Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin ATV Association
Wis. Stat. s. 23.33 allows all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility terrain vehicles (UTVs) to operate on state highways in certain cases, which are detailed in items 1-3 below. Each one requires some type of local government ordinance to be enacted before ATV/UTV operation may occur. For the remainder of this webpage, ATVs and UTVs will be labeled collectively as ATVs.
WisDOT does not have approval authority of local government ordinances, nor can WisDOT offer legal advice on how ordinances should be written.
The Wisconsin DNR does have sample ordinance language in Appendix A of its publication
ATV Route Guideline and Suggestions (A Community Official's Handbook). WisDOT only reviews ordinances to ensure that the termini of a designated route is in accord with statutory authority, and to process traffic signing permit applications for ATV routes.
Since ATVs are not allowed to operate on interstate highways, none of the information on this webpage applies to those highways.
1 - ATV route designation on state highways
A town, village, city or county may enact an ordinance under Wis. Stat. s. 23.33(8)(b) to designate a highway as an ATV route. In this case, ATV operation on a state highway or
connecting highway is allowed only if WisDOT approves the route. WisDOT approval consists of an ATV route order that is issued for the designated segment of state or connecting highway.
2 - ATV operation on state highways with speed limits of 35 mph or less within municipal boundaries
A town, village or city may enact an ordinance under Wis. Stat. s. 23.33(11)(am)4. to authorize the operation of ATVs on a highway that has a speed limit of 35 mph or less and is located within the territorial boundaries of the town, village or city. In this case, ATV operation on a state highway is not subject to WisDOT approval.
Much of the state highway system operates with speed limits above 35 mph, and these higher speed roads remain off-limits to ATV use without approval from WisDOT. Speed limits on any road are set after careful consideration to enhance safety and facilitate traffic flow for the traveling public, and are typically not based on a specific type of vehicle. Anyone interested in how speed limits are established is encouraged to view WisDOT’s
pamphlet on the topic.
3- ATV route designation over state highway bridges 1,000' in length or less
Under Wis. Stat. ss. 23.33(4)(d)3.b. and 11(am)3., ATVs may be authorized to operate on the roadway or shoulder of a highway to cross a bridge 1,000 feet or less in length that is located within the territorial boundaries of a county, city, village or town, regardless of the maintaining jurisdiction over the highway, only if a county
and a city, village or town both enact ordinances that apply to the bridge. In this case, ATV operation on a state highway bridge is not subject to WisDOT approval.
Under the law, ATVs must exit the highway as quickly and safely as practicable after crossing the bridge. WisDOT defines this as the first available road on either side of the bridge that is not a dead end, or an ATV trail on WisDOT right-of-way that is established after crossing the bridge, in which ATVs may operate. A bridge is any structure (bridge, box culvert, etc.) over a navigable waterway.
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ATV route sign permitting
ATV route signs are typically required on state highways in order for ATVs to legally operate on them. This is the case with items described in 1 and 3. A traffic signing permit is also required from WisDOT. The
form may be filled out by a local government elected official or employee, or a county highway department may fill it out for the local government. Send the completed permit application to the
transportation region office along with a copy of the approved ATV ordinance. WisDOT will develop a signing layout, order the signs and related materials, and bill the local government. County highway departments will install the signs on state highways since they have expertise with the
Wisconsin Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (WisMUTCD) and also install most of WisDOT's signs. A local government may install the signs on connecting highways, and no traffic signing permit is required.
With respect to ATV operation described in item 2, the statute does not specify signing requirements. Consult your local government's corporation counsel or legal representative for advice on this topic. Any signing erected must comply with the WisMUTCD.
Under Wis. Stat s. 23.33(8)(e)3., a town, village, city or county may erect a sign on a state highway that crosses its territorial boundary to alert motorists that all highways under its jurisdiction have been designated as ATV routes. In this case, WisDOT approval is not needed, but a traffic signing permit is still required. The D11-10A sign - similar to the one shown on the left - may be used. The sign size on state highways is 36" x 36."
Smaller sign sizes may be used on local roads. Consult the person in charge of road maintenance or a county highway department for more information. A county highway department will also install this sign on state highways.
If the D11-10A sign is used, a "No ATV Traffic" sign (R5-51) shall be displayed on any highway or highway segment where ATVs are prohibited. Since it is a regulatory function, a white sign with black letters must be used. An example is shown on the right. The size on state highways is 24" x 24."
Note: At this time, the ATV symbol is not approved for use on regulatory signs in the Federal MUTCD. WisDOT is working with the Federal Highway Administration to combine the ATV symbol, the red "No" circle, and the words "No ATV" as shown at the right for use on Wisconsin roads.
ATV trails on state highway ROW
ATV routes by statute are on the roadway portion of a highway and not the shoulder or other portions of the highway right-of-way (ROW). WisDOT may authorize an ATV trail within the ROW of a state highway if sufficient space is available, and the proposed trail does not affect the safety, maintenance and operation of the highway. ATV trails require a DT1504 permit from WisDOT, and a local government must be the applicant. For more information on the permitting process, go to the STH connection permits webpage.
ATV route or trail crossings of state highways
Under Wis Stat. s. 23.33(4)(d)1., ATVs are allowed to cross roadways when traveling on an existing roadway. Also, most existing driveways have been issued a permit. Therefore, WisDOT permits are not required in the following situations because vehicular crossings already exist:
- At town, village, city or county road crossings. For example, ATV routes and trails crossing state highways.
- From a driveway on one side to a local road on the other side (or vice-versa).
- From a driveway on one side to a driveway on the other side.
WisDOT permits are required in the following situations:
- Where no current vehicular crossing currently exists. For example, a new trail crossing from public/private property to public/private property.
- At a T-intersection where a new trail on public/private property would cross a state highway to a local road.
Stay safe on the road
Whether driving a car or operating an ATV, it's important to always eliminate distractions, be patient and stay focused.
- Motorists who encounter ATVs on the road should slow down and wait for a safe opportunity to pass.
- ATV riders should always be aware of their surroundings, stick to authorized areas and always use helmets and protective gear.
Wisconsin DNR publishes additional resources on ATV safety and registration. Additionally, interested parties can help spread the word by displaying the
"Share the Road" flyer (pictured right).
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