ATV/UTV Riders: Beware Of Winter Conditions

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) urges ATV/UTV riders to be mindful of potentially dangerous winter conditions when operating recreational vehicles during the extended riding season.

Many of the state’s trails have yet to be covered in snow, but just because a winter road or trail is legally open for riding doesn’t mean it’s safe. Frost, ice and fresh snow can cause slippery conditions. UTVs and ATVs may have great traction off roads, but that can change when they are driven on roadway routes in winter.

“Be extra careful, especially when slowing down and approaching turns,” said Lt. Warden Jacob Holsclaw, DNR Off-Highway Vehicle Administrator. “Nothing stops fast on slippery pavement, and these machines do not handle the same as a car or a truck.”

In 2023, there were 32 fatal ATV/UTV crashes in the state, the most recent of which happened on Dec. 31. The consumption of alcohol or drugs, excess speed, driver inexperience and operator error are leading causes of fatal crashes.

Here are a few more safety tips to keep in mind when operating your off-highway vehicles during winter:

  • Never consume alcohol or drugs before or during your ride.
  • Always wear a DOT-approved helmet.
  • Always wear a seatbelt in a UTV.
  • Remember, no ice is 100% safe. Warmer than usual winter temperatures have created hazardous ice conditions, and extra caution is necessary.  
  • Do not travel in unfamiliar areas.
  • Let someone not riding with you know where you are going and when you will return.
  • Follow all posted speed limits and regulatory signs.
  • Dress for the weather and carry additional safety gear such as a life jacket, ice picks and dry clothes when operating on the ice.  
  • Double-check before operating on trails. Many trails open to ATVs/UTVS are closed during winter in anticipation of snowmobile season.

Wisconsin law requires ATV and UTV operators born on or after Jan. 1, 1988, who are at least 12 years old for an ATV (and at least 16 years old for UTV) must complete an ATV safety certification course to operate in Wisconsin (exception: on private property owned by operator’s immediate family). These safety courses can be taken online or in person. A list of approved safety education classes is available on the DNR Safety Education webpage.

Wisconsin law also requires every operator involved in a crash incident to report the incident without delay to law enforcement officials. Operators must submit a written report to the DNR within 10 days of the incident.

For more information about ATV and UTV recreation in Wisconsin, visit the DNR’s ATV/UTV Riding in Wisconsin webpage.