It's the time of the year when off-highway vehicles (OHVs) are frequently spotted across the Northland, the most common being ATVs. They are all over the vast amount of trials that can be found in the area and on rural roads.

I have an ATV out at a cabin that we do use to move things around during yard work, but it's mostly used for fun and my kids, who are close but not yet 16, are at that age where they want to drive it.

I think a lot of families are in that situation and since you're out away from busy roads, you tend to be a bit more lenient as long about things like that as long as you're there to teach and supervise. But, what is the age requirement to drive an ATV in Minnesota?

I always assumed that there is leniency if you're on your private property, but once public trails or roads are involved, the minimum age would be 16. Turns out, I was partially right.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the minimum age requirement to drive an ATV not only involves where it's being driven but also the size of the ATV. There are also driver stipulations that must be met.

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The DNR lists two classes of ATVs. Class 1 ATVs have a total width of 50 inches or less from the outside of the tire rim to the outside of the tire rim, like a 4-wheeler where the driver sits on top and steers with handlebars. Class 2 ATVs have a total width greater than 50 inches but not more than 65 inches from the outside of the tire rim to the outside of the tire rim. An example would be a side-by-side with a steering wheel.

When it comes to young people driving either class of ATV, the first thing to remember is that protective gear is a must. In Minnesota, all operators and passengers under the age of 18 must wear DOT-certified helmets, no matter what size machine they’re riding. The DNR notes that one of the most common violations conservation officers see is people under 18 not wearing helmets, particularly on the larger, Class 2 vehicles.

When it comes to driving the ATV, each class has its own set of rules. Here are the requirements for Class 1 ATVs:

Under age 10 

  • May operate an ATV only on private property with permission of the owner.
  • A parent or guardian must be present at hands-on ATV safety training.

Age 10 & 11

  • May operate an ATV only on private property with permission of the owner.
  • May operate an ATV up to 90cc on public lands and frozen waters if accompanied by parent or legal guardian.
  • May operate an ATV up to 110cc with straddle-style seating on public lands or frozen waters if accompanied by parent or legal guardian.
  • May operate an ATV up to 170cc with side-by-side-style seating and equipped with a steering wheel on public lands or frozen waters if accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

Age 12 to 15

  • May operate an ATV on public lands and frozen waters and make a direct crossing of roadways with a valid safety certificate and must be accompanied by a person 18 years of age or older who holds a valid driver's license.
  • On the bank, slope, or ditch of a public road right-of-way or roadway open by local ordinance with a valid ATV Safety Certification when accompanied by a parent or legal guardian on a separate ATV.
  • As an operator 12 to 17 years of age, you may carry one passenger on a Class 1 ATV only if the passenger is your parent or legal guardian.

Age 16 & 17

  • Must have a valid driver’s license and ATV Safety Certification to make a direct crossing of a roadway or operate on road right-of-way or roadway open by local ordinance

The Minnesota requirements for Class 2 ATVs, which are much larger and operate more like automobiles, are much more strict and straightforward:

  • Anyone under the age of 15 may NOT operate a Class 2 ATV anywhere. 15-year-olds with a valid ATV Safety Certificate may operate a Class 2 on the right shoulder or the extreme right-hand side of public road when accompanied by a parent or legal guardian on a separate ATV.

The DNR also has rules on how a driver must fit on or inside the ATV. It's a great idea to refer to their Off-Highway Vehicle Regulations brochure for full information on Minnesota OHV operation requirements.

Two common items mentioned for youth are wearing properly fitting protective gear and taking a training and trail safety course. The Minnesota DNR offers a variety of courses, which are required based on age, and there's even an ATV free study guide parents can use to prep their children. All of this information can be found on their ATV Safety Training page.

It's also important to note that wearing properly fitting helmets for all drivers and riders under 18 is a state requirement regardless of what kind of ATV you're in, adults should also continue to protect themselves by wearing them. You may be a safe, experienced driver, but you never know who is coming at you on those trails.

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