- What Is An Off-Highway Vehicle?
- How Do I Register My Off-Highway Vehicle?
- What If I Am Visiting From Another State?
- How Do I Legally Operate My Off-Highway Vehicle?
- What Are the Off-Highway Vehicle Equipment Requirements?
- What Are the ATV Safety Laws and Training Requirements?
- What Are the Requirements For Riding an Off-Highway Motorcycle?
- Where Can I Recreate With My Off-Highway Vehicle?
- What is the SNO-PARK Program?
A - What Is An Off-Highway Vehicle?
What is an Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV)?
Any motor vehicle operated off-highway is an OHV. A highway licensed vehicle is an OHV when operated off of the highway. Vehicles having Green and Red Stickers are OHVs. Some of the more common OHVs include all terrain vehicles (ATVs), dirt bikes, sand rails, recreation utility vehicles (RUVs), golf carts, snowmobiles, go carts, jeeps, recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs) and 4x4s. (1)
What is a side-by-side?
Yamaha Rhino and Polaris Rangers and RZRs are examples of off-highway motor vehicles commonly referred to as side-by-sides for their seating configuration, as opposed to an ATV with a seat that is straddled by the operator. These side-by-sides are also called utility vehicles (UTVs), recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs) and recreational utility vehicles (RUVs) as well as other names used by manufacturers and owners. Other states may define these vehicles as ATVs in their laws and regulations, but the California definition of an ATV includes "three or more low pressure tires, a seat designed to be straddled by the operator and handlebars for steering."
What is an ATV?
ATVs once had three wheels, but new ATVs sold today have four wheels. In California, Vehicle Code (CVC) 111 defines an ATV as fifty inches or less in width; nine hundred pounds or less, unladen; three or more low pressure tires; a single seat designed to be straddled by the operator, or a single seat designed to be straddled by the operator and a seat for no more than one passenger; and has handlebars for steering control. (2)
If I operate my highway licensed vehicle off-highway, does my equipment set up have to be highway legal? For example, do I need mud flaps if my tires extend beyond the fenders?
No. When operated off-highway your vehicle does not have to meet on-highway laws related to vehicle equipment. When operating a vehicle off-highway all that is required is current registration and compliance with all the equipment regulations for off-highway vehicles in the California Vehicle Code. (3)
These include but are not limited to:
- Headlamp(s) during hours of darkness
- Taillamp(s) during hours of darkness
- Brakes in good working order
- Properly maintained muffler or spark arrester
- Additional equipment required by the public land manager because of specialized conditions such as fire hazard, public safety or other hazardous conditions
- Pollution control device
For in depth information on these laws please see the 38000 sections of the California Vehicle Code.
B - How Do I Register My Off-Highway Vehicle?
Does my OHV need to be registered (identified)?
If you are operating it on lands open and accessible to the public for OHV recreation, whether public or privately owned, it must have either a highway license or an OHV identification sticker issued by DMV. OHV stickers include "Green Stickers," "Red Stickers," and California Nonresident OHV Use Permits. See “C” below for Non-resident Permit information. The terms "registration" and "identification" are interchangeable. (4)
What is a Green Sticker?
A Green Sticker is similar to highway registration except it allows California residents to operate their OHV off-highway on lands that are open and accessible to the public for OHV recreation. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) certifies the motors of off-highway motor vehicles that meet air emission standards to receive green stickers. The sticker is affixed to the OHV. It is required for California vehicles that do not have highway registration. Currently, a Green Sticker costs $54 for each OHV and is valid for two years. Contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles
(DMV) office to purchase your Green Sticker. (5)
What is a Red Sticker?
A Red Sticker is similar to the Green Sticker except that vehicles with Red Stickers are restricted to riding seasons
regulated the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The Red Sticker is required only for motorcycles and ATVs model year 2003 - 2021. These vehicles are certified by the manufacturer as not meeting the exhaust emission standards established by CARB. If the vehicle has a 3 or a C in the eighth digit of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), it is non-compliant with CARB exhaust emission standards and is issued a Red Sticker by DMV
. Non-compliant OHVs cannot be modified to meet the exhaust emissions standard because the regulation is enforced at the manufacturer level, not the consumer level. The riding seasons for CARB non-compliant motorcycles and ATVs are enforced regardless of residency. Anyone visiting California from another state or country is subject to the riding season restrictions. (6)
Can I still ride my 2003-2021 red sticker ATV or Motorcycle?
Yes. These vehicles, if properly registered, will still be allowed to recreate on public lands within the red sticker riding season. They must continue to be registered as before. In 2025, model years 2003 – 2021 ATVs and motorcycles that had been designated as “red sticker” will no longer be restricted to a riding season. These models will be allowed year-round access to OHV recreation areas.
Beginning with Model Year 2022, the DMV will no longer issue red sticker registrations to vehicles that do not meet CARB exhaust emission standards. These non-compliant ATVs and motorcycles will be categorized as “Competition” vehicles and may only be used on private lands or at sanctioned competition events.
Is the Red Sticker riding season being enforced?
Yes. Until January 1, 2025, OHV areas will continue to use signage and patrols to enforce the regulation if they are on the Red Sticker Riding Season Schedule
. Many OHV areas, especially in northern California and rural areas, have year-round riding seasons not restricted by the CARB regulations. Please check with the local land management agency before you ride your Red Sticker motorcycle or ATV. Riding areas are reviewed periodically by CARB and may be added or deleted from the list depending upon air quality in the area. (7)
Are Red Stickers issued to dune buggies?
No. The Red Sticker program applies only to off-highway motorcycles and ATVs that are air emissions non-compliant. (8)
Does the Red Sticker riding season apply to non-residents?
Yes. CARB has determined that the Red Sticker riding season applies to California residents and non-residents alike. A non-resident operating a dirt bike or ATV with either a registration or the equivalent from another state or a California Non-Resident OHV Use Permit
is restricted to the Red Sticker riding season. Be sure to check the riding dates
for the area in which you wish to recreate. Non-residents may be asked to verify their residency by a driver's license or other identification when contacted in the field. (9)
Where can I find current Red Sticker riding season information?
What if the area I want to ride in isn't listed on the CARB Red Sticker Riding Season schedule?
OHV riding areas not listed in the schedule are open to both Green and Red Sticker vehicles all year. Check with the local land management agency to confirm riding area status before riding. (10)
Why did I get a Red Sticker on my four-stroke ATV?
In order for an OHV to be certified as a Green Sticker vehicle, the manufacturers must submit the model of the vehicle for air emissions testing. Vehicles not submitted, tested and approved for certification as a Green Sticker vehicle can be sold as Red Sticker vehicles. The manufacturer designated your specific model to CARB as being non-compliant for air emissions in California, and then DMV issued you a Red Sticker based upon the VIN having a C or 3 in the eighth digit in the VIN. Sometimes OHV owners are confused because their newer four-stroke OHV seems to be much cleaner burning than their old two-stroke. While this is likely, the manufacturer decides how to present a particular model to CARB for either Green or Red Sticker certification.
Why did a motorcycle issued a green sticker last model year, instead be issued a red sticker this year when they look identical?
As described above, manufacturers decide whether to certify a specific model to meet air emissions standards regulated by CARB and get a green sticker or certify that vehicle as not meeting air emissions standards to get a red sticker. Remember beginning with Model Year 2022, there will be no more Red Sticker registrations issuedto any new motorcycles or ATVs unless there has been a mistake.
I am buying a new ATV. How can I make sure it won't get a Red Sticker?
If the OHV is new, there will be no more Red Sticker registration issued. Purchasing a used ATV from a DMV licensed California dealer makes it more likely they are selling CARB certified OHVs. Make sure the eighth digit of the VIN is not a C or a 3. When purchasing used vehicles and/or vehicles from another state it is important to determine emissions status before purchase. Vehicles purchased from another country such as Canada may not have conforming VINs required in California. These vehicles are called “grey market” and may not qualify for either green or red stickers and therefore not allowed to operate on public lands.
Where does my Green and Red Sticker go on my OHV?
Locations for affixing Green or Red Stickers to several types of OHVs are specified by law and failure to do so could result in a citation:
- ATVs: The Left rear quadrant on a permanent plastic or metal frame member visible to outside inspection.
- Motorcycles: On the left fork leg, either horizontal or vertical, visible from the left.
- Sand rails, dune buggies, carts, etc.: On the left quadrant of the metal frame visible to the rear.
- Snowmobiles: On the left quadrant of the metal frame visible to the rear.
- If your vehicle is not listed above the rule of thumb is the identification sticker should be permanently affixed in a location easily visible from the rear of the vehicle, preferably on the left side.
More details are available at the DMV website
Are there any exemptions from the Green or Red Sticker requirements?
Yes. The CVC contains a variety of exemptions including racing events on a closed course, motorized wheelchairs, tractors used for agriculture, golf carts on golf courses, vehicles owned by a non-resident which are registered in their home state, and vehicles owned by government agencies. (13)
Do I need a Green or Red Sticker if I am only riding on private property?
No. You do not need a Green or Red Sticker when operating on your own private property or on private property where permission is required and has been obtained. Transportation of a non-registered OHV on a highway is also permitted. (14)
C - What If I Am Visiting From Another State?
I will be traveling to California from another state to ride my OHV. Do I need California OHV registration (Green or Red Sticker)?
If you are a resident of another state and your OHV has valid registration from that state, you do not need a Green or Red Sticker or a California Nonresident OHV Use Permit (unless your state of residence requires California visitors with properly registered OHVs to purchase a non-resident permit in your home state). If your OHV does not have valid registration or the equivalent from your home state, you will need to get a California Nonresident OHV Use Permit
. A title is not registration. For states bordering California, the Oregon OHV Permit and the Nevada OHV Registration Decal meet the requirement for OHV registration by residents of those states.
A non-resident need not purchase California's permit as long as they can provide valid proof that they have a current registration or their home state's equivalent for their OHV (unless your state of residence requires California visitors with properly registered OHVs to purchase a non-resident permit in your home state). If a nonresident cannot provide valid proof of possessing such a document, they must purchase the California Nonresident OHV Use Permit. (15)
What is a California Nonresident OHV Use Permit?
The California Nonresident OHV Use Permit
allows visitors to California, with OHVs that do not have valid registration or OHV identification from their home state, to operate by permit. The permit is available only to non-residents and currently costs $30 per vehicle.
California Nonresident OHV Use Permits can be purchased from vendors in California and surrounding states. A list of vendors can be downloaded at: Nonresident Permit Vendor List
Is an Arizona RV plate registration?
No. The RV plate is title, not registration.
If I am a resident of Arizona, what do I need to do to legally operate my vehicle off-highway in California?
Arizona residents need one of the following to operate their OHV in California:
- A valid California Nonresident OHV Use Permit.
- A valid street legal registration- California does not recognize the Street-Legal registrations for OHVs that Arizona law permits, therefore those OHVs with license plates must still purchase a Non-resident Permit.
Additional information is available on the Arizona OHV Decal Program
I have an Arizona MC plate on my OHV. May I ride it on a California highway?
No. There are a variety of motor vehicles specifically manufactured for operation off of the highways. Off-highway motorcycles, dune buggies, sand rails, and ATVs are common names as well as the vehicles with side-by-side seating for two occupants, commonly called RUV, ROHV, MUV, and UTV. A vehicle designed and manufactured for off-highway use may not be operated on a California highway even though it may be highway legal in its home state because it does not meet the federal highway safety standards for highway vehicles. The California Highway Patrol is responsible for administering the highways in the state.
D - How Do I Legally Operate My Off-Highway Vehicle?
How do I know if an OHV is the right size for the rider?
The operator of any OHV must be able to reach and operate all controls to safely operate the vehicle. Additionally, parents can be held legally responsible when allowing their kids under age 14 to operate an inappropriately-sized OHV where all controls cannot be reached and operated for safe operation and a parent can be cited when failing to do so. (16)
Are there any speed limits for OHVs?
Yes. The off-highway speed laws are similar to on-highway speed laws in that your speed must be reasonable and prudent for the situation. In addition, you are limited to no more than 15 mph within 50 feet of campsites, animals, or groups of people. (17)
Are there laws regarding unsafe operation off-highway?
Yes. You must obey official signs and regulations. You may only move or turn your OHV when it is safe to do so. You may not operate in a reckless manner. (18)
Is a driver's license required to operate a vehicle off-highway?
No, but if your driving privilege is suspended or revoked, you cannot operate any vehicle either on or off-highway in California. (19)
Is there a size or age limit to operate a vehicle off-highway?
There are specific ROV laws pertaining to ages of operators (ROV FAQ
). There is no law that specifies a minimum age to operate other OHVs, but operators of all OHVs must be able to reach and operate all controls. There are safety training and supervision laws for youth operating ATVs that are age specific. Please refer to the ATV Laws section
listed below. (20)
Is there a passenger limit for my OHV?
Yes. OHVs must be safely loaded and ATVs generally are not allowed to carry any passengers. If you carry passengers anywhere other than a seat provided by the manufacturer, you could be cited for unsafe operation depending on the terrain, speed, traffic, and other factors. Check with the land management agency where you plan to ride to verify current laws and any special restrictions for that area. (21)
What about towing passengers?
Towing a passenger may be considered unsafe, and subject to citation, unless the towed passenger is riding on a vehicle designed to carry passengers. (22)
Can an OHV ever be operated on the highway in California?
Yes. OHVs, meeting specific equipment requirements, when used by an operator with a valid driver's license, can be driven on highway sections that have been legally designated and signed for combined use
of both off-highway vehicles and highway legal vehicles. These sections cannot be more than three miles long and must be signed describing the combined use status. Additionally, all OHVs can cross a two lane highway at an angle of approximately 90 degrees to the direction of the roadway, and at a place where a quick and safe crossing may be made. (23)
Can I be arrested for DUI when driving my OHV off-highway?
Yes. The laws regarding driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs apply throughout California, both on and off-highway. (24)
Can I or any of my passengers have an open container in or on an OHV?
No. The CVC prohibits open alcoholic beverage containers in OHVs. (25)
E - What Are the Off-Highway Vehicle Equipment Requirements?
When is a spark arrester required on my OHV?
You are required by the California Vehicle Code to have a spark arrester, maintained and in effective working order, whenever you are operating your OHV on any forest-covered land, brush-covered land, or grass-covered land. The land management agency determines whether a spark arrester is required on the land they manage regardless of how it may look on a specific day or season of the year. The US Forest Service tests and qualifies spark arresters for manufacturers at their facility in San Dimas, California. (26)
Are brake lights required on my OHV?
Only on a combined use highway (a highway which allows off-highway vehicles only during daylight hours). (27)
What lights are required on my OHV?
From a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise, a forward facing white light and a rear facing red light are required. If you are towing a trailer, only the trailer is required to have the red light. (28)
May I display red or blue lights on my OHV?
Red or blue lights that look like the warning lights on an emergency vehicle are prohibited. Red or blue lighted whip antennas are not considered warning lights under the law. The intent of the law is to not confuse emergency vehicles with non-emergency vehicles. (29)
Do I need a light on my whip and flag at night?
No. A lighted whip is allowed but not required.
My four wheel drive is registered for highway use. When I am driving off-highway, do I need to keep all of my highway equipment on it or can I remove mud flaps and fold down my windshield, for example, and replace my street tires with off-highway tires?
When operated off-highway, a vehicle which is registered for use on-highway only needs to meet the equipment requirements for a vehicle operated off-highway, so, yes, you can remove your mud flaps, fold down your windshield and replace your highway tires with sand tires or others not approved for highway use. (30)
Can I convert my dirt bike to a dual sport so I can drive it both on and off-highway?
No. A vehicle designed for off-highway use can no longer be legally converted for highway use in California due to air emissions and federal safety regulations. (31)
For additional information, please see the DMV Vehicle Industry News, VIN 2003-11
Can I have a siren on my OHV?
No. OHVs may not be equipped with a siren. OHV operators may not use a siren. (32)
What is the legal sound level for OHVs? (33)
For competition OHVs: Maximum
Manufactured on or after January 1, 1998 96 dBA
Manufactured before January 1, 1998 101 dBA
For all other OHVs: Maximum
Manufactured on or after January 1, 1986 96 dBA
Manufactured before January 1, 1986 101 dBA
How is my OHV tested?
The testing standard for dirt bikes and ATVs is SAE J-1287. It is nicknamed the 20-inch test and was designed for use in the field and doesn't require laboratory conditions for accuracy. The CVC does not designate a testing standard for other OHVs, although there are SAE testing methods available. (33)
How would I get sound level testing on my OHV to see how much noise it is emitting?
Sound testing for OHVs is available at the SVRAs, and other riding areas throughout the state. Please contact the agency responsible for managing the area in which you are riding.
When my local dealer tested my OHV, it was only 95 decibels, but when the Ranger tested it, it was 97 decibels. What is the difference?
There are several possible reasons for the difference in testing results including meter quality and calibration, weather, nearby obstacles, training, and test procedures. The Ranger will be using a Type 1 sound meter, which is the most accurate type of sound meter. The sound meter must be calibrated before use. Also, your sound emissions will change through use and lack of maintenance. Oil can saturate the packing material in the muffler, reducing the sound level absorbing ability. Periodic maintenance is important to retain sound level control qualities.
An officer stopped me because she thought my ATV was too loud. She required my ATV to be tested. How can she tell my vehicle is too loud before she stopped me?
Just like a CHP officer is able to estimate your speed on a freeway, an officer who works with OHVs develops an ear for sound which is over the limit. OHV enforcement officers have been trained in sound level enforcement and have experience from testing many vehicles. A trained and experienced officer can typically estimate if a vehicle is excessively loud and then conduct sound level testing to record the actual sound level.
F - What Are the ATV Safety Laws & Training Requirements?
How do I know if an ATV is the right size for the rider?
The operator of any OHV must be able to reach and operate all controls to safely operate the vehicle. Additionally, parents are legally responsible to encourage their kids to operate an appropriately-sized vehicle where all controls can be reached and operated and a parent can be cited if it fails to do so. (16)
May I carry a passenger on my ATV?
Only if it was designed by the manufacturer to carry a passenger. Most ATVs are designed for only the operator and are not designed for a passenger. Aftermarket kits that add a seat are unsafe because of passenger weight distribution being too far to the rear of the vehicle. When designing an ATV that is capable of safely carrying a passenger, the manufacturer takes into account weight distribution, includes space for the passenger's feet, seating designed for two, and designated hand holds for the passenger. (34)
Is a helmet required for ATVs?
Yes. The operator and any passenger of an ATV must wear an approved helmet. (35)
Do I need an ATV Safety Certificate to ride my ATV?
No. Adults are not required to obtain an ATV Safety Certificate to operate an ATV, but they may be required to have one if riding with a youth.Operators 18 years of age and older
You are not required to have an ATV Safety Certificate, but for the safety of the rider it is recommended.Operators ages 14-17
You must possess an ATV Safety Certificate or be supervised by an adult with an ATV Safety Certificate.Ages 13 and under
:You must be directly supervised by a parent or guardian or an adult authorized by the parent or guardian. If you do not have an ATV Safety Certificate, you must be supervised by an adult with an ATV Safety Certificate. (36)
How can I get ATV Safety Training?
Many ATV manufacturers offer incentives to provide free ATV Safety Training
for all individuals who have purchased a new ATV, even if that purchase occurred several years ago. This free training is also available for the purchaser's eligible family members. An adult buying a used ATV can purchase individual training through the ATV Safety Institute
. The OHMVR Division contracts with the ATV Safety Institute to subsidize free training for all California youth under the age of 18 who otherwise do not qualify for the manufacturer-sponsored training. Adults who do not qualify for the manufacturer-supported training incentives may attend the ATV Safety Training for a fee of $150. Enroll online for ATV Safety Training by going to the ATV Safety Institute
website. You will need your ATV's VIN to qualify for manufacturer incentives. For more information, please refer to the free ATV Safety Training
web page. For ATV Safety Training certification, call the ATV Safety Institute
at (800) 887-2887.
G - What Are the Requirements for Riding an Off-Highway Motorcycle?
How do I know if an off-highway motorcycle is the right size for the rider?
The operator of an OHV must be able to reach and operate all controls to safely operate the vehicle. Additionally, parents are legally responsible to encourage their kids to operate an appropriately-sized vehicle where all controls can be reached and operated and a parent can be cited if it fails to do so. (16)
Is a helmet required by law when operating my motorcycle off-highway?
A helmet is not required by law when operating a motorcycle off-highway although it is highly recommended. (37)
Is there somewhere I can get off-highway motorcycle training?
Yes. For off-highway motorcycle training, call the Motorcycle Safety Training Foundation (MSF) at (877) 288-7093. Or visit their website at www.dirtbikeschool.com
H - Where Can I Recreate With My Off-Highway Vehicle?
Where can I ride?
There are a variety of public lands in California that are open to managed OHV recreation. Check with your local land management agency regarding legal riding areas and local regulations. You can ride on your private property or the private property of others with their permission. There are many privately owned and operated motocross tracks throughout the state. A list of riding opportunities on public lands is located the OHMVR Division website. You can access the agencies offering OHV recreation opportunities here:
Do I need to stay on existing trails in all riding areas?
Most riding areas restrict vehicles to established or designated routes. Some areas allow "open riding." However, keep in mind that even in "open riding" areas, you can be cited for causing damage to land, vegetation, wildlife, or wildlife habitat. (38)
How do I know if a particular unpaved road is open to OHVs?
If there is no official sign, contact the agency that maintains the road. Generally, paved roads are closed to non-street legal OHVs and unpaved roads may or may not be open to OHVs depending on the ownership or recreation management plan.
There is a vacant lot in my neighborhood with trails on it. Can I ride there?
Maybe. Contact the property owner before using it and find out if you are allowed to ride there. If the land is privately owned, you should have permission from the property owner. If you do not have permission, you could be cited by local law enforcement for trespassing. If the land is public land, please contact the agency that manages the land. (39)
Where can I camp with my OHV?
OHV camping opportunities are subject to the recreation plans of the various land managers which operate California's public lands. Please contact the appropriate agency for more information about where you can camp with your OHV.
Are dogs allowed in the State Vehicular Recreation Areas (SVRAs)?
Yes. Dogs are allowed on a leash in most developed areas of the SVRAs which would include campgrounds and picnic areas. Please call the park prior to your arrival to get more information about specific areas within the SVRA where dogs may or may not be allowed. (40)
What additional fees do I need to pay at the SVRAs?
In addition to the daily parking fees collected at most SVRAs, there may be supplemental fees for dogs, overnight camping and extra camping vehicles. Please refer to our SVRA fee schedule
. To locate fees for OHV recreation areas operated by other agencies, contact the land manager.
I - What Is the SNO-PARK Program?
What is a SNO-PARK?
A SNO-PARK is a parking lot and area set aside for snow play to encourage people to park in a safe location away from highways and disrupting traffic flows. A SNO-PARK permit is required for each vehicle parked at a SNO-PARK site from November 1 through May 30 of each year. Permits are sold as Day Permits or Seasonal Permits by permit vendors throughout northern California. Day permits are sold for $15 and are valid for one single day. (You fill in the date, so you can purchase the daily permit in advance.) Season permits are sold for $40 and are valid for the entire SNO-PARK season (November 1 through May 30). A SNO-PARK vendor list
which provides information on where to buy your permit is available online. (41)
Can I camp at a SNO-PARK?
Overnight parking, including in-vehicle camping, is allowed except when prohibited at a specific SNO-PARK site. For the safety of the visitors, tent camping or sleeping outside a vehicle in the parking area is prohibited at all SNO-PARK sites. Sometimes snowplows come by very early in the morning to clear the lots and overnight snow can conceal smaller objects. Even vehicles parked overnight need to be staked at all four corners with 1x2 inch by 8-foot poles to prevent accidental damage by snow removal equipment. (42)
Where are the SNO-PARKs?
SNO-PARKs are located in eastern California at high elevations. Please visit the SNO-PARK web page
to find your nearest SNO-PARK.
For more information about specific laws, please refer to the California Law