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California ATV Laws

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are common for both work and play in California. ATVs are motorized off-road vehicles with four tires, one or two seats, and handlebars or a steering wheel. Some ATVs have roll cages while others do not. Operating an ATV legally in California takes a working knowledge of the state’s related traffic laws and safety rules. Otherwise, you could get in trouble for operating your ATV against the law.

Who Can Operate an ATV?

Many parents make the mistake of thinking that since ATVs are recreational vehicles, they are safe for children. This has led to thousands of serious child injuries and fatalities over the years. California Vehicle Code section 38304.1 states that on private property, parents and guardians cannot permit children younger than 14 years of age to operate ATVs or other off-road motor vehicles if the children cannot reach the controls of the vehicle.

Allowing a younger or shorter child to use an ATV could result in the parent or guardian’s liability for an accident. To operate an ATV on public lands, the driver must be at least 18 years old, unless he or she has completed ATV safety training, has a safety certificate or is under the supervision of an adult with a safety certificate. Drivers do not need licenses to operate ATVs. It is also not necessary to register ATVs, use license plates or purchase vehicle insurance.

Rules of the (Off) Road While ATVing

It is illegal to operate an ATV on highways in California. You may only operate an ATV off-highway. It is also unsafe to operate an ATV on asphalt or paved roads. Manufacturers do not design ATVs to drive on pavement. The tires can grip the hardtop with too much pressure, causing the ATV to flip. You or a loved one could suffer serious injuries in an ATV rollover accident. Always obey the rules in the owner’s manual when operating an ATV.

California’s ATV laws state that no one may operate an ATV at a speed that is unreasonable or not prudent for conditions. An ATV speed that is not prudent is one that puts the driver, passengers, or other people or property at risk of injuries or damages. It is also illegal to drive an ATV in a way that causes willful, wanton or unnecessary damage to wildlife, farmland or natural habitats.

If you are operating an ATV at night, it must at least contain one headlight and a red rear lamp. The headlight needs a white light that is clearly visible from at least 200 feet away. Every ATV must also have a lighted red taillight that is visible from the rear. You must make these lights visible no later than 30 minutes after sunset to 30 minutes before sunrise.

California’s Lemon Law

A lemon refers to a vehicle with manufacturing defects, often sold as a new or unproblematic used vehicle. Most states have laws prohibiting dealerships from selling vehicles known to be lemons. The California Lemon Law requires vehicle manufacturers to uphold their warranties that guarantee to repair or replace vehicles that contain defects. A manufacturer must make reasonable repair attempts before allowing the vehicle to fall into consumers’ hands.

ATVs appear often on recall lists for dangerous defects that could cause them to crash, rollover or otherwise threaten a rider’s safety. In 2016, 337 people died in ATV-related accidents, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Defective tires, steering columns, safety nets, brakes, engines, seat belts and other vehicle elements could contribute to deadly ATV accidents.

The California Lemon Law does not specifically cover ATVs. That does not, however, mean manufacturers can get away with releasing dangerous or defective ATVs. Different product liability and consumer warranty laws may apply instead. If you believe you purchased a lemon ATV, and the defect caused your accident, you could have a case against the ATV’s manufacturer or distributor. Contact the San Jose product liability attorneys at Henshaw & Henry, PC to schedule a free consultation to explore your legal options.