Are Dirt Bikes Legally Considered Motor Vehicles?


Riding dirt bikes isn't complicated, and the laws concerning dirt bikes and dirt biking aren't extensive. However, when it comes to the law, you need to be entirely aware of what you're allowed to do and what you're not so that you can have 100% good-natured fun.

According to law, dirt bikes fit under the label "motor vehicle" because they are self-propelling vehicles that are capable of transporting people. Dirt bikes are prohibited from entering anywhere that restricts the use of motor vehicles.

Keep on reading to find out what the law says about motor vehicles and dirt bikes and why all of that is important to know!

What the Law Says

When I first heard that dirt bikes were considered motor vehicles, I didn't believe it because, in my mind, they were only classified as off-road vehicles. But the law does, in fact, consider off-road vehicles (subcategory: dirt bikes) as motor vehicles.

Don't believe me? Here's how the United States Department of Justice defines a motor vehicle:

Motor vehicle includes road vehicles, such as automobiles, vans, motorcycles, and trucks, as well as off-road vehicles such as self-propelled construction and farming equipment.

United States Department of Justice

Boom. It's right there, y'all. An official government entity says that off-road vehicles are considered motor vehicles.

In case you need more proof, here's another definition of motor vehicles by the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School:

...a vehicle which is self-propelled and capable of transporting a person or persons or any material or any permanently or temporarily affixed apparatus shall be deemed a motor vehicle.

Legal Information Institute

So, there we have it, folks. We can't deny the facts, and they're right in front of our faces.

Why it Matters to You

You might be wondering, "Why does it matter that dirt bikes are motor vehicles, Emma Jo?" Don't fret, my reader. Keep on reading.

Non-Permissible Riding Areas

When dirt biking is your favorite past time, it can be a real bummer when you run into a place where you're not permitted to ride. But it would be even more of a bummer if you were to ride your dirt bike somewhere you didn't know was non-permissible and got a ticket for it. (I'm sure we all know someone who's guilty of that.)

Of course, there are tons of reasons why dirt bikes wouldn't be allowed for riding in certain areas, but the one we probably run into most as dirt bikers and explorers is that motor vehicles, in general, aren't allowed.

And even if you didn't know your dirt bike is a motor vehicle so you rode in one of those areas, you're out of luck. You're going to get a ticket even if you had the best intentions. (Isn't there a saying that good intentions pave the road somewhere....?)

By knowing that your dirt bike is considered a motor vehicle, you could potentially save yourself a wad of cash that you'd spend paying off a ticket.

Usually, you'll know if you're in a spot that's OK for riding your dirt bike as long as you don't see a sign that says "no motor vehicles." It will always be explicitly marked if the area is a no-go for riding your dirt bike. So don't stress unless you see the sign.

If you run into one of these signs, don't test your luck for the sake of a fun ride. It's not worth it when you see how pricey those fines can be.

I always encourage people that might be new to this to always be cautious. The key is good planning. If you know for a fact that where you are going isn't motor vehicle restricted, you will never be tempted to go off of the beaten path.

On the other hand, if you show up to the place that you had planned to go riding only to find out that it is restricted, then you will be sorely tempted, especially if you drove a long way to get there.

Street Legality

If you love riding your dirt bike so much that you just can't limit yourself to off-road use, you totally can after making some additions to your dirt bike to make it safe for riding in close parameters to other vehicles. What makes this possible? The fact that dirt bikes are considered motor vehicles.

A huge part of what makes motor vehicles, motor vehicles, is that they are able to be ridden on main roads and highways.

So, dirt bikes can be ridden on main roads, highways, and interstates as long as they are made street legal.

Making your dirt bike street legal is super easy and so worth it. To read more about street legality and how to make your dirt bike street legal, check out this post I wrote a few weeks ago.

Not Your Typical Motor Vehicle

OK, so we know that dirt bikes are considered motor vehicles. But we also know that dirt bikes aren't the typical vehicle associated with this label, especially because motor vehicle laws typically revolve around the public road and highway usage.

But because dirt bikes aren't always used on public roads or highways, they are exempt from a couple of rules that other people have to follow when operating different kinds of motor vehicles such as cars.

Law does not require dirt bikers to hold a valid driver's license, have vehicle insurance, registered plates or proof of registration on hand, or a title.

This is good news because you don't have to be a certain age to ride a dirt bike, you don't have to follow main road traffic laws (unless your dirt bike is street legal and you're on main roads, of course), and you don't have to pay extra money to federal or state organizations in order to ride.

Of course, if your dirt bike is street legal, none of that applies to you. Street-legal dirt bikes must be registered, have a title, and the people who are operating them must hold a valid license.

Jim Harmer

I'm the co-owner of DBP. I live in Star, Idaho and enjoy dirt biking with my wife and two boys throughout the Idaho mountains.

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