Riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) is an exciting way to explore off-road trails. However, you should exercise extra caution in order to avoid unnecessary trouble. In addition to exposing yourself to the risk of injuries while negotiating dangerous terrain, you may also unknowingly break the law. In Tennessee, there are laws that regulate the ownership and use of ATVs. Be aware of the following laws before you hit the trails on your ATV.

Registration and Licensing

motorcycle safty check

Image via Flickr by Skakerman

As an ATV owner in Tennessee, you aren't required to register your vehicle or apply for a special license to drive it. 

Nonetheless, you must attach a special identification plate or sticker to your vehicle that shows that you were issued a certificate of title for it. All ATV owners who purchased their vehicles after June 1, 1983, are required to have a certificate of title and a special identification device. The type of identification device that you need is determined by the state. This device is nontransferable and nonrenewable, which means that it will become invalid if you sell, transfer ownership of, or dismantle your ATV.

If you're a nonresident owner of an ATV, you don't need to obtain a certificate of title in Tennessee if you have a valid out-of-state certificate of title or if your vehicle is registered in the other state and Tennessee. The requirements for obtaining a certificate of title are subject to the approval of the commissioner. By regulation, the commissioner will provide guidelines explaining how ATV owners should apply for certificates of title and the conditions they are required to meet. 

Safety Gear and Equipment

In Tennessee, ATV riders and passengers must wear helmets while riding on streets, roads, or highways. 

In addition, every ATV must be fitted with headlights and taillights. On a level road and in normal atmospheric conditions, the vehicle's headlights must emit enough light to render a person 200 feet away clearly discernible. If you fail to meet the legal requirements for ATV headlights and taillights, you will be committing a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by a maximum fine of $50. In addition, you can operate an ATV only between 30 minutes after sunrise and 30 minutes before sunset. 

Using ATVs on Highways

Tennessee law generally prohibits the operation of ATVs on state highways or highways that are part of an interstate highway or a defense highway system. There are, however, a number of exceptions, including:

  • Using an ATV for agricultural purposes.
  • Crossing a two-lane highway at a location where it's possible to cross the road safely and quickly and at an angle of about 90 degrees to the direction of the road.
  • Crossing a highway with more than two lanes or with limited access at a location designated by the Tennessee Department of Transportation or the local governmental authority as a place where ATVs are permitted to cross the highway.
  • Crossing a highway with more than two lanes or with limited access at a location where the Department of Transportation or the local governmental authority has erected a sign indicating that ATVs are allowed to cross.

In addition, ATVs can be moved adjacent to a roadway in a nonmechanical manner such that they don't interfere with highway traffic and are being moved only for the purpose of accessing or returning from an area that's designated for the operation of ATVs when no alternative routes are available. The Tennessee Department of Transportation or the local governmental authority may designate one or more access routes that lead to a park adjacent to a highway as suitable for the operation of ATVs. These access routes may also be able to be used by the public for pedestrian use and off-highway vehicle travel. 

In Tennessee, there are also portions of particular roads and highways where you're allowed to operate a three- or four-wheel ATV, such as:

  • Oneida & Western Railroad Road between its terminus and its intersection with Verdun Road, within the jurisdiction of Scott County.
  • State Route 116 from Beech Grove Lane to Railroad Street, within the jurisdiction of Lake City in Anderson County.

Penalties and punishments for violating Tennessee's ATV laws vary significantly and depend on which type of offense was committed. They range from a small fine to vehicle impoundment. In addition to helping you avoid legal trouble, following the aforementioned laws can also reduce your risk of accidents. Make sure to research the trails you're planning to explore before you hop on to your ATV. 

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