Are Side-by-Sides Street Legal in California? – A Complete Guide

If you’re a fan of Side-by-Sides and reside in the Golden State, you may find yourself wondering about their street legality in California. Can these powerful off-road vehicles traverse the public roads, or are they confined solely to designated off-road areas? This comprehensive guide aims to answer the critical question: “Are Side-by-Sides Street Legal in California?”

California’s laws and regulations surrounding Side-by-Sides can be multifaceted and sometimes confusing. With a variety of rules to adhere to, depending on the vehicle’s specifications and the local jurisdiction, understanding the legal landscape becomes essential for every owner or potential buyer.

From the required equipment and permits to detailed insights into local and state regulations, this guide serves as a one-stop destination for all things related to Side-by-Sides and their street legality in California. Whether you’re a seasoned Side-by-Side enthusiast or someone looking to dip your toes into this thrilling world, our in-depth analysis will guide you through the legal intricacies, ensuring that you remain compliant with California’s laws. Join us as we explore the world of Side-by-Sides in California, unraveling the mystery behind their street legality.

California’s Specific Laws: An In-Depth Look at State Regulations

Vehicle Requirements: What Makes a Side-by-Side Street Legal?

California classifies side-by-sides as “Off-Highway Vehicles” or OHVs, encompassing a broad range of recreational vehicles from motorcycles to snowmobiles. This unique classification brings specific rules:

  • California Registration Process: Whether bought in California or imported from another state, the registration process involves submitting an application for title and registration, verification of vehicle form, evidence of ownership, and payment of OHV fees.
  • Street Legality: Despite going through a similar registration process, side-by-sides remain off-limits on public roads in California, with no exceptions.

Safety Standards: Equipment and Precautions for Legal Operation

California’s stringent laws regarding side-by-sides on public roads stem from a commitment to safety. The crowded roads and high population density contribute to a risk-laden driving environment. While this might seem like an inconvenience:

  • Avoidance of Complex Procedures: You won’t have to navigate the intricate legal requirements for equipping your side-by-side with safety gear and road testing.
  • Designated Off-Road Areas: You can still derive enjoyment from your vehicle in areas specifically designated for off-road use.

Local Ordinances: How Different Areas within California Vary

While California’s laws regarding side-by-sides are consistent statewide, some variations and opportunities might intrigue you:

  • Rural Communities: In less populated farming regions, side-by-sides are more common, but the road prohibition remains in effect.
  • Arizona Strip Opportunity: If you wish to experience road-driving with your UTV, nearby Arizona provides an option. To comply with Arizona’s laws, your side-by-side must meet requirements such as displaying a California Red or Green sticker, adhering to helmet and eye protection rules, and following passenger and mirror regulations.

California’s approach to side-by-sides is firmly rooted in prioritizing road safety and reflects the state’s complex and populous road system. While these regulations might appear stringent, they’re designed to protect all road users. However, if you live in a more rural area or are willing to explore neighboring Arizona, opportunities to enjoy your side-by-side aren’t completely out of reach. Understanding these laws ensures a rewarding and legal off-road experience within and around California’s borders.

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

Owning a Utility Terrain Vehicle (UTV) or side-by-side in California is an exciting prospect, but the thrill might be dampened by the state’s strict regulations against riding these vehicles on public roads. So why can’t you ride your UTV on California streets? Let’s explore the underlying reasons:

1. California’s Densely Populated Roadways:

  • Major Cities & Freeways: California is home to sprawling cities like Los Angeles and vast networks of busy freeways, creating a complex and bustling road system.
  • High Population Density: With one of the highest population densities in the country, California’s roads are continually filled with traffic, leaving little room for vehicles not designed for these conditions.

2. Safety Measures & Concerns:

  • Risk of Accidents: The addition of UTVs to California’s already crowded roads could increase the potential for accidents, posing risks to both UTV drivers and other motorists.
  • Design and Structure: UTVs are specifically designed for off-road use and lack the necessary safety features required for safe operation on public roads.

3. Legal Classification as Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs):

  • Strict Regulations: California law categorizes UTVs as OHVs, and there are specific rules governing their use, such as registration and titling, none of which grant street legality.
  • No Pathway to Street Legality: Under California law, there is no method for making a side-by-side street legal, even in rural areas where roads might be less crowded.

4. Alternatives and Nearby Opportunities:

  • Off-Road Enjoyment: Though street use is off-limits, California provides designated areas for off-road enjoyment of your side-by-side.
  • Arizona Strip: For those near the California-Arizona border, the Arizona strip allows for legal UTV street riding, following specific rules and requirements.

The inability to ride your UTV on California streets stems from a combination of factors, including the state’s high population density, safety considerations, legal classifications, and the specific design of these vehicles for off-road use. While these regulations might feel restrictive, they are enacted with the safety of all road users in mind. Thankfully, alternative options, such as off-road trails and nearby states like Arizona, still offer the opportunity to enjoy your side-by-side legally and responsibly.

Licensing and Registration: Navigating California’s DMV Requirements for Side-by-Sides

Understanding how to license and register a side-by-side in California might seem like a daunting task. Despite these vehicles not being street legal, there are still specific requirements to follow. Here’s a detailed look at what you need to know:

1. Classification and Regulations:

  • Side-by-sides are considered Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) and must be registered as such.
  • Registration is mandatory even if the vehicle cannot be driven on public roads.

2. Dealer or Private Purchase:

  • The process may vary slightly depending on whether you purchase from an in-state dealer or privately.

The Process: Step-by-Step Guide to Licensing Your Side-by-Side in California

Following the right steps ensures a smooth licensing process. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Determine Your Side-by-Side Category:
    • Identify if your vehicle falls under the green or red sticker classification, as this will influence the process.
  2. Gather Required Documents:
    • Evidence of ownership and a verification of vehicle form are commonly required.
  3. Complete the Application:
    • Fill out the application for title and registration accurately.
  4. Submit to the DMV:
    • Provide your completed application and supporting documents to the DMV, either in person or through the dealer if applicable.
  5. Pay the Fees:
    • Submit the necessary OHV fees, which can vary based on your vehicle.

Cost Considerations: Fees and Taxes Associated with Registration in California

Understanding the costs involved in registering your side-by-side in California can help you budget appropriately. Here’s what to consider:

  • Registration Fees: These vary depending on the vehicle type and other factors.
  • OHV Specific Fees: As an OHV, your side-by-side will be subject to special fees.
  • Potential Taxes: Sales or use tax might apply based on the purchase details.
  • Dealer Costs (If Applicable): Additional fees may be incurred if purchasing through a dealer.

Licensing and registering a side-by-side in California is a process involving specific steps and costs. Though these vehicles are not street legal within the state, compliance with regulations ensures legal use in designated off-road areas. Familiarizing yourself with the requirements and following the outlined process helps facilitate a seamless experience in enjoying your side-by-side within California’s legal framework.

Common Misconceptions and FAQs: Debunking Myths about Side-by-Sides in California

  1. Are Side-by-Sides Street Legal in California?
    In California, side-by-sides are considered Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) and are not allowed on public streets, with no provision for making them street legal.
  2. Can I Make My Side-by-Side Street Legal by Adding Certain Equipment?
    Unlike some other states, California does not allow side-by-sides to become street legal, regardless of modifications or added equipment.
  3. Are Side-by-Sides Completely Banned in California?
    Side-by-sides are not completely banned in California. While they are not allowed on public streets, they are permitted in designated off-road areas and trails, following the state’s regulations for Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs).
  4. Do I Still Need to Register My Side-by-Side if it’s Not Street Legal?
    Yes, all side-by-sides must be titled and registered as OHVs in California, even if they cannot be driven on public roads.
  5. Can I Drive My Side-by-Side Near the Border in Arizona?
    Yes, the Arizona strip allows for street-legal UTVs, provided certain requirements are met. California residents can drive there, abiding by Arizona’s laws.
  6. Are Red and Green Stickers the Same?
    No, green stickers are issued for year-round use, while red stickers have seasonal restrictions. The classification affects where and when you can operate your side-by-side.


In California, side-by-sides are not allowed on public roads, but they are not entirely banned. These vehicles can be enjoyed legally in designated off-road areas, following state regulations. While the restrictions may seem limiting, they are designed to ensure safety. Understanding and complying with these rules allow enthusiasts to experience the thrill of off-road adventures within the bounds of California law.

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