Are ATVs Street Legal in North Carolina? (Law You Need To Know!)

Are ATVs Street Legal in north carolina

Have you ever wondered if ATVs are Street legal in North Carolina? Well, look no further because we have you covered. In this article, you will find everything you need to know about riding ATVs and the laws that govern their use in the Old North State.

In the state of North Carolina, by General Statutes it is illegal to use ATVs on all public streets, highways, or any other public vehicular area, except for the purpose of crossing them. When it comes to interstate and limited-access highways, they are not permitted for any type of ATV use, not even to cross them.

Because of this, it is not possible for an ATV to be made street legal in North Carolina. But, there are still public areas where you can ride them. So, let’s get into details of how and when you can use ATVs in the Tar Heel State.

Are ATVs Street legal in North Carolina?

As I’ve said above, ATVs are not street legal in North Carolina, and can’t be made road legal. They are allowed to use public streets and highways for crossing them, but only if they are not part of the interstate system nor a limited-access highway.

But, to be able to cross these roads and streets that are permitted to be crossed by an ATV, by law certain conditions must be met:

  • ATV must have a functional braking system,
  • ATV must have a functional muffler,
  • ATV must have a functional spark arrestor approved by US Forest Service.

Also, if the ATV is used between one-half hour after sunset and one-half hour before sunrise, or when the visibility is reduced because of rain, snow, fog, or some other reason; both headlights and tail lights must be turned on unless the use of them is prohibited by some other law.

Read also: Are ATVs Street Legal in New Mexico? (ATV + UTV Law To Know!)

Can I ride an ATV on public lands in North Carolina?

Riding an ATV is practically strictly prohibited on public streets, roads, highways, and other vehicular areas, such as parking lots; in North Carolina.

Also, in the federally maintained and managed natural preserves the use of ATVs is regulated by federal law and generally prohibited.

But, this doesn’t mean that you can’t use them on certain public lands. There are a handful of designated areas in the state that are allowed for riding ATVs.

These are mostly privately operated motocross tracks and designated off-roading trails.

Can I ride an ATV on private lands in North Carolina?

When it comes to riding all-terrain vehicles on private properties, very few regulations are in place in North Carolina. While you generally only need an owner’s permission to use their land, there are some limits.

These are concerning required safety equipment and the age restrictions for operating ATVs.

People of certain ages are not allowed to ride ATVs of certain engine capacities. And parents or legal guardians can face charges if children are allowed to ride ATV of a higher than maximum capacity.

Do I have to register or title an ATV in North Carolina?

Because ATVs are not legally allowed on public streets and roads, they do not have to be registered or titled. And at the time of writing this article, there is no procedure to do so.

But, recently the UTVs and SxS vehicles are made legal for operating on some roads, so in the future maybe ATVs will also be regulated.

Read also: Are ATVs Street Legal in Ohio? (ATV + UTV Law To Know!)

Do I need a driver’s license to operate an ATV in North Carolina?

Generally, you do not need a driver’s license to be able to operate an ATV in North Carolina, because the state Statutes do not have such requirements. But, the management of privately operated OHV parks and trails has the right to impose such requirements.

This doesn’t mean that there are no age-based limitations or safety training requirements. For the riders 16 years or younger, it is required that they pass an all-terrain vehicles safety course approved by the All-Terrain Vehicle Safety Institute.

But that is not where age-related regulations stop.

While underage persons are not all explicitly forbidden to ride an ATV, parents and legal guardians can face penalties if allowing a person in their responsibility to drive certain ATVs.

These are the imposed limits:

  • a person under the age of 8 – a complete ban
  • a person under the age of 12 – maximum engine capacity 70cc
  • a person under the age of 16 – maximum engine capacity 90cc

Persons that are younger than 16 must always be under “continuous visual supervision” by a person of 18 years or older. Otherwise, the parent or legal guardian also can face charges.

Are helmets mandatory in North Carolina?

Yes, wearing a helmet and eye protection that is approved by the US Department of Transportation or meets the D.O.T. standards is required.

On some websites, you will find information that only people 16 years old and younger must wear it when operating on public lands, but that is not correct.

The North Carolina General Statutes section 20-171.19 is clear about it, all riders when operating ATVs must wear them. It simply says that “[n]o person shall operate an all-terrain vehicle unless the person wears eye protection and a safety helmet”.

Besides helmets and goggles, some other equipment is also required for riding ATVs in North Carolina.

A muffler, spark arrestor, brakes, and both head and tail lights for driving during the night or in conditions of decreased visibility.


Hopefully, that answers your question if ATVs are Street legal in North Carolina. But, it doesn’t hurt to recap. ATVs are not allowed on any street, road, or highway; in North Carolina, except for a purpose of crossing them.

They are only allowed on private property and a handful of off-road trails and parks. But, in both cases, age and equipment requirements exist.



Jeff is an automotive technician, technical writer, and Managing Editor. He has held a lifelong passion for cars, with a particular interest in cars like the Buick Reatta. Jeff has been creating written and video content about transportation, automotive, electric cars, future vehicles as well as new, used for more than 18 years. Jeff is based in Boulder, Colorado.

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