Is dirt bike illegal?
Most of us love our dirt bikes, especially the youngsters. But a question keeps bogging us – Are they actually legal?
It’s of paramount importance that you know the answer to this question and some related questions, especially if you own a dirt bike or are planning to buy one for yourself or your kid. That’s what we intend to do in this article.
Laws regarding dirt bikes may change over time, and may vary from one state to another and from one country to another. However, there are some commonalities in laws across states/countries - you will get that general idea in this article.
For exact and detailed information, you should check the law portal of your state/country or consult a legal expert.
- Are dirt bikes legal?
- Can we make dirt bikes street legal?
- Where can I ride my dirt bike legally?
- Do you need a license to ride a dirt bike off-road?
Are dirt bikes legal?
Well, they are definitely legal to own. No issues. If they were illegal to own, they wouldn’t have been selling openly in consumer markets, isn’t it?
However, where you drive them may be an issue. In most of the places, it’s illegal to drive dirt bikes on roads. Dirt bikes and ATVs come under the Off-Highway Vehicles (OHV) category – the name says it all.
They are meant for off-road riding for recreation purposes. They do not fit well with general traffic on roads and are rather unsafe due to a few reasons:
- They lack some very basic equipment, such as horn, speedometer, turn signals, etc.
- Most dirt bikes do not have a headlight or tail light, which makes them unsuitable to be ridden at night time.
- Lack of adequate emission equipment. Most of these dirt bikes and other OHVs create a lot of pollution – some even more than SUVs.
- They are riskier to drive and thus pose a threat to the rider as well as others, especially if driven at high speed, as they often lack proper brakes, stability, traction, brake lights, etc.
- Many a times these bikes are not even registered and have no license plates. Also, no insurance.
All these things may make them lighter, faster, simpler, and so optimal for off-road driving experience. But these very things make them unsuitable for on-road driving.
If you are caught riding such off-road machines (dirt bikes, ATVs) on the road, you may be fined or arrested and your bike confiscated and shred to metal pieces. Though on a good day, you may get off easily by just getting a ticket.
Riding these bikes may be acceptable in some less populated rural areas, that too if they are driven at low speeds.
It’s legal to ride bicycles on most roads but not dirt bikes, because dirt bikes have motor. So, they come under Motor Vehicle Act, which lays down standards for how motor vehicles can be constructed and used legally on public roads.
Though you may not take your bicycle on some roads, such as UK motorway or US interstate, i.e. the roads that are specifically meant for motorized vehicles.
Can we make dirt bikes street legal?
Yes, you can. You may make some modifications in your dirt bike to make them borderline road-legal.
Even better, there are many Dual Sport bikes in the market that may be used as dirt bikes, as well as road bikes. If you want a bike that you can use on road, but that you can also take for off-road driving once in a while, you should rather opt for such Dual Sport bikes (rather than modifying your dirt bike on your own).
But what is considered “street-legal” may vary from one place to another. It’s a grey area and may lend you up in trouble with authorities.
What if you do not own such a dual sport bike, but rather a pure dirt bike?
Where can I ride my dirt bike legally?
Well, if you own a proper dirt bike, then one thing is pretty clear – in majority of the places you cannot ride it on the streets.
Though it does not stop many bike groups from riding them on roads, but it often causes a menace – people complaining with authorities, police intervention, total conundrum. This has become a recurrent problem in many US cities, such as New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Boston, Baltimore, etc. – bike races, risky stunts on the roads!
In Baltimore, the Police has even constituted a special Dirt Bike Task force to contain this menace. Imagine the extent of this problem.
That’s not what we want – at least most of us, who drive for a healthy adventure and a fun time.
So, what are the places where we can drive our dirt bikes legally?
They are meant for off-road driving and so you can drive them:
- on mountain trails
- on muddy race tracks
Hope you got the idea – anywhere but roads and with general vehicular traffic.
If you ever have to take your dirt bike on road, it would be better to walk alongside the bike. If you are sitting on it, engine on or off, rolling it down the street, you are at risk for a ticket or worse. Also, it helps if you are wearing a helmet.
Do you need a license to ride a dirt bike off-road?
Ok, so we can drive our dirt bikes off-road. But do we need a special licence to do so? Or just buying a dirt bike gives us the right to ride them?
Again, the answer is not pure black and white. It will depend on the law of the land of the place where you stay.
But in general, laws and regulations are rather more relaxed in case of such off-road vehicles, than they are for motor vehicles meant for roads. So, chances are that you won’t be required any extra licence to ride dirt bikes. But do check with some legal expert in your state/city, or make an enquiry at the showroom from where you are buying the bike.
If registering off-road vehicles is necessary in your state/city, do ensure you get them registered/titled for off street use, i.e. get some kind of proof of ownership.
In some states (e.g. Florida) you can only ride them in your own private property. You may require extra permits if you want to ride them in forests or someone else’s private property.