Using Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs) on Paved Roads in New Mexico – Ten Questions

In the Q&A below, Christopher Johnson, off-highway vehicle education coordinator with the Department, answers questions regarding the use of OHVs on paved roads in our state.

Above: ATV skills instruction makes riding fun and safe. Department photo.
?The Motor Vehicle Division sold me a white license plate or a decal for my ATV/motorcycle/side-by-side/snowmobile. It says, “On Highway Use.” What can I do with the plate/decal? Now I can drive on the street, right?
What New Mexico law says is that OHVs operated on paved roads (not highways) must be registered and have a special OHV paved road use plate or decal.

?Okay! I have both the OHV registration decal and my white license plate for my side-by-side and my ATV. So, I’m good to go?
The law says only side-by-sides and ATVs can be operated on paved roads. No dirt bikes or snowmobiles. By the way, state law calls a side-by-side an “ROV” or “recreational off-highway vehicle.”

?Sounds like I’m good to go. Anything else?
The law also says paved road operation is only legal where the local government, like a county council or village board, has passed an ordinance allowing paved road use in their jurisdiction. State highways are under the jurisdiction of the state transportation commission.

?How do I find out which places have an ordinance?
The Department of Game and Fish Off-Highway Vehicle program has a web page with a list of all the counties and municipalities that have passed ordinances or resolutions, with copies of their ordinances or resolutions. The link is The Department adds new counties and municipalities as soon as we learn of them and can get a copy of the ordinance.

?So I looked at the list, and my location isn’t on it. I can still ride on the street, right?
No, it’s illegal without that ordinance or resolution. Places like Bernalillo County or the City of Santa Fe will probably never pass a local ordinance.

?Where can I drive my machine on the street?
Any place that has a local ordinance. It’s usually a place encouraging tourists to visit, such as Red River or Cloudcroft.

?If I visit Red River or another place with the plate on my ATV, can I ride in their town?
The local ordinance can also ban or restrict ATVs and ROVs to certain streets in their jurisdiction, add separate speed limits, allow use only during specific times such as daylight hours or any other rule they want to include in the interest of safety.

Also, state highways are under the jurisdiction of the state transportation commission. To make any of the state highways legal for OHV paved road use, the state transportation commission has to pass a resolution. That has happened only in a few places so far.

The state transportation commission has adopted an official policy, CP-71, that a resolution will be considered only if there is a recreational purpose for highway access, like an OHV trailhead or other destination. Their policy also applies only to ROVs and excludes all other OHVs. Red River, for example, has State Highway 38 running through it. A specific section of that highway through town is only open to ROVs, in keeping with state transportation commission policy CP-71.

Remember that ATVs and all other OHVs can cross a paved road like a highway (but not an Interstate like I-40 or I-25) at any time after checking for traffic both ways and proceeding safely. OHVs can also operate on the shoulder of a paved road briefly to go from one trail to another.

?I think I understand. Anything else I need to have to operate on a paved road?
Yes. You have to have a drivers’ license, and you have to have proof of financial responsibility – a liability insurance card – just like you do for your car or truck. Your machine has to have headlights and taillights, brakes, mirrors and a muffler. Any passengers under the age of 18 have to be wearing a DOT-approved helmet and eye protection like goggles, safety glasses or a face shield.

?That reminds me – can my kid drive the side-by-side?
 To operate an ATV or ROV on a paved road, kids have to have a driver’s license just like an adult. Kids who operate OHVs of any kind, anywhere, have to wear a helmet and eye protection, and they have to carry a safety permit as proof of OHV safety training. And kids are NOT allowed to carry passengers, at any time, on any kind of OHV, on the street or a trail.

?That’s a lot of information to remember. Why is it so complicated?
That’s the law. If you get stopped by a sheriff or game warden, remember that they don’t write the laws, they just enforce the laws. If you disagree, you can take your issue to a judge or your elected representative.

One other essential thing to remember: none of the vehicle manufacturers recommend using their product on paved roads. They simply are not designed for it. They don’t have the safety features of a car or truck and their tires aren’t designed for pavement. Both ROVs and ATVs can tip over on a paved road very easily, and bad things happen when these vehicles rollover. Every year across the nation, hundreds of people are killed when they lose control of ATVs or ROVs on paved roads or when they collide with other vehicles on the street.

Here in New Mexico, we haven’t seen the number of accidents or fatalities other states have, but that changes with the number of people participating. Local businesses love to have the tourists that OHV recreation brings to their communities, but nobody wants the accidents, injuries or fatalities that come with unaware or irresponsible OHV use.

For more information on all aspects of OHV recreation in New Mexico, visit or


About Christopher Johnson

Christopher Johnson
Chris Johnson is the OHV Education Coordinator for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.