Are Side-by-Sides Street Legal in Florida?
Side-by-sides are practical and fun. However, making them street legal and registering them can be frustrating. Some states have more lax laws concerning side-by-sides, but others impose numerous restrictions.
To operate your vehicle responsibly in Florida, you need to be familiar with the state’s regulations. So keep on reading to learn are side-by-sides street legal in Florida.
What’s a Side-by-Side in Florida?
Florida law recognizes ATVs as motorized vehicles with a width that doesn’t exceed 50 inches. In addition, their weight needs to fall under 1,200 pounds. ATVs travel on at least three tires and carry a single driver and no passengers. The state also acknowledges two-ride ATVs. These vehicles are designed to carry one operator and one passenger.
ROVs (recreational off-highway vehicles) and UTVs fall under the same definition in Florida. Recreational off-highway vehicles must be no wider than 60 inches and operate on a minimum of three non-highway tires.
Many UTV models exceed the 60-inch width restriction, so UTV and ROV options in Florida are limited. Their seats can’t be straddled, and they’re directed through the steering wheel.
Side-by-sides are usually only UTVs, but many Florida laws regulating UTV operation also apply to ATVs.
How to Title and Register an ATV or UTV in Florida
Florida residents who own an ATV or UTV need to title their vehicles. When selling your side-by-side, you have to hand over the assignment of title to the new owner. Buyers have 30 days from the date of purchase to apply for a vehicle title transfer.
You need to submit the application to the county tax collector to get a new title. A correctly filled-out document contains the owner’s legal name, primary address or business address, and an accurate vehicle description.
The application becomes valid once you sign it and pay a $29 submission fee.
There’s more paperwork that allows owners to obtain their side-by-side titles. Along with the application, they must submit either a bill of sale, a manufacturer’s statement of origin, or other documentation the county deems credible. This paperwork works as proof of ownership.
Once you receive your title, you’ll also get a validation sticker that goes on the vehicle’s exterior.
Remember that while all ATVs and UTVs have to be titled, no Florida law obligates owners to insure or register them.
Where to Operate an ATV or UTV in Florida
ATVs can travel down unpaved public roads in Florida. However, these roads should allow for a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour. The same does not apply to UTVs unless the local government grants special permission to vehicle owners.
Other public pathways, highways, and streets are off-limits for ATV and UTV driving.
Florida ATV and UTV Age Limitations
Anyone under 16 operating or traveling on an ATV or UTV in Florida must wear a safety helmet. The national Department of Transportation only approves helmets that provide ample head and eye protection.
Additionally, people younger than 16 must wear sturdy boots that cover their ankles. As side-by-sides are challenging to operate, especially for new drivers, it’s essential to have the appropriate footwear to maximize safety.
An adult also needs to accompany and supervise anyone under 16 riding an ATV or UTV.
Minors younger than 16 need to go through an off-highway vehicle safety program. Upon completing the course, they’ll receive an official certificate. They must carry the document with them whenever they are operating a side-by-side.
Non-Florida residents don’t have to obey this rule unless they remain in the state for more than 30 days.
ATV and UTV Accidents
Anyone involved in a fatal ATV or UTV crash or an accident that severely injures another person is obligated to report the incident to law enforcement.
Florida Communities With Frequent Side-by-Side Vehicles
As the Sunshine State, Florida boasts favorable weather conditions suited for outdoor activities like driving an ATV. In addition, the state is known for its golfing communities and beachfront areas where side-by-sides are pretty common. These areas may have their own regulations regarding ATVs and UTVs, but they aren’t easy to learn unless you’re a resident.
It’s best to check with local authorities what the county guidelines are. For example, laws in Florida let counties vote on whether people can operate ATVs on paved public streets with a speed limit below 35 miles per hour. Until you get an official confirmation, it’s best to stay off paved public roads.
Additional ATV and UTV Limitations
It’s illegal to damage Florida’s public land while on an ATV or UTV. However, owners should pay attention to any pathways with sand dunes, trees, fragile roads, drainage systems, crops, and similar areas.
Only a two-rider ATV is allowed to carry a passenger. A standard ATV laden with several people is strictly forbidden in Florida. It endangers both the ATV passengers and other people using the road.
Moreover, no one can operate a vehicle under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances.
Florida also prohibits reckless driving that may cause harm to others or damage personal and public property.
Florida ATV and UTV Equipment
To operate a street-safe ATV or UTV in Florida, you need to modify the vehicle with the appropriate equipment.
As we’ve mentioned, operators under the age of 16 need to wear a protective helmet. Additionally, they are required to don safety goggles. Both pieces of equipment should meet the safety requirements of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Most manufacturers produce side-by-sides with built-in headlights, but these are often not powerful enough for conditions with reduced visibility.
Florida laws require all drivers to have lights with at least a 150-feet reach low beam and a 450-feet reach when using high beams. Operators must engage their headlight when going down dark roads, traveling between sunset and sunrise, and during bad weather.
Similarly, ATVs and UTVs should engage their tail light whenever there’s smog, rain, or during the night. Most UTVs come with pre-installed rear lights. In addition, they usually have a red reflector that makes the vehicle visible even when the light malfunctions.
Whereas some states require side-by-sides to have two or three mirrors, Florida requires UTV owners to install only one mirror to make their vehicle street legal. Attaching a mirror onto the UTV’s frame is risky.
The operator will have a clear view of the UTV’s side but won’t fully see the back of the vehicle. Generally, it’s best to affix the mirror on the inside to avoid creating any blind spots.
Unfortunately, most ATVs and UTVs don’t come with the right tires. For a side-by-side to be street legal, the Department of Transportation needs to approve its rites. When tire shopping, look for tires with the “DOT” marking.
These tires are more robust than those used for cars and motorcycles and ensure safe travel along bumpy unpaved roads. Also, if law enforcement stops you from operating a UTV with inadequate tires, you’ll receive a ticket.
A Few Safety Tips
Operating a side-by-side is exciting, but drivers and passengers should always take safety precautions. The following tips should keep you safe on your next off-road adventure:
Never Travel Alone
You should never carry a passenger if your vehicle is not a two-rider. However, there’s safety in numbers, so it’s a good idea to travel with friends who also ride an ATV or UTV. Then, if your vehicle breaks down or you get into an accident, people will be around to help you with an unpleasant situation.
Find the Right Vehicle
Side-by-sides come in many makes and models, so you should only operate a vehicle that makes you feel comfortable. If it feels too big for you, you might have difficulty maneuvering it on the road.
Also, keep in mind that these are bulky machines and require a lot of physical strength from the driver. When you start to feel worn out, you’ll lose focus and heighten the chance of an accident.
So, go for a vehicle that matches your abilities. When driving, you should always feel in control of your machine.
Steer Clear of Public Roads
Due to their size, ATVs and UTVs are a risk in public traffic. Car drivers and motorcyclists could easily hit you with their vehicles. Additionally, law enforcement officers may fine you if they catch you on a public road with an ATV.
Tell Someone Where You’re Going
Unpaved trails are difficult to navigate, primarily if you’ve never used them before. Always share your destination with someone you trust and tell them when you expect to return.
Adjust your speed accordingly if you’re going down a trail or path that’s also a popular hiking spot. The appropriate speed will allow you to quickly slow down and stop when you encounter pedestrians on narrow roads.
Unless the property owner has allowed you to do so, it’s illegal to operate a side-by-side on private land. So not only is it disrespectful, but it’s also illegal.
Public Sites for Off-Highway Vehicles
There are several public spaces where operating a UTV or ATV is allowed. Before planning a trip, contact the sites to ensure their current regulations and whether the weather is good. You can ride your vehicle in the following public places:
Big Cypress National Preserve
The Preserve has several trails which are open to side-by-side drivers. You need to obtain an operating permit and an inspection sticker to use the trails. The permit and sticker are free, but drivers need to pay for an annual vehicle permit from the Preserve.
Off-highway vehicles are also allowed in some national parks in Florida. This means the national forests of Apalachicola, Ocala, Osceola, and the Seminole ranger district are ATV-friendly.
You can operate an ATV with a permit and a functioning muffler system in the Blackwater River, Tate’s Hell, and Withlacoochee state forests.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)
During the non-hunting season, the FWC opens some of its properties to ATV and UTV use. Reach out to their regional branches to learn more about the designated trails in different areas.
Know Your Side-by-Side Rights
Although Florida prohibits operating a side-by-side vehicle on public roads, drivers can still enjoy the scenic unpaved roads and nature trails.
Before visiting a nature preserve or national park, make sure you’ve contacted the local authorities to check which regulations are in place.
Additionally, if you’re visiting a new county, the appropriate government entity will let you know which communities allow for ATV and UTV driving.