Off-Road to On-Road: Rising Dangers of Dirt Bikes and ATVs on Public Roads

April 17, 2024 | Article by Chain | Cohn | Clark staff

Off-Road to On-Road: Rising Dangers of Dirt Bikes and ATVs on Public Roads

The thrill of the open trail and the rush of adrenaline draw countless riders of dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to Kern County’s rural and mountain trails each year. However, the increasing prevalence of these motor vehicles on public roadways has been posing a significant safety risk to both riders and the general public, according to recent media reports.

Every month, an estimated 10 dirt bike riders die in America, and at least one person dies while riding an off-highway vehicle, according to national statistics analyzed by the Detroit Free Press. Deaths of ATV riders illegally cruising public roads have skyrocketed over the last few decades, averaging more than 300 per year during the 2000s, compared to less than 40 in 1982, reports show. This death toll does not include pedestrians hit by these motor vehicles.

Here, Law Office of Chain | Cohn | Clark takes a deeper look at the dangers dirt bikes in general, and on our streets.



The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) data shows that 65% of ATV-related deaths occur on roads, with an even higher percentage (74%) of these fatalities happening on paved public roads. This indicates that the vast majority of ATV and dirt bike accidents are taking place in environments where they are not designed to operate, putting riders and bystanders at grave risk.

Manufacturers spell out clear warnings against using these vehicles on public roads. Major ATV brands such as Kawasaki, Yamaha, and Honda, explicitly state in their owner’s manuals that ATVs should never be operated on paved surfaces, public streets, or highways. The vehicles are often ill-equipped for the paved road environment, lacking essential safety features required for street legality, such as proper lighting, horns, and mirrors. Other dangers include:

  • Visibility Issues: Dirt bikes and ATVs are smaller and less visible compared to standard vehicles. This low visibility increases the risk of collisions, especially at intersections or during poor weather conditions where these vehicles can easily fall into a vehicle’s blind spot.
  • Lack of Protection: Both dirt bikes and ATVs offer minimal crash protection to riders. On a collision with larger vehicles, the lack of a protective frame, airbags, or safety belts can lead to severe injuries or fatalities.
  • Inadequate Road Handling: These vehicles are designed for terrain that requires different handling dynamics than asphalt. This includes softer suspension and different tire compositions, which can result in poor traction and longer braking distances on paved roads, making it difficult to respond quickly to road traffic conditions.
  • Noise and Disturbance: The engines of dirt bikes and ATVs are typically louder than those of standard vehicles. Their use in residential areas can lead to noise complaints and contribute to community disturbances.
  • Illegal Modifications: To make these vehicles street-legal, modifications are often necessary. However, improper or illegal modifications can further compromise the safety of the vehicle, making them even more hazardous on public roads.

The national Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data shows that 74% of ATV-related deaths on public roads occur on paved surfaces, indicating that the risks are not limited to unpaved roads.

“Manufacturers, lawmakers, law enforcement, and the public must work together to prioritize safety, enforce existing regulations, and explore solutions that provide responsible riders with designated off-road areas to enjoy their sport without endangering themselves or others,” said Matt Clark, managing partner and attorney at Law Office of Chain | Cohn | Clark.

To address these issues, it is crucial for local and national authorities to enforce regulations concerning the use of such vehicles on public roads. Measures might include:

  • Requiring registration and proper licensing for dirt bikes and ATVs used on public roads.
  • Mandating the use of helmets and other protective gear.
  • Implementing strict penalties for modifications that do not meet safety standards.
  • Educating riders about the dangers of using off-road vehicles on paved surfaces and encouraging the use of appropriate vehicles for different environments.



Ensuring the safety of pedestrians, riders, and drivers when dirt bikes and ATVs are on public roads involves a multifaceted approach. Here are several safety tips tailored for each group:

For Pedestrians:

  • Stay Alert: Always be aware of your surroundings, especially in areas where dirt bikes and ATVs might be present. Avoid distractions like using smartphones or headphones.
  • Use Crosswalks and Sidewalks: Always cross streets at designated crosswalks and walk on sidewalks where available to minimize interaction with vehicles.
  • Make Eye Contact: When crossing roads, try to make eye contact with riders or drivers to ensure they have seen you before you cross.

For Riders:

  • Wear Proper Gear: Always wear a helmet, eye protection, and appropriate clothing that can minimize injuries in case of an accident.
  • Ensure Road Legality: Make sure that the dirt bike or ATV is street legal, which includes having proper lighting, mirrors, and license plates as required by local laws.
  • Ride Defensively: Be aware of other road users who may not be expecting off-road vehicles. Keep a safe distance from other vehicles and avoid weaving through traffic.
  • Follow Traffic Rules: Obey all traffic signs and signals. Use turn signals or hand signals to communicate your intentions to other road users.

For Drivers:

  • Check Blind Spots: Be vigilant of smaller, less visible vehicles like dirt bikes and ATVs, especially when turning or changing lanes.
  • Give Space: Provide extra space when overtaking dirt bikes and ATVs to allow for a safe pass.
  • Be Patient: Understand that these vehicles have different capabilities and may not move at the same speed as other traffic. Exercise patience and caution.
  • Expect the Unexpected: Riders may make sudden moves due to the nature of their vehicles or their inexperience on roads. Be prepared to react safely.


If you or someone you know is injured in an accident at the fault of someone else, or injured on the job no matter whose fault it is, contact the attorneys at Chain | Cohn | Clark by calling (661) 323-4000, or fill out a free consultation form, text, or chat with us at