A guide to keep you legal on your ATV

ATVs, such as sit-astride quad bikes and side-by-side or sit-in utility vehicles, have become indispensible on many farms and are a useful tool for contractors.

Whether it’s to check on your far-flung flock, apply slug pellets when ground conditions would not be suitable for a tractor, or to get pheasant feed around the covers, an ATV is often the best vehicle for the job.

But scores of accidents, including fatalities, have caused the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to highlight them as a real cause for concern, and issue guidelines on their safe use.

Meanwhile their construction makes them unsuitable for road use, so just how do you ensure they are road legal?

See also: How the ATVtrac tracker finds stolen bikes in under two hours

Can I take my ATV on the road?

ATVs are designed for agricultural use not road use and therefore many do not meet the safety standards to be used on the road. They have fixed back axles and low-pressure tyres which make manoeuvrability on the road difficult.

They also have braking systems and suspension designed for off-road use, so manufacturers advise against using them on tarmac. 

You will need to check with your manufacturer if your ATV has been approved for road use and then it must be registered, taxed and have an MOT.

How should I license my ATV?

ATVs can be licenced as either a Light Agricultural Vehicle (LAV) or an exempt vehicle for limited use. In both cases you need to display a tax disc, but these can be obtained at no cost.

It will qualify as an LAV if it weighs less than 1000kg, is designed to seat only the driver and you are using it for agricultural purposes, primarily off road.

What about sit-in utility vehicles?

Utility vehicles (also known as UTVs) differ in that there is a conventional seat for the driver and one or more seats for passengers. Similar on-road laws apply, although it does not qualify as an LAV, since it carries a passenger. It is therefore probably best to license it as an exempt vehicle with limited use.

What on-road restrictions are there?

The nil-duty licence only covers ATVs used for agricultural activities. An exempt vehicle for limited use cannot travel on a public road further than 1.5km and must travel direct between two plots of land occupied by the same person.

The maximum permitted road speed for an LAV is 20mph. See guidance on speed limits for more information.

What else do I need to do to make it road-worthy?

Just like a tractor, it needs to comply with the Road Vehicles Construction and Use Regulations 1986 (as amended) and the Road Vehicles Lighting Regulations 1989. This means it will need to be equipped with amber indicator lights, stop lights, head lights and reflectors.

If only used during daylight hours, visibility is good and it is not equipped with lights, an LAV does not need to be fitted with them and you may use hand signals. See Power Farming’s guidance on lights for more information.

If you’re towing a trailer, make sure you comply with current regulations, just as for tractors and trailers – in most cases, gross weight will need to be less than 750kg. You won’t need an MOT for restricted road use, however.

What if I want to travel further on a public road?

It’s not recommended by manufacturers, but you can type-approve an ATV as a road-going vehicle, then license it as a Private Light Goods vehicle (PLG).

Single Vehicle Type Approval (SVTA) can be arranged through your dealer and will upgrade the lights, tyres, indicators, exhaust, brakes and horn to CE-approved standard. This puts it in the same class as a car, so you will need to pay road tax and have an up-to-date MOT.

Contact your local DVLA office for more information.

Some manufacturers also supply ATVs under the European Whole Vehicle Type Approval system (EWVTA). This ensures it is road-worthy straight from the dealer showroom.

Note that neither single nor whole-type approved ATVs will have rear differentials, which is why manufacturers do not recommend they are used on tarmac.

So if it’s licenced as an LAV or limited use, how can I be sure I’ll stay on the right side of the law?

It’s difficult to get clarity on exactly where the limitations lie. The main things you need to consider are:

  • Use – are you carrying out an agricultural or forestry-related activity? If you use it on the road for a diversified enterprise, shooting or hunting, you may run into trouble. Shoots and hunts are generally treated as agricultural activities.
  • Distance travelled – keep this below 1.5km and directly between plots of land you own or occupy. There is flexibility, depending on license type, but if you plan to go further, especially if you are a contractor, it may be best to transport it on a trailer.
  • Speed – 20mph is the basic speed limit, although again this depends on how it is classified. Providing it is an LAV and it is not driven above 20mph, you don’t need a speedometer. But as soon as the driven speed exceeds 20mph a speedometer is mandatory. So, as few ATVs have speedometers, it would be hard to dispute a breach if you were stopped by the police.
  • Equipment and lights – bear in mind that, apart from a stop light, ATVs come with precious little road-approved equipment as standard. There are exemptions, but make sure you are aware how vulnerable and exposed you will be as a road user. Try to avoid busy roads and built-up areas. Add mirrors, reflective strips and wear bright, reflective clothing. And always be courteous and give priority to other road users.
  • Trailers and implements – the more clutter you add, the more you restrict your visibility and control of the vehicle and heighten the chance of contravening regulations. You will also draw more attention to passing police patrols. Perhaps there is a more suitable vehicle to pull the feed dispenser, while the slug-pellet applicator doesn’t need to be permanently attached.

Are there any restrictions on fuel use?

If you run on red diesel you can only travel on the road if you are carrying out an agricultural activity. The rules on this are quite complex – there’s more information in guide to red diesel use.

Can I fill up at the petrol station?

If your licence is exempt for limited use, then technically speaking you can’t. You must travel only between two plots of land under the same ownership.

Can I stop at the village shop to grab a sandwich?

Again, if your licence is exempt for limited use, then technically speaking no. You must take the most direct route.

Do I need a driving licence?

Yes. The minimum age for driving on the road is 17 and you need a category B license.

Do I need a helmet?

It is not a legal requirement, but wearing a helmet is very strongly advised at all times when driving an ATV, both on and off-road.

When used for work purposes, The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992 will apply, and these Regulations, together with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 will require head protection to be worn.

So for example employers who provide staff with an ATV as part of their job must provide adequate safety equipment, including a helmet, and should ensure it is used.

When buying a helmet, follow the guidance given in HSE’s Agricultural Information sheet number 33.

Motorcycle-style crash helmets will offer the best all round protection, but if you need a helmet that allows you to hear livestock then consider buying one of the purpose-made quad-bike helmets available from dealers.

A visor or goggles are also strongly recommended. See the HSE’s Safe use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in agriculture and forestry (PDF).

Why is there concern about ATVs and safety?

In Great Britain on average two people die each year in work-related ATV accidents and there are an estimated 1000 non-fatal accidents. It may be a smaller vehicle and less powerful than a tractor, but it’s very easy to get into serious difficulties.

What training should I consider?

Most manufacturers offer free training. Although only 20% of new owners take this up, EASI estimates 40-50% of new owners have never had basic training.

Under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER), all users of work equipment require adequate training. The free training would provide generic safe use of the vehicle.

You should also consider use of towed equipment, and other specific uses, if these are appropriate.

What are the most common causes of accidents?

  1. Driving too fast
  2. Falling off
  3. Tyres at the wrong pressure (this unbalances suspension and causes instability)
  4. Carrying a passenger
  5. Overloading or carrying an unbalanced or unsecured load
  6. Overturning on a slope, bank or unseen rut or bump
  7. Overturning into a river, ditch or stream
  8. Jack knife or overturn when towing a load that’s too heavy
  9. Poor maintenance of safety-critical items, such as brakes
  10. Children using adult-specification machines (see below)

What are the key safety issues to consider?

There are many safety issues to consider before using an ATV. Here are a few of the main points to consider:

The ATV

  • Is it suitable for the work?
  • Is it properly maintained?
  • Have the tyre pressures been checked and adjusted?
  • Are the brakes, steering and suspension in good working order?

The rider

  • Is suitable head protection provided and worn?
  • Has the rider received formal training?

The route

  • Has the route been carefully assessed/planned?
  • Is it possible to avoid steep slopes or hazardous terrain?

Additional equipment

  • Are trailers or other equipment compatible?
  • Are loads/weights/equipment within the capacity of the ATV?
  • Are loads stable and secure?

Is towing particularly dangerous?

Yes, which is why it’s the most commonly taken training, apart from the basic safe-use training.

The issue is the tongue weight, or the weight applied to the tow-hitch. Incorrectly loading a trailer will apply too much to the back of the ATV and cause it to flip over. That’s hard enough to get right with a fixed load, but if you’re transporting ewes that are free to move around, it’s very easy to have a serious accident.

Can I take a passenger on a sit-astride ATV?

Generally no, unless it is specifically designed to carry a passenger.

Don’t be fooled by the long seat – that’s there to help you move your body weight around to ensure stability for different slope conditions.

Even if the machine has a seat for a passenger, it may not be suitable for use on certain types of terrain or slopes – this is worth noting if the vehicle is predominantly for road use or has been type-approved.

Any machine used must be suitable for the purpose. People should not ride on the racks or travel in a towed trailer.

In sit-in ATVs, the passenger should wear a seat belt, if one is fitted.

Can I take a child on an ATV as a passenger?

No, this is illegal and limits your ability to control the vehicle.

Can children use an ATV?

You should always be guided by a manufacturer’s instructions on this point. Although ATVs are available that are appropriate for children, almost all ATVs bought for the farm are clearly marked as unsuitable for under 16-year-olds.

This is important as body weight is used to control an ATV, so children are physically incapable of driving most quad bikes.

How do I keep it secure?

ATVs are among the most desirable items for thieves, and most easily stolen. Even if it’s locked away in a workshop, try to keep it chained to a solid metal or masonry structure.

Store an ATV close to your farmhouse, rather than in a remote farm building .It’s well worth getting your ATV tagged under the CESAR scheme (Equipment and Registration Scheme to the Construction and Agricultural Industry).

There are now tamper-proof tags suitable for these vehicles that help police find the rightful owners of recovered stolen goods. While they don’t prevent a theft, they do help deter thieves.

Resources

DVLA guidance on type-approving ATVs for road use. gov.uk/quad-bikes-the-rules
HSE information sheet on the safe use of ATVs, covering off-road work in agriculture for sit-astride ATVs and sit-in machines. HSE’s All-terrain vehicles (ATVs), Quad bikes and side-by-side utility vehicles
European ATV safety institute training, including free training for anyone buying a new or used ATV from six leading manufacturers. ATV Rider Training
Lantra training courses for sit-astride ATVs Lantra