddled by the operator, and (5) has an engine with a piston displacement of more than 50 cubic centimeters (CGS § 23-26a, as amended by PA 02-70).
No one may operate a snowmobile or an ATV meeting the more general definition unless the owner holds a valid, effective registration certificate issued by Connecticut or another state or by the United States, provided the state or district of registration grants substantially similar privileges for snowmobile and ATVs owned by Connecticut residents. However, Connecticut residents must obtain Connecticut registrations for ATVs they own and operate here. A registration is not required if operation is on premises owned or leased by the snowmobile or ATV owner (CGS § 14-380). The registration fee for a snowmobile or ATV is $14 for a two-year registration, plus the $10 Clean Air Act fee.
Once the motor vehicle commissioner receives a registration application and evidence of ownership by affidavit or document, he must assign an identification number to the vehicle and give the owner a registration certificate and registration plate. The owner must put the plate on the vehicle as prescribed by the commissioner and must also display its registration number on each side of its front section, 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 available for inspection whenever the ATV is being operated (CGS § 14-382).
The owner of a registered snowmobile or ATV must notify the commissioner in writing within 48 hours of changing his address. He also must notify the commissioner in writing within 24 hours of (1) the transfer of all or any part of his interest in the ATV, other than the creation of a security interest or (2) the destruction or abandonment of the snowmobile or ATV and surrender the registration certificate and plate. If someone transfers ownership of a snowmobile or ATV and surrenders its registration certificate, he may have another such vehicle registered in his name for the remainder of the registration period. The fee for a registration transfer is $3.50 (CGS § 14-382).
The following officials may enforce the laws applying to snowmobiles and ATVs: any law enforcement officer of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), motor vehicle inspector, state police officer, uniformed municipal police officer, constable, state park police officer, state forest police officer, or forest ranger. No one may refuse to stop his snowmobile or ATV after being requested or signaled to do so by (1) any authorized enforcement officer or (2) the owner or the agent of the owner of the property on which it is being operated. Failure to stop as required is an infraction that can result in a fine, fees, and other assessments totaling $78 if the violator chooses to mail in the fine (CGS § 14-386).
The law prohibits someone from operating a snowmobile or ATV (1) at an unreasonable or imprudent rate of speed for existing conditions, (2) in a negligent manner so as to endanger any person or property, or (3) while under the influence of intoxicating liquor or any drug. Violations can result in fines of up to $250 per offense (CGS Sec. 14-386a). In practice, the Superior Court judges have established a total amount due for such offenses of $188. In addition, the vehicle owner is responsible to the owner of any land where trees, shrubs, crops, fences, or other property has been damaged as a result of the snowmobile or ATV traveling over the land, or where consequential damage has resulted from such travel. Proof of the snowmobile's or ATV's registration number is considered prima facie evidence in any prosecution for damages that the owner was the operator.
A snowmobile or ATV cannot be operated:
1. on any public highway, except, if operated by a licensed motor vehicle operator, it may cross a highway if the crossing is made at an approximately 90-degree angle and at a location where no obstruction prevents a quick and safe crossing, it is completely stopped before entering the traveled portion of the highway, and the driver yields the right-of-way to motor vehicles using the highway;
2. in a manner that the exhaust makes an excessive or unusual noise;
3. without a functioning muffler meeting statutory requirements for vehicle mufflers, properly operating brakes, sufficient and adequate front and rear lighting and reflecting devices, except that and ATV with an engine size of 90 cubic centimeters or less must not be equipped with front and rear lighting and cannot be operated at night;
4. in a manner that would cause harassment of any game or domestic animal;
5. on any fenced agricultural land or posted land without the written permission of the land owner or his agent, or, in the case of state-owned land, the written permission of the state agency or institution with control over the land, or, in the case of land under the jurisdiction of a municipality, the written permission of the municipality; or
6. on any railroad right-of-way (CGS § 14-387).
A snowmobile or ATV cannot be operated on a limited access highway under any circumstances, even for crossing purposes.
A snowmobile or ATV may be operated (1) on the frozen surface of any public body of water, although any such operation is subject to any applicable constraints imposed pursuant to state law regulating recreational activities in watersheds and reservoirs (CGS § 25-43c) and a municipality, by ordinance, may regulate the hours of operation on public waters within its borders and (2) on any abandoned or disused railroad right-of-way or in any place or upon any land specifically designated for operation of snowmobiles or ATVs by statute, regulation, or local ordinance.
Violations of any of the above operational requirements are infractions. The total amount due in fines, fees, and assessments is currently $78 except for operating an ATV with an engine of less than 90 cubic centimeters after dark ($166) and harassing game or domestic animals ($102). These amounts apply if the violator chooses to mail in the fine to the centralized infractions bureau. Violators are also responsible to land owners for direct or consequential damage to property and the registration number is considered prima facie evidence in a damage action that the owner was the operator.
Any municipality may, by ordinance, regulate the operation and use of snowmobiles and ATVs, including hours and zones of use, in a manner that is not inconsistent with the state statutes and regulations governing their use (CGS § 14-390).
OPERATION ON STATE LAND
The environmental protection commissioner must evaluate the properties under his jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of other state agencies for their use for ATV operation and must make some of them available for such use. The commissioner must consider minimizing the impact of ATVs on the environment when making his evaluation and must consult with other state agencies before making land under their jurisdiction available for ATV use (CGS § 23-26c).
No one may operate an ATV on state land without first getting a certificate from the environmental protection commissioner. The ATV must also be registered with the DMV as described above. The commissioner cannot issue an operation certificate to anyone under age 18 unless he has completed a safety education course formulated by the commissioner, in consultation with the commissioner of the Department of Consumer Protection (CGS § 23-26b).
No one under age 12 may operate an ATV on state land. Someone between age 12 and age 16 may operate an ATV on state land if he has obtained an operation certificate and is supervised by someone who is at least age 18 who has completed the safety course (CGS § 23-26e).
The law requires the environmental protection commissioner to adopt regulations (1) establishing standards and procedures for certification of ATV operators and the use of ATVs on state land, (2) setting a sufficient fee to cover costs of implementing the certification program, and (3) establishing safety requirements for operating ATVs on state land, including provisions on noise levels. Safety regulations must be adopted in consultation with the consumer protection commissioner (CGS § 23-26f).
Violations of the requirements for use of ATVs on state land are infractions. For a second or subsequent violation, the commissioner may suspend the operation certificate and the right to obtain any such certificate for up to two years. Operating without a certificate or in violation of the ATV regulations currently results in a total amount of fines, fees, and assessments of $60. However, for knowingly permitting someone less than age 18 to operate without a certificate, permitting someone less than age 12 to operate on state land, and allowing someone between age 12 and 18 to operate unsupervised the total amount due is $121. These amounts apply if the violator chooses to mail in the fine to the centralized infractions bureau.
ATV AND SNOWMOBILE DEALERS
All snowmobile and ATV dealers must register with the motor vehicle commissioner who must assign them a distinguishing number and issue them three registration plates bearing the number. The plates may be used only for purposes of demonstration or sale of a snowmobile or ATV (CGS § 14-383). Dealers may issue 10-day temporary registration plates provided by the commissioner for snowmobiles or ATVs they sell. The plates must show the date of sale and be displayed on the vehicle (CGS § 14-385).
Anyone who is in the business, either wholly or in part, of renting or leasing snowmobiles or ATVs must keep a record of the name and address of every person who rents or leases one, its identification number, the departure date and time, and the expected time of return. Records must be retained for at least one year. The owner of such a business, his agent, or his employee cannot allow any snowmobile or ATV to depart the business premise unless it is provided, either by the owner or lessee, with all safety devices and equipment required by law (CGS § 14-385).
Anyone who sells, rents, or leases ATVs with three or more wheels must follow certain procedures and requirements established pursuant to a 1988 federal district court consent decree agreement with ATV manufacturers. An ATV must bear the safety warning tags required by the decree. In addition, a dealer selling, renting, or leasing such an ATV must (1) deliver a copy of the ATV safety alert required under the decree, (2) prominently display the required safety poster, (3) have the required safety video readily available for viewing by prospective and actual purchasers, (4) conform to guidelines for advertising and promotional materials specified in the decree, (5) represent affirmatively, including in print and electronic media for advertising and promotion, and in point-of-purchase oral communications that ATVs with engine sizes of more than 90 cubic centimeters must be used only by someone age 16 or older, (6) comply with point-of-purchase communication requirements specified in the decree, and (7) orally inform the prospective or actual purchaser of an ATV of the free training courses offered by manufacturers pursuant to the decree and of the financial incentives for taking the course. Oral communications of dealers cannot contain information that is inconsistent with any safety-related requirements of this law (CGS § 14-390f). Violations of any of these requirements are infractions resulting in a total amount due for fines, fees, and assessments of $121 per violation if the violator chooses to mail in the fine.