SHERIFF'S CORNER: A review of ORV rules and laws

In 2008, a law (2008 PA 240) was passed in Michigan allowing ORV's to be traveled on local roads. It allowed local municipalities -- as in townships and villages -- to make the decision whether they wanted ORV operation on the roadway within its jurisdiction.

As the ORV recreational season is ready to go into full swing, I felt is was necessary to post a reminder on the do's and don'ts when it comes to ORV recreation in Lake County. In this edition of the "Sheriff's Corner," I will cover our local ORV ordinance, state requirements and riding considerations.


In 2009, Lake County adopted its own ordinance allowing ORV usage on the roadway, in accordance with the change in state law. This was pushed onto the townships, giving them the ability to opt-in or opt-out. Out of the 15 townships, there were eight that originally elected to opt-in. As of today, all 15 townships allow for ORV roadway usage.

The intent behind opening roads was to allow an ORV to travel to the trail systems, local businesses and gas stations. A person would no longer have to trailer their ORV to a trailhead, rather they could drive it directly from their residence, vacation home or from a local lodging establishment.

With that being said, there are several requirements that must be followed when traveling on the roadway. These are as follows:

• For an ORV to be allowed on a roadway, it must be driven at a speed of no more than 25 miles per hour; by a person not less than 12 years of age; with the flow of traffic and in a manner which does not interfere with traffic on the road; traveling single file, except when overtaking and passing another ORV; while displaying a lighted headlight and lighted taillight at all hours.

• Each operator and passenger must wear a crash helmet and protective eye wear approved by the United States Department of Transportation unless the vehicle is equipped with a windshield and a roof or roll bar that meets or exceeds standards for a crash helmet and the operator and each passenger is wearing a properly adjusted and fastened safety belt.

• Unless equipped with a braking system that may be operated by hand or foot, capable of producing deceleration at 14 feet per second on level ground at a speed of 20 miles per hour; a brake light, brighter than the taillight, visible when the brake is activated to the rear of the vehicle when the vehicle is operated during the hours of 1/2 hour after sunset and 1/2 hour before sunrise; and a throttle so designed that when the pressure used to advance the throttle is removed, the engine speed will immediately and automatically return to idle.

• While the ORV is equipped with a spark arrester type United States forest service approved muffler, in good working order and in constant operation. Pursuant to noise emission standards defined by law.

• The ORV shall be licensed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and the ORV license/sticker shall be permanently attached and visibly displayed in the manner prescribed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in accordance with state law.

The ordinance also dictates where an ORV may travel as well as where you specifically need to ride.

• An ORV may only be operated on the far right on the maintained portion of a road on the designated county roads. "Maintained Portion of the Road" means the portion of the road improved, designated, or ordinarily used for vehicular traffic and does not include within its meaning the shoulder or right-of-way. If the road is paved, you have to drive on the far right of the paved portion. To reiterate, you cannot drive on the shoulder.

• An ORV may not be operated on the road surface, roadway, shoulder or right-of-way of any State or Federal highway, including but not limited to M 37, US 10, or any other State or Federal highway in Lake County.

Furthermore, an ORV cannot be operated on the power lines, snowmobile trails (that are not dual purpose), railroad property or the "Rails to Trails" biking trail.

The 25 mile per hour ORV speed requirement on the road is not arbitrary. As some have said this is dangerous for ORV operation, that was written into the law and is not subject to be changed by any municipality. Also, any change in this would place ORV's in the category of a standard motor vehicle, which is the opposite of what was intended in the law.


Every ORV operating on approved public lands, designated trails, roads open to ORV and scramble areas must have a title, in the same manner as a car would have.

324.81103 states:

"(2) After April 1, 1991, every ORV sold by a dealer to a retail purchaser shall be subject to the certificate of title provisions of this part.

(3) After April 1, 1991, a person who purchases or otherwise acquires an ORV shall apply for a certificate of title as provided in this part."

So, if you purchased your ORV on a "bill of sale" only and you do not have the title, you shouldn't be operating it. I have seen this many times where a person buys a quad or a dirt bike and the seller said they did not have a title.

This raises several concerns:

1. Why do they not have the title?

2. Is it possibly stolen?

3. If you ever want to get a title, it will be very difficult tracking down the owner who it was last titled in.

Trail stickers are also required when operating on the road. There are now two licenses "stickers" that are available. A trail sticker, and an ORV road sticker. They must be placed on the rear of your ORV. Not on the front fender and not on the plastic where someone from the rear cannot see it.

I know this is difficult when there are limited spaces on the rear to affix it to. Also, they must be permanently affixed, meaning they cannot be in a "zip-lock" bag and taped on your machine, nor can you keep them in your pocket or saddle bag.


Young riders also have additional requirements when operating. There is a difference on how many wheels it relation to age requirements.

• No one under the age of 10 may operate any 4-wheel ATV (quad) except on private land while performing farm-related work operations.

• Children 10 and 11 years old may operate a 4-wheel ATV (quad) only when they are on land owned by the child's parent or guardian, the operator is under the direct visual supervision of an adult and the operator possesses a valid ORV safety certificate.

• Children 12 to 15 years old may operate a 4-wheel ATV (quad) under the direct visual supervision of an adult and the operator possesses a valid ORV safety certificate.

• Children under 16 years old may operate other ORVs (dirt bike, cycle, 2-wheels) only when the operator is under the direct visual supervision of an adult and the operator possesses a valid ORV safety certificate.

• No child under the age of 12 years may cross any street, highway or county road while operating any ORV.

• Children who are at least 12 years old may cross streets and roads (only at right angles) if they are under the direct visual supervision of an adult and have a valid ORV safety certificate.

• You also have to at be at least 16 years old to operate a 3-wheel ATV (ATC, trike).

So, for 2-wheel ATV's, there is no age requirement for operation. What is often said is that a dirt bike is more difficult to operate than a quad, asking the question on why would the age requirements be less?

Having been a DNR recreational instructor for many years, I can tell you it is the opposite. Someone who operates a dirt bike generally has better riding skills and has been practicing for a long time.

A quad creates a false sense of security, meaning that most people think they can hop on, hit the gas and go ... not ever having ridden one before without the necessary skills to ride. Statistically, the amount of 2-wheel ORV crashes pale in comparison to the amount of 4-wheel ORV crashes we have responded to.

In short, no 4-wheeler's on the trails or the road, unless you are at least 12 yrs of age.

Also, it has been debated that a side-by-side or UTV is different to that of a 4-wheel ATV, due to the operator not having to straddle the seat. Since the law was written before the production of UTV's, it does not specifically address this. It has been our practice, along with the DNR, that a UTV is considered a 4-wheel ATV and falls under the same operating requirements for younger riders.

Note: At 16 years of age, you do not have to be a licensed driver to operate an ORV. However, if your license to operate a car has been suspended or revoked, you cannot operate an ORV.


Unless there is a local ordinance that allows golf carts to be driven on the road, they are considered ORV's and must meet the same requirements for operation.

A golf cart ordinance can be adopted that is separate from ORV's. Public Act 491 of 2014 allows a municipality with a population of 30,000 or less to adopt a resolution to allow the use of golf carts on certain streets within their jurisdiction.

• Only allowed on streets with a posted or adopted speed limit of 30 MPH or less.

• Shall not be operated on sidewalks.

• May not pass between lines of traffic.

• May only travel at a maximum speed of 15 MPH.

• May not be operated 1/2 hour before sunset or 1/2 hour after sunrise.

• The municipality may maintain a recorded list of golf cart operators; if so, they may not charge operators to compile the list.

• The local unit of government does not have the ability to modify the requirements or conditions established by the state, with the exception of further prohibiting golf carts on selected streets with a 30 MPH or lower speed limit.

Such an ordinance does NOT exist in any Lake County municipality, so they must comply with the ORV requirements when operating on the road. An attached canopy, is not a roll bar, so helmets are required. If there is no windshield, then eye protection is also required. And, technically they need seat belts.


Every one wants to have a good time, but remember to have respect for other peoples property. A week does not go by that we don't receive a complaint from a property owner relating to trespassing, operating at high speeds or tearing up the road. The amount of complaints increase every year.

Remember, these things can build up and result in the loss of privileges or the closing of certain areas. Just this week, I received a complaint from a township official who stated they are considering the possibly of closing their township to ORV road traffic. So, if you think it can't happen ... don't fool yourself.

Overall, most people are respectful and follow the rules. It's that 5% that mess it up for everyone else. Be vigilent when you see someone doing something wrong. Don't laugh and post smiley faces on a social media site when someone has posted improper behavior. This all adds to the problem.

This information is provided to you for clarification of specific laws and not legal advice. This is not to be construed as a personal opinion, agreement or disagreement of any specific law. If you have any questions on any specific topic, you can always email me your questions to