The Vilas County ATV and UTV trail and route system officially opened for the season last Friday.

That means ATVs/UTVs will be seen on some area roadways as several towns in the area and the city of Eagle River have opened their roads to the recreational vehicles. In addition, some portions of county highways are open to ATVs/UTVs.

While drivers in cars and trucks may encounter ATVs/UTVs on the roadways, there has been a question as to whether ATV/UTV operators need a proof of insurance card in their vehicle as required for motor vehicles using public roadways.

The answer is no.

Jim Dick, communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said he checked with the DNR’s Law Enforcement Bureau and was told there is not a state law requiring insurance on ATVs or UTVs.

In addition, State Sen. Tom Tiffany’s office confirmed there is no current requirement in Wisconsin for ATV/UTV operators to hold insurance. 

Randy Harden, president of the Wisconsin ATV Association, also was asked about the issue of proof of insurance needed for ATVs and UTVs operating on roadways with other vehicles.

“Related to the mandatory insurance topic, the state association has no opinion at this time, we are neutral,” said Harden in an email. “As relayed by the other respondents, at this time I have not been made aware of any negative issues in this regard.”

Proof of insurance

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) has minimum liability insurance requirements for motor vehicles (cars and trucks), including $10,000 for property damage, $25,000 for the injury or death of one person and $50,000 for the injury or death of more than one person.

Drivers and owners of motor vehicles are required to show proof of insurance at traffic stops or accidents if requested by law enforcement. Proof is not necessary for trailers or semitrailers.

According to the DOT, operating a motor vehicle without insurance may result in a fine of up to $500; drivers and owners who fail to show proof of insurance at the time of the stop or accident may be fined up to $10; and offering proof of insurance that is found to be fraudulent may result in a fine of up to $5,000. 

Roger Flaherty, president and founder of Landover ATV /UTV Club, said the club encourages its membership to follow Wisconsin state law, which presently does not require any liability insurance for ATV/UTV travel on routes. 

“Our club does carry liability insurance to protect Vilas County, all municipalities and landowners from any lawsuits aimed at them from users of the trails,” said Flaherty. “As a owner/user of a UTV, I carry liability insurance and injury insurance (as do most responsible ATV/UTV and snowmobilers) to protect myself.”

As a citizen, Flaherty said it is his opinion that as soon as there is enough money to make it worthwhile, the insurance industry will get state laws passed to require proof of insurance for ATVs and UTVs using roadways.

There were 27 fatalities related to ATVs and UTVs in 2017, including three in Forest County and one in Iron County. According to DNR statistics, 17 of those accidents were on roads and seven of those were not on designated routes.

Trails/routes open

The state-funded ATV-UTV trail system in Vilas County officially opened for the season last Friday, May 11, according to Vilas County Parks and Recreation Director Dale Mayo.

Mayo said the late start of spring resulted in delaying the opening of the trails. He said frost was still coming out of the ground in early May and trails in the county forest could not dry out until it warmed and the frost left the ground.

The route system connects the communities of Arbor Vitae, St. Germain, Lincoln, Eagle River, Conover, Phelps and Land O’ Lakes. The system is also a link to Forest County and Upper Peninsula of Michigan trails.

Three Lakes will soon be connected to the system and a short trail connecting Meta Lake Road and Bloom Road along Highway 45 between Eagle River and Three Lakes is expected to be completed in the next week or two.