Whether it is a cold, winter day after a fresh snowfall or a warm, lazy summer day, riding your all-terrain vehicle (ATV) can be both a fun and relaxing experience. Unfortunately, this mode of transportation has resulted in tragic crashes which have led to needless deaths and injuries. Preliminary statistics indicate that in 2012, 211 ATV riders were injured and eight killed in Missouri traffic crashes involving an ATV. During that same year, 11 individuals lost their lives in ATV crashes on private property and 121 were injured.

The fact is many ATV users don’t consider the dangers or understand the legalities of speeding down a rural highway, crossing a creek, or enjoying the scenery as they travel on or near a set of railroad tracks. So, let’s examine some of the regulations that apply to both the legal and safe use of an ATV.

First, within 30 days of purchasing an ATV, you must apply for a certificate of ownership. The issued decal must be affixed to the right front fork or frame of the vehicle, where it is clearly visible.

Have you ever observed a teen operating an ATV on a highway or a county road and wondered if it was legal? Well, our statutes state no person shall operate an ATV upon the highways unless the vehicle is owned and operated by the government for official use, or operated for agricultural purposes between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Handicapped individuals may occasionally operate an ATV on secondary roads and governmental bodies may also issue permits to licensed drivers for special use within city limits or on a county road. However, the operator must have a valid driver’s license and shall operate the ATV at speeds less than 30 miles per hour. Please keep in mind that the term “highway” applies to any road open to the public, including those that are dirt or graveled. You should be aware that the property on either side of the road, which is owned by MoDOT and commonly referred to as the right-of-way, also is considered to be part of the highway.

The law requires ATV operators to also have permission from the property owner, if operating an ATV on their land, and that the operator stop and identify him or herself if requested by the landowner. The operator must also remove their ATV from the property at the owner's request. If you desire to ride along and across streams, it must be done either on your property or within streams where the landowner has granted you permission. Railroad tracks and the maintained property on either side of the tracks is owned by the railroad and it is neither safe nor legal to ever operate an ATV on that property.

Missouri law also states that with the exception of private property owned by the operator’s parents or guardian, no person under the age of 16 shall operate an ATV within this state unless he or she is accompanied by or under the direct supervision of a parent or guardian, or is with an adult who is authorized by the parent or guardian. It is also a violation to operate an ATV in a careless and imprudent manner so as to endanger the person or property owner, while under the influence of alcohol or any controlled substance, with a passenger unless for agricultural purposes, or violate any of the other rules of the road.

Safety equipment starts with a helmet and it is required for all ATV users under 18 years of age. Other required items when operating an ATV on a highway include a lighted headlamp and tail lamp, a slow moving equipment emblem mounted on the rear of the ATV, and a bicycle flag attached to the rear of the ATV that extends at least seven feet above the ground.

Every year, the Missouri State Highway Patrol investigates far too many serious ATV crashes. First, make sure the ATV is the right size for the operator. Secondly, the Patrol encourages all ATV users to attend a certified safety course. Finally, keep in mind that the laws regarding ATV use are in place to keep everyone safe and should be strictly adhered to.