What is an ATV?
All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) are vehicles that are principally designed for off-road use.
They have three or more wheels, an engine capacity exceeding 50ml and a gross weight of less than 1000kg (which is the greater of the on-road weight with load and accessories OR the gross laden weight set by the manufacturer).
ATVs include most quad bikes, smaller ‘side by sides’ and amphibious vehicles. They do not include ‘utes’ or light trucks, even if modified for off-road travel – these are originally constructed for road use and are too heavy to meet the definition.
You can use ATVs on public roads under certain conditions. You must:
hold a current New Zealand driver licence
wear an approved safety helmet when riding them on the road (except farmers travelling slower than 30km/h, from one part of their farm to another or to an adjoining farm)
maintain a current warrant of fitness (except if used as a farm vehicle).
Roads are not only streets and highways, but any place the public has access to – including bridges, culverts, beaches, riverbeds, reserve lands, wharves and road shoulders. This doesn't mean you have a right to use these areas, but if you do – the rules relating to registration, licensing and general driver behaviour apply.
ATVs are a significant cause of work-related fatalities in New Zealand.
Take particular care if you’re towing a trailer.
Children under 12 years of age should not drive an ATV.
Some requirements for ATVs vary when used on the farm. For example, you can use different safety helmets, as collisions on farms are likely to occur at lower speeds than on the road.
Learn more about the requirements and safe farm use practices from Quad bike safety(external link) on the Worksafe NZ website.
About a quarter of all injuries sustained in ATV crashes are to the head, yet very few riders wear helmets. Wearing an approved helmet is the best way to prevent serious head injury.
The Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 states that if an ATV is being used on a road and there are no seatbelts fitted (most side by sides have seatbelts and roll over protection), the rider or driver and passengers have to wear an approved helmet. The rule provides an exception to the requirement to wear a helmet for farmers if they’re travelling slower than 30km/h, from one part of their farm to another or to an adjoining farm.
For off-road use, there’s a design standard specifically for ATV helmets (NZS 8600:2002) and purpose-built ATV helmets are available. An ATV helmet should provide enough protection if you’re travelling under 30km/h. If you’re going to be riding faster than this, you need a more substantial helmet (such as a motorcycle helmet).
When quad bikes are being used for work purposes (on or off-road), the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 also applies. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment advises that wearing a helmet is a practicable step under this act.
The Transport Agency also strongly recommends that you wear other safety equipment, such as strong footwear, gloves, protective pants and eye protection.
ATVs behave very differently on sealed roads from other vehicles. They’re off-road vehicles, and aren’t designed to be ridden on hard surfaces. Most ATVs have wide, low-pressure tyres – ideal for minimising damage to crops, but not good for road handling.
Many ATVs are four-wheel-drive vehicles (4WDs). 4WDs have different steering characteristics on and off the road. Unless they undergo major modification, it is strongly recommended that you don’t travel faster than 30km/h on sealed roads.
While you can ride an ATV on the road if you have a learner motorcycle licence, many motorcycle techniques are unsafe when used on an ATV. Most ATV accidents are caused by rider error.
The best way to learn the skills necessary to ride an ATV safely and avoid accidents is to attend a specialised training course. These courses are offered by a number of organisations, including motorcycle clubs.
Make sure you read the owner’s manual of your ATV before attempting to ride it.
Full size ATVs are heavy, powerful machines and many injuries occur when child riders lose control. Fatal ATV accidents in New Zealand have involved riders as young as six years old.
Full-sized ATVs carry labels from the manufacturer specifying that no one under 16 years of age rides the ATV.
Several factors prevent a child from riding an ATV with the same control as an adult. ATVs demand an active riding technique, where rider movement, strength and weight shifting are necessary to ensure stability and control. Children often lack the strength or weight to effectively handle an ATV. Some have trouble reaching the controls. In addition, children don’t have the motor skills, coordination and perception necessary to safely operate an ATV of any size.
Some quad bikes are equipped with large seats to allow the rider to shift weight to control the vehicle – not to carry other people. Passengers restrict the rider’s mobility and add weight, making it harder to control and more prone to tipping over.
Passengers should only be carried on ATVs that have been specifically designed for this purpose. These ATVs come fitted with a special passenger seat.
You need to take special care when towing trailers and other equipment with ATVs. Refer to the owner’s manual to find the safe ratio between the maximum weight of a load and the unladen weight of the ATV.
You must not tow an ATV unless it is mechanically disabled (unable to be ridden).
You should first consider how you will use your ATV. The way you will use it will fall into one of the categories below. Each category has different registration and licensing requirements, and different rules governing the ATV’s use.
ATVs that will never be used on any road don’t have to be registered or licensed.
ATVs used on a road must be registered and licensed.
Most ATVs fit within exempt class A. They are exempt from registration fees and the vehicle licence portions of the licensing fee. You still have to pay for other fees such as a (reduced) ACC levy and administration fees.
An ATV used by a farmer can be licensed as exempt class B. These vehicles pay a licensing fee but are exempt from the payment of some levies and charges such as ACC levies and can apply for refunds of fuel excise. They are restricted to travel related to a farm or going from one farm to another that is owned and managed by the same person.
No. All vehicles, including ATVs, must be licensed while in use on roads. However, unlike most vehicles, ATVs aren’t required to be licensed continuously. Their vehicle licences date from the day the fee is paid, not the date due.
If you don’t pay your ATV’s licence fee for two years, its registration will be cancelled. If there’s any chance you’ll want to use the ATV on the road again, we recommend you get an exemption from licensing before this happens. (Getting a vehicle registered again after its registration has been cancelled is expensive.)
ATVs owned by farmers or farm managers are ‘exempt vehicles’ for the purposes of fuel excise (the tax that is paid for petrol, LPG, and CNG used in vehicles).
If an ATV is used in a commercial service, either hired out or used to carry passengers for a fee, you may need to obtain a Transport Service Licence. This only applies if that service is provided on a road.
If you operate amphibious ATVs and intend to use the machines over water, you must also have a safety plan approved by Maritime New Zealand.
ATVs aren’t subject to a warrant of fitness (WoF) inspection when they are used in the following conditions but must be safe to operate and meet relevant legal technical requirements.
You must have an appropriate driver licence to ride or drive an ATV on the road. ATVs can be ridden or driven on a class 1 (car) or class 6 (motorcycle) licence.
The vehicles are similar to ATVs, but cannot be registered or used on the road:
vehicles of the type used by councils for gardening or property maintenance, including three- and four-wheeled vehicles that are classified overseas as motorcycles but do not qualify here
mobile machines used at airports on runways and airport land
small rugged vehicles used on farms that do not meet the standards requirements for class NA goods vehicles and also do not meet the frontal-impact requirements for passenger cars.