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Are Golf Carts and ATVs Ever “Street Legal” in Michigan

Are Golf Carts and ATVs Ever “Street Legal” in Michigan

As with almost all questions in the legal world, we have to answer with our typical catchphrase: “It depends.” Before we get into the details of whether you can legally drive your UTV, ATV, or golf cart on Michigan’s backroads, let’s first define these vehicles so we’re all on the same page.

The ABCs of ATVs, UTVs & Golf Carts

All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) are, according to MotorBiscuit, typically single-passenger conveyances designed for off-road use. The non-profit ATV Safety Institute is a bit more specific in its definition,  described as: “An all-terrain vehicle (ATV) is defined as a motorized off-highway vehicle designed to travel on four low-pressure or non-pneumatic tires, having a seat designed to be straddled by the operator and handlebars for steering control.”

UTVs, on the other hand, can often carry more than two passengers and are sometimes equipped for towing or other work-related jobs. The powersports aficionados at ATV.com describe UTVs as either “utility terrain vehicles” or “utility task vehicles” depending upon their designs or functions. In general, UTVs are significantly larger and more powerful than ATVs.

Golf carts are increasingly difficult to clearly define since these vehicles (which were formerly relegated to toting duffers and gear on the links) are more frequently used as daily transportation in resort-style areas sometimes referred to as “golf cart communities.” There’s even a safety group exclusively dedicated to golf carts – the National Golf Cart Association, which also refers to them as LSVs (Low Speed Vehicles). In fact, golf carts are probably more commonly used away from golf courses than on them! LSVs can range from compact two-person carts to massive units capable of carrying six (or as many as eight) passengers. There’s even a high-brow electric-powered LSV called an eMoke, which looks a bit like a baby Jeep and is street legal from the get-go. (By “street legal” we don’t mean you can take one on I-75 by the way.  More on that in a moment.)

Now that we’ve described the major classes of off-road vehicles – ATVs, UTVs, and golf carts (a.k.a. LSVs) – let’s go over a few common questions people have raised about them.

Can I Drive My Golf Cart (or ATV/UTV/LSV) on Michigan roads?

That all depends upon which roads you’re asking about. As we mentioned in a recent article about moped laws, many types of vehicles – golf carts, mopeds, horse-drawn wagons, bicycles, etc. – are prohibited on the interstates. They simply can’t achieve the minimum lawful speed of 40 miles per hour and would be genuine road hazards on the highway. 
However, golf carts are legal on some other Michigan roads under certain circumstances. The Michigan Municipal League has published guidelines outlining steps that smaller localities must take to legally allow golf carts on roadways. As of this writing, the laws apply only to communities with populations under 30,000 residents. And in all cases, golf cart operators must be licensed drivers over age 16, while ATV operators must be licensed and at least 18 years old (unless specific conditions outlined by the Michigan DNR are satisfied). For more specifics, check out this helpful article written by the Lake County sheriff, or you can read the entire text of the official state golf cart law (in all its legalese) here.

What Makes an LSV “Street Legal” in Michigan?

Since all LSVs are not created equal, let’s take golf carts as a good example. Specifically, according to Michigan vehicle code 257.657a, a golf cart must have the following compliant equipment to be considered street legal:

(a) At least 2 headlamps 
(b) At least 1 tail lamp 
(c) At least 1 stop lamp and 1 lamp or mechanical signal device 
(d) At least 1 red reflector on each side of the golf cart as far to the rear as practicable and 1 red reflector on the rear of the golf cart 
(e) One exterior mirror mounted on the driver’s side of the golf cart, and either 1 exterior mirror mounted on the passenger side of the golf cart or 1 interior mirror 
(f) Brakes and a parking brake 
(g) A horn 
(h) A windshield 
(i) A manufacturer’s identification number permanently affixed to the frame of the golf cart.
(j) Safety belts 

 As you can see, the rules are quite specific, so we suggest checking with your golf cart dealer or manufacturer to verify that all these criteria are met before taking your LSV onto the streets anywhere in Michigan.

Am I Required to Have Insurance for My Off-Road Vehicle?

Laws permitting drivers to use off-road vehicles are a patchwork in Michigan. Some municipalities permit them on roads, others do not. However, one thing is true across the state: liability insurance is a requirement. A very good explanation of the reasoning behind this comes from the Verlinde Insurance Agency, which also notes that no-fault auto insurance policies aren’t applicable for golf cart accidents unless a motor vehicle covered by a no-fault policy gets into an accident with a golf cart.

Is There a Speed Limit for Golf Carts, ATVs, or UTVs? What About Any Other Rules I Should Know?

Of course. As noted by the Michigan Municipal League, golf carts are limited to maximum speeds of 15 miles per hour, and ATVs/UTVs cannot exceed 25 miles per hour, although localities are permitted to set lower speed limits as needed. In addition, golf carts are prohibited from traveling on roads with posted speed limits higher than 30 miles per hour. Finally, as with any motor vehicle, driving a golf cart under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Michigan is illegal and carries stiff penalties.

What Happens if I’m Injured in a Golf Cart, ATV, or UTV Accident?

If the accident involved a motor vehicle covered under Michigan’s no-fault insurance law, you may be able to benefit from that policy’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage. However, in most cases you’d likely have to seek benefits from your health insurance, liability, or accident policies. Since accident circumstances involving off-road vehicles widely vary, these incidents should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. We can certainly help you determine liability, coverage, benefits, and other dynamics that may come into play in determining responsibility and which parties should be compensated. If you or someone you know were hurt in such an incident, feel free to give us a call at 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946) to describe what happened, and we can take it from there.