Using APVs, ATVs and Four-Wheelers on Roadways for Farm Work

Peggy Kirk Hall, Asst. Professor, OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law

Spring planting season brings increased agricultural traffic on Ohio’s rural roads, including the use of All-Purpose Vehicles (APVs), All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs),  Gators, Mules and other four-wheeled utility vehicles.   Laws on these vehicles have changed in recent years and there is still confusion over the new provisions.  Farmers who plan to use an APV, ATV or utility vehicle on the roadway for farm work  should take a few minutes to review the applicable laws and ensure compliance.    Consider these provisions of Ohio law:

  • Licensing and registration.  A license is not required for a “utility vehicle,” which is a self-propelled vehicle with a bed designed for transporting materials, such as  a Gator or Mule.  A 2009 law required registration for APVs and ATVs, defined as “self-propelled vehicles designed primarily for cross-country travel”–but the law exempted  APVs and ATVs used for farming.  As long as used primarily for agricultural purposes and the owner qualifies for current agricultural use valuation (CAUV), the APV or ATV does not require registration or a license.  If stopped by law enforcement for failure to display registration, the farmer should explain that the vehicle is being used for agricultural purposes and the vehicle owner qualifies for CAUV.
  • Operating on roadways.   The local jurisdiction has authority over the operation of a utility vehicle, APV or ATV on or near roadways.  A farmer may operate one of these vehicles on a roadway and to travel from one farm field to another if the county sheriff (or township police, if applicable) allows it.  This requires the farmer to know whether the county or township allows APVs on the road.  We checked with several county sheriff offices and learned that each allows farm-use APVs and utility vehicles on the roadways as long as operated safely.  Ohio law provides guidance on safe operation for APVs in addition to ordinary traffic rules–the vehicle may not interfere with the movement of vehicular traffic approaching from any direction and the operator must yield the right-of-way to any approaching traffic that presents an immediate hazard.   If the local jurisdiction does not allow APVs on the road or the farmer is operating the vehicle in an unsafe manner, the farmer could receive a traffic citation.
  • Operating on berms or in rights-of-way.    A farmer may drive an APV or utility vehicle on the berm or shoulder of a roadway if the terrain permits such operation to be undertaken safely and without entering a traffic lane.   If the farmer cannot operate on the berm without entering a traffic lane, the farmer should operate entirely on the roadway.
  • Child operators.  A child who does not hold a driver’s license may not operate an APV or utility vehicle on a roadway or on any portion of the right-of-way.  A child under the age of 16 may operate an APV on the family’s farm, and may also operate on another’s farm or private property if accompanied by a person who is at least 18 and holds a driver’s license.
  • Other rules of operation.    Ohio law has several prohibitions regarding APV and utility vehicles.  A person may not operate the APV or utility vehicle on a limited access highway or its right-of-way,  on another’s private property without permission, on land or waters controlled by the state except where permitted, on the tracks or right-of-way of an operating railroad, while transporting a firearm, bow, or other implement for hunting that is not unloaded and securely encased or for the purpose of chasing, pursuing, capturing, or killing an animal or wildfowl or during the time from sunset to sunrise, unless displaying lighted lights as required by4519.20 of the Revised Code.
  • Slow-moving vehicle emblems.    Farmers should be aware that there is confusion over whether an APV or utility vehicle must display a Slow-Moving Vehicle (SMV) emblem.  Ohio law requires display of an SMV emblem on any farm machinery designed for operation at 25 miles per hour or less and defines “farm machinery” as all machines and tools used in the production, harvesting and care of farm products, including farm trailers, agricultural tractors, threshing machinery, hay-baling machinery, corn shellers, hammermills, and machinery used in the production of horticultural, agricultural, and vegetable products.  But Ohio law also prohibits the use of an SMV emblem on any other vehicle.  Is an APV or utility vehicle a piece of “farm machinery” that requires an SMV, or a vehicle that should not display an SMV?  Because there is not a clear answer to this question, farmers should check with local law enforcement for its interpretation of the law.  While asking local law enforcement whether it allows farm-use APVs or utility vehicles on the roadways, also ask whether the vehicle must display an SMV sign.  Several of the law enforcement officers with whom we spoke stated that their county wanted farmers to display an SMV, but others may view that as a prohibited use of the SMV emblem.
  • Mud and manure.   Ohio law prohibits the placement of any earth,  mud, manure or other injurious materials on a public highway.  Farmers should take care to clean up the road if the APV or utility vehicle leaves mud, manure or other debris on the roadway.  Violation of the law may result in criminal misdemeanor charges as well as civil liability for accidents or injuries resulting from the road debris.
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