Recreation Vehicle Safety Regulations at Massachusetts Forests and Parks

Learn about recreation vehicle safety laws and regulations as they pertain to Massachusetts forests and parks.

Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Defined

Also known as Off Highway Vehicle (OHV), ORV’s are any motor vehicle designed or modified for use over unimproved terrain if used for recreation or pleasure off a public way and all legally registered motor vehicles when used off a way. Vehicles 900 lbs.dry weight or wider than 50 inches cannot operate on a trail/way unless specifically posted for such use.

OHV Registration

All ORVs must be currently registered in Massachusetts under MGL c. 90B. New Massachusetts Recreation Vehicle Laws require the display of registration on the left and right side of the vehicle.  Additionally, motor vehicles registered under chapter 90 must now also register as a recreation vehicle under chapter 90B (on/off road motorcycles, Jeeps, etc.) when used for recreation or pleasure once they leave a public way as defined in chapter 90. Out of state recreation vehicle registrations are not valid in Massachusetts. Contact the Boat and Recreation Vehicle Registration and Titling Bureau for more.

Designated ORV Trails

ORV use is permitted only on designated ORV trails within the forest management. Designated ORV trails will be marked with trailhead signage and/or orange or yellow trail blazes. All other state parks, reservations and forests are closed to ORV use at all times.

Riding Season

ORV use is permitted only during the riding season (as conditions allow) beginning no earlier than May 1 and ending no later than the last Sunday in November each year. To be sure the forest is open to ORV riding, call ahead.

Age Restrictions and Engine Capacity

No person under 18 years of age shall operate a recreation vehicle unless he has successfully completed a recreation vehicle safety and responsibility course approved by the Director of the Massachusetts Environmental Police. Proof of course completion shall be carried on the person when operating such recreation vehicle. A parent or legal guardian of an operator of a recreation vehicle under 16 years of age shall participate in at least 1 session of the recreation vehicle safety and responsibility course or as required by the director.  No person under 14 years of age shall operate a recreation utility vehicle or an all terrain vehicle.

A person between 14 and 16 years of age may operate an all-terrain vehicle or recreation utility vehicle with an engine capacity equal to or less than 90 cubic centimeters if directly supervised by a person 18 years of age or older.

No person between 14 and 16 years of age shall operate an all-terrain vehicle or recreation utility vehicle with an engine capacity greater than 90 cubic centimeters.

A person, between the ages of 10 and 14, may operate a recreation vehicle or snow vehicle in preparation for, or while a participant in, a sanctioned race, rally or organized event which is supervised by a person aged 18 or older and which has been authorized or approved by a municipal permitting authority.

No person under ten years of age shall operate a snow vehicle or recreation vehicle under any circumstances.

No person aged 18 years of age or older shall knowingly permit another, who is under the age of 18, to operate a snow vehicle or recreation vehicle in his custody or under his control in violation of M.G.L. c. 90B.

Any person age 18 or older with custody or control of a snow vehicle or recreation vehicle, who knowingly permits another, who is under the age of 18, to operate such vehicle shall be held liable, jointly and severally with the operator, for any damage or injuries caused by such operator’s operation of the vehicle and for any fines, penalties or restitution resulting there from. No person under the age of 16 and ½ years of age shall operate a recreation vehicle across a public way.

Prohibited Operation

The following are examples of prohibited operation of ORVs:

  • Operating on trails or in state forests / parks not designated for ORV use.
  • Operating on public ways or upon the right-of-way limits of a controlled access highway - this includes all roads (dirt or paved) within state forests.
  • Failure to come to a complete stop when crossing a public way (ORV rider must yield to motor vehicle traffic).
  • Operating so as to endanger any person or property.
  • Operating at an unreasonable, improper, or unsafe speed for existing conditions.
  • Operating before sunrise or after sunset within state forest lands.
  • Operating under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
  • Operating on land of another written permission of the owner or lessee.
  • Operating within 150 feet of an occupied residence without permission of the owner or lessee.
  • Operating in a manner so as to harass or chase wildlife or domestic animals.
  • Operating on a wetland such as a bog, marsh, or swamp so as to destroy or damage the wetland.
  • Carrying of a firearm, rifle or shotgun in or on a recreation vehicle or on a trailer or sled attached, unless the firearm in unloaded and in an enclosed case.
  • Carrying passengers on any ORV unless manufactured for the driver and one passenger.
  • Emitting noxious fumes and excessive noise.

Safety Equipment

Persons operating or riding on a recreation vehicle shall wear an approved helmet.  Each recreation vehicle must also be equipped with an adequate braking system and muffler designed to reduce unusual or excessive noise (96 dbA or below) and obnoxious fumes. Each recreation vehicle must be equipped with and display after sunset, one or more headlights, a red rear light and red rear reflector. An attached trailer must have a red rear reflector.

Rider Responsibility

Observing trail etiquette and safety are important, particularly when trails are heavily used. Keep to the right side of the trail, and go slow around blind corners and through trail intersections. To prevent habitat and trail damage, slow down, stay within the trail corridor and use bridges when provided. Know where you are permitted to ride and where you are not. Respect private property and closed areas. When passing hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers and other trail users, reduce speed, yield right-of-way, and do not pass until it can be accomplished with complete safety. If you “pack it in, pack it out”. Volunteer to help maintain trails and join an organized club in your area.

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