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UTVs cannot be legally operated on public roads

I recently had an email from a farm family that asked for clarification on whether Utility Task Vehicles, also known as Cargo All-Terrain Vehicles, could be operated on a town road if used exclusively for farm purposes. The last time I addressed the issue of UTVs was in November 2016, so it’s time to review this again.

Vehicle and Traffic Law can be confusing to the average citizen and even to law enforcement personnel. While VTL subdivision 13 of section 401 permits farm vehicles (tractors, towed farm implements, and trucks that carry farm produce from field to farm) to travel up to 25 miles one way on public highways from a point on the farm to fields, buildings, and municipal sanitary landfills, licensed motor vehicle repair shops, and the point of sale of the vehicle, this does not apply to UTVs owned and operated by owners and workers on the farm.

UTVs combine the versatility of a small tractor, the maneuverability of an ATV and the utility of a jeep. They can carry materials, plow snow, tow objects, and perform many other useful jobs. They are also fun to drive.

However, there are restrictions that seriously limit their use. These utility vehicles generally weigh over 1,000 pounds, exceed 70 inches in width and thus cannot qualify as an all-terrain vehicle (ATV). An ATV is any self-propelled vehicle which is manufactured for sale to be used primarily off-highway or in off-road competitions and only incidentally operated on public highways. ATVs must not exceed 70 inches in width and must weigh less than 1000 pounds in dry weight, and must be registered and numbered with NYS DMV. If an ATV is operated on other than your own property it must be covered by liability insurance. ATVs can be operated on a public road only if the road is designated and posted for ATV use by the state or local authority.

It is illegal to modify a UTV to meet the 1,000-pound limit by removing factory-installed parts to qualify it as an ATV. They also have other limitations that you should be aware of before purchasing one.

UTVs cannot legally be driven on any public highway at any time. The person that emailed me said she was stopped by a state trooper for driving a UTV on a public highway. The trooper was correct. UTVs are currently unable to be registered in the state as there is no registration class for such a vehicle. Furthermore, they (UTVs) cannot be registered in another state and used in New York. They also cannot qualify as a slow moving vehicle to be operated on public highways, nor can they be declared as a Farm/Agricultural vehicle, which might allow operation within 25 miles of the farm. In short, UTVs are not allowed to be driven on any public road or highway.

In light of the above, if any law enforcement agency stops someone driving a UTV on a public highway or road, the violation they can be charged with is under VTL section 401(1) (a) –unregistered motor vehicle. If the driver is found guilty, he/she could be fined up to $300 plus applicable surcharges.

I hope this clarifies some of the questions about UTVs and ATVs. With our rural county, there are lots of “back roads” that are conducive to driving these vehicles. It behooves you to know the applicable laws governing these off-road vehicles.

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