Are Side-by-Sides Street Legal in California?


If you live in California and are wondering whether or not you can get your new side-by-side street legal, then you’ve come to the right place! It’s definitely tempting to drive your new vehicle wherever you go, but you first need to know if you can legally do that.

So, are side-by-sides street legal in California? Side-by-Sides are not street legal in California. Due to the high population density and the crowded road system, it’s not legal or safe to use UTVs on public roads. There is no way to make side-by-sides legal for street use in these conditions.

If you are interested in learning the details behind why California side-by-sides cannot become street legal, then read on.

Why Can’t I Ride My UTV on California Streets?

Think about what California looks like. It’s got a ton of huge cities connected by major freeways and busy, crowded streets. In several parts of the state, there is a lot happening, both on and off the road.

California is one of the most populous states in the United States and it has the fourth highest population per square mile in the country. They also have some of the largest cities, including Los Angeles, which has a population of more than 4 million people.

So, keeping all of this in mind, it is understandable as to why side-by-sides are not permitted to become street legal in California. This may seem like a bit an annoyance. However, it is all to keep you and other drivers safe on the roads.

The fact of the matter is that the more people driving on the roads, the more dangerous the driving conditions become. This makes California one of the most dangerous places to drive.

However, in many parts of California, there are small farming communities, where there are sparse amounts of people. If you’re thinking about licensing a UTV in California, chances are good that you live in a more rural area.

UTVs and ATVs are some of the only vehicles under California law that cannot become street legal vehicles. Under no circumstances can they be legally driven on California roads.

In other states where side-by-sides can become street legal, there are usually a lot less people around. However, even in these smaller states, there are still several rules, limits, and requirements for lisenced UTVs.

Do not be too bothered by this, however. Even if you can’t drive your side-by-side on official roads, you can still enjoy them in designated areas. The strict laws mean that you won’t have to go through a complicated process to equip your side-by-side with safety gear and proper road testing.

California Regulations for Off-Highway Vehicles

In the state of California, side-by-sides are considered to be “Off-Highway Vehicles” or OHVs. These vehicles include motorcycles, motor-driven cycles, trail bikes, dune buggies, all-terrain vehicles, jeeps, and snowmobiles.

Some of the rules for these off-highways vehicles include procuring an official title and registration for the vehicle.

If you bought your side-by-side from a California dealer, then the dealer will collect fees from you and give you the DMV documents that register the side-by-side under your name.

However, if you have brought in your side-by-side from another state, then you will need to submit a few things.

To get your side-by-side recognized by the state of California, you will need to submit:

  • An application for title and registration.
  • A verification of vehicle form
  • Evidence of ownership (such as a certification of origin, an original copy of the factory invoice, out of state titling documents, or bills of sale)
  • OHV fees

The sad fact of the matter is that in California, you will need to get a title and registration for your side-by-side, just like you would need for any other state to make the vehicle street legal.

However, your side-by-side will still not be allowed on public roads. The regulations apply, even if you’re travelling from out of state and don’t know the laws. You always need to be sure that your side-by-side is legal before you take it out in public. In California, this will never be okay.

Off Highway Vehicles on the Arizona Strip:

Although you may find these side-by-side laws inconvenient, there is one specific area near California where you will be able to drive your UTV on public roads. This place is called the Arizona strip. Arizona borders California and many more rural California areas are within hours of the state line.

If you are near Arizona or are willing to make the drive, this may be your closest experience to a street legal UTV. By crossing the state line, you can receive a new experience of riding on the road, and then come back home to California.

Arizona state laws are very different in comparison to California UTV laws. In Arizona it is quite simple to obtain a street legal UTV.

Some of the requirements for being able to drive the Arizona strip are as follows:

  • The OHV must display a current California Red or Green sticker if operated within Arizona.
  • No one can operate the OHV on public lands without a valid State operator’s license or learner’s permit, where required by State or Federal laws.
  • Operators 16-17 years old must wear a helmet.
  • All operators must wear eye protection.
  • No passengers are permitted unless OHV’s are designed to carry more than one person.
  • All OHVs must have a rear view mirror.
  • The OHV must be registered with a metal license plate attached if operated on county/state roads.
  • Must travel only on BLM, some USFS roads, or designated trails or off-road special use areas.

Note: If you are going to be driving in Arizona, all the Arizona state rules and regulations will be applicable. Make sure you know their laws so you don’t violate them.

Green vs. Red Stickers

Green and red stickers from California are required to drive on the Arizona strip.

A Green Sticker: These are issued for all California OHVs that have a year model of 2002 and earlier. This includes those that were previously issued a red sticker, and to 2003 and newer emission standard complying vehicles. These green stickers are issued for year-round use.

A Red Sticker: Red stickers are issued to the 2003 year model and newer OHVs that are not certified to California OHV emission standards. If the OHV has a 3 or C in the 8th position of the VIN number, then your vehicle will be issued a red sticker. Red stickers are for seasonal use only.


In California, other OHVs are able to become street legal. These are vehicles like motorcycles, which are often seen on the road. However, ATVs and UTVs are the exemption for OHVs being able to become street legal.

You will not be able to ride your UTV in California on the road. Of course, you can still ride the UTV on private property when you have the owner’s permission. There are also several trails designated for UTV use in California.

However, if you want to use your UTV on the road, you can always head towards Arizona, where you will have much better luck with that. Their rules are much more lenient.

Related Questions:

Are side-by-sides street legal in Florida? A UTV is not automatically street legal upon purchase in Florida. However, it can become street legal through some adjustments. There will need to be some accessories added and approval through the department of motor vehicles. However, you are very able to get a street legal UTV in Florida.

Are ATVs street legal in every state? ATVs are not street legal in every state. In California, for instance, an ATV cannot be made street legal and is not permitted on roads. However, in Arizona, it’s pretty simple to make your ATV street legal. In most states, you will have to go through a process to make your ATV street legal.

Are side-by-sides street legal in Ohio? Side-by-sides are street legal in Ohio after they pass the required inspection to obtain title and registration. There may be alterations required to make the side-by-side street legal. The choice is ultimately decided by local authorities in the area where the side-by-side would be used.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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