Town Counsel Law & Litigation, LLC proudly serves as general counsel for many towns and villages located in Shawano and Waupaca counties. One question that recently emerged for many of our municipal clients is whether opening town roads for ATV and UTV-operator use presents any significant legal issue or concern.

In our experience, common questions include:

  • Can a municipality require ATV/UTV operators to carry liability insurance for coverage of accidents with vehicles?
  • Can a municipality set a speed limit for ATV/UTV riders that is lower than what is posted for regular vehicular traffic?
  • Can a municipality require an ATV/UTV rider to have a valid Wisconsin Driver’s License to operate on a town road?

The answer to all of the above questions is “no”.

A valid ordinance must be in harmony with state law. In other words, a town cannot enact an ordinance that is more restrictive than a state statute of “uniform”, or statewide, concern. State statutes dictate the rules of the road, including those for the operation of ATVs and UTVs. Essentially, a town has the discretion to determine what town roads ATV and UTV operators may use. However, once those roads are opened for ATV/UTV use, who can use them and how has largely already been determined by the legislature.

Enforcement of citations for violations of ATV/UTV ordinances has also been a common concern. If a town or village does not have its own police force, it must rely on the sheriff’s department to provide patrol and issue citations. If a citation is issued for the violation of an ATV/UTV ordinance, it is the municipality’s responsibility provide an attorney to prosecute that ticket in court.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, residents may not be aware that the penalties for drunk driving do not apply to ATV/UTV operators as they do to those operating a motor vehicle. No points will be assessed against an ATV/UTV operator’s Wisconsin Driver’s License as a result of him or her operating while intoxicated. A 1st offense Operating While Intoxicated (OWI, referred to in other states as a DUI) citation for a person driving a car carries with it a minimum 6-month revocation of their driver’s license, as well as minimum forfeitures and costs of approximately $800. An ATV/UTV operator who drives drunk is subject only to a penalty ranging from $150 to $300, with no points assessed against, or revocation of, their driving privileges. See. Wis. Stat. § 23.33(13)(b)

It is up to the governing body to consider the issue and determine whether the “recreational value” of ATV/UTV use on all or certain public roadways outweighs the “possible dangers, public health, liability aspects, terrain involved, and traffic volume.”