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New laws affect off-highway vehicle operators (2005-10-25)
A number of changes enacted by the 2005 Minnesota Legislature regulating off-highway vehicles (including all-terrain vehicles, off-highway motorcycles and 4x4 trucks) will affect those who own or operate them in Minnesota. It is important that riders take a moment to review these changes before heading out, according to the Department of Natural Resources officials, because many of these new provisions went into effect July 1.


The 2005 law increases penalties for persons who cause damage in wetlands. Peace officers may now file criminal charges and issue a civil citation in addition to restitution for damages to public or privately owned wetlands. Civil penalties are $100, $500 and $1,000 for the first, second and subsequent offenses, respectively. These penalty amounts can be doubled if the violator's vehicle is equipped with a snorkel device. Snorkels are now prohibited in Minnesota, except within designated off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation areas.


All OHVs must be properly registered in Minnesota in order to operate on public lands or designated trails, including grant-in-aid trails. Unregistered off-road vehicles (e.g., 4x4 trucks) will, however, be allowed to operate within the Iron Range OHV Recreation Area at Gilbert, the third Saturday of May each year, beginning in 2006. The new law also creates a voluntary safety education and training program for jeep and truck operators beginning in summer 2006.

Effective Jan. 1, 2006, ATV operators born after July 1, 1987, and who are at least 16 years old, must complete the ATV safety training independent study course before riding on public lands. Persons convicted of violating any state OHV laws must retake and successfully complete required safety training courses before resuming legal operation of their OHV.


Adult ATV operators may now carry one passenger. Passengers younger than age 18 must wear a helmet. Youthful ATV operators may not carry passengers and must be able to properly reach the handle bars and foot pegs while sitting upright on the ATV. They must also wear a helmet when operating on public lands. Children ages 10-11 may operate an ATV with an engine capacity of up to 90cc on public land if accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

ATV safety certificates, required for those ages 12-15, are valid only after successful completion of both the ATV independent study course and the rider (hands-on) safety training components.

Off-highway motorcycles (OHMs) must now display a DNR registration decal attached to the side of the bike if operated on public land. OHMs being used for racing events or exclusively on private property need not display their registration sticker.

Effective July 1, 2006, all OHMs must also be equipped with mufflers that produce no more than 96 decibels of sound at the tailpipe. Vehicles manufactured prior to 1998 may emit no more than 99 decibels.


The 2005 bill allows licensed big game hunters and trappers to use ATVs off-trail in limited or managed forests, except in the R. J. Dorer Memorial Hardwood Forest in southeastern Minnesota, during September for retrieving big game, and during October - December for hunting, transporting or constructing big game hunting stands, tending furbearer traps, or when engaged in commercial minnow trapping. Highway licensed vehicles may use undesignated trails in "managed" or "limited" forests subject to the same seasonal and licensing restrictions.

The DNR commissioner may designate areas within state forests where these hunting and trapping exceptions do not apply, following public notice and a comment period. OHV operation by licensed hunters, their employees and family members, without firearms, is now allowed on private property during the firearms deer season for occupational purposes.


The 2005 law retains the 'managed' forest classification north of U.S. Highway 2, which allows OHVs to operate on most state forest roads and trails, unless posted "closed". In "limited" forests, and south of U.S. Highway 2, OHVs may operate only on signed and designated roads and trails. U.S. Highway 2 runs east-west across the state from Grand Forks, N. D. to Duluth.

For more information on OHV rules and regulations, or to find places to ride, visit the DNR's OHV Regulations webpage or

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