Do I Need a License to Ride an ATV or SxS?

Eli Madero
by Eli Madero

As off-road vehicles continue to grow in popularity, many states are educating users on safe practices and off-road etiquette in hopes of minimizing accidents and protecting endangered riding areas for years to come. thanks Yamaha for sponsoring this New Rider series.

So you’ve just picked up a new ATV or Side-by-Side (SxS) vehicle, loaded your cooler with water and food, and packed all of the required safety gear. Can you think of anything else that you might need before hitting the road for your adventure to start? We can. Before you even think about leaving the house, you need to make sure that you don’t need any special licenses or safety certificates that many state agencies are now requiring.

The purpose of these courses isn’t only to prevent accidents from happening on the trail, but also to inform new riders where they can and can’t ride. You’d be surprised at how many people see signs of an unauthorized trail and start to follow it. This can not only do damage to the environment, but can also lead to more public lands being shut down to OHV use. Don’t be that guy!

Rider/Driver Training Courses

As of this writing, there are 13 states that require users to have a state-issued operators certificate to use an ATV or SxS on public lands. If you’re planning on recreating on private property this isn’t something you need to worry about, but more than likely you’re going to be on public lands. Each of these 13 states have different requirements for their licensing requirements, so don’t assume that if you’ve gotten certification for one state that it’s good for the others. You can see a full list of states that require licenses and the different requirements by visiting the ATV Safety Institutes webpage on State All-Terrain Vehicle Requirements here.

If you’ve never heard of the ATV Safety Institute, this is a great website that we highly recommend to check out. Aside from the aforementioned webpage that provides a great amount of information on registration, age, equipment requirements, and more, the ATVSI site also has helpful riding tips, and registration for online and in-person riding courses. If you own or are planning to own a new (or new to you) ATV, we highly recommend enrolling in one of the Hands-On Training Courses.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been riding ATVs for years, this course can still have plenty to offer to make you a better rider. We’ve taken this course ourselves and have found that it provides instruction to ride harder and faster through different body positioning and braking techniques that we either hadn’t thought about before or have gotten lazy and forgotten about altogether.

Now if your machine of choice is a SxS, the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association (ROHVA) offers training courses that are very similar to the ones that the ATVSI has to offer. This ROHVA E-Course is a free online program that explains the risk factors while operating a SxS, covers safe driving strategies, and improves overall awareness of SxS vehicles with an emphasis on a safety-minded approach to off-road recreation. Now if you’re looking for a behind the wheel training course, the ROHVA Basic Driving Course is just what you’re looking for. This class is for licensed drivers 16 years of age or older and covers the ins and outs of your SxS from primary parts to the controls, so you know what everything is and does. This class also covers proper acceleration and braking techniques for smooth operation, low speed steering, turning and backing up, and swerving at speed.

If you’re looking for a more advanced class, the Open Trail Experience is likely what will prepare you most for “real-world” situations and how to handle them. These courses, which are held at various riding locations across the country, cover how to drive on rocky or sandy terrain, taking on water crossings and dealing with clearing obstacles like mud, rocks and hills. Because of the need for riding areas to hold these classes, they’re not as easily accessible and may require a good amount of travel to attend. Check the site to see where the closest one is for you.

Why ATV and SxS Training is Worth Your Time

Now you might be thinking to yourself, “I’ve been driving for years, how much different can it be driving a SxS off-road?” Driving a SxS off-road is massively different from your daily commute to work. Unless you’re in the middle of an icy snowstorm, you likely drive on a surface that provides outstanding traction on tires that were designed for perfect grip with a wide footprint. This is nothing like driving a SxS.

Modern SxS vehicles allow you to have over 200 HP or more at your convenience on terrain that has less than a quarter of the traction your car has. Taking high-speed turns requires counter steering to prevent you from spinning out or possibly flipping over. The terrain you ride on can be filled with ruts, rocks, or if you’re in the dunes can just disappear from underneath you in an instant. Inexperienced drivers can get far too comfortable in a machine that they’re unfamiliar with and make bad mistakes. These classes are geared to prepare you for situations that you might encounter in the real world.

While many of the state courses aren’t as detail oriented like those from the ATVSI or ROHVA, they still try to educate you on safe operation and trail etiquette so that you, your riding family, and the other users around you are safe and able to have fun for years to come.

Check out the New Riders Hub for more articles geared towards new off-road enthusiasts.

Eli Madero
Eli Madero

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