Rules of the Road

Road Rules: Can I drive an ATV on Bellingham streets?

Carolina Mudcats mascot Muddy the Mudcat is perfectly within the law driving an ATV at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, N.C., on May 4, 2015. Driving an ATV on private property is fine, but they’re illegal on public roads in Whatcom County, except for farm vehicles in certain instances.
Carolina Mudcats mascot Muddy the Mudcat is perfectly within the law driving an ATV at Five County Stadium in Zebulon, N.C., on May 4, 2015. Driving an ATV on private property is fine, but they’re illegal on public roads in Whatcom County, except for farm vehicles in certain instances. cseward@newsobserver.com

Question: Is it legal to drive an ATV or Gator type vehicle on Bellingham city streets?

Answer: My favorite part of this question is that it is specific to Bellingham city streets. It’s not too unusual to see farmers in rural parts of the county riding an ATV across a road to get from one field to another, so I’m visualizing a guy in a Carhart jacket and Romeo boots looking disoriented as he wonders how he ended up on Railroad Avenue.

Washington recently adopted new laws that give ATVs access to some public roads. Answering this question accurately requires a thorough review of RCW 46.09.455. Upon reading the first sentence of this section of code you could easily assume that the state has given you permission to ride on any road with a speed limit less than 35 mph. However, the code spends the next two pages listing the exceptions, which are numerous.

I’ll skip all but the biggest disqualifier: Riding an ATV on a public road is prohibited in counties with a population of more than 15,000 people. That eliminates all but seven of Washington’s 39 counties, including Whatcom. Cities and larger counties can choose to open roads to ATVs, but that hasn’t happened in Whatcom County. So the simple answer is, no, ATVs are not allowed on Bellingham city streets.

Now back to the farmers on ATVs that I mentioned earlier. State law does allow farm vehicles with a farm exempt decal to operate on public roads in limited circumstances, primarily in moving from one field to another. An ATV qualifies as a farm vehicle if it is only used for farm work in close proximity to the farm.

Road Rules is a regular column on road laws, safe driving habits and general police practices. Doug Dahl is the Target Zero Manager for the Whatcom County Traffic Safety Task Force. Target Zero is Washington’s vision to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030. Ask a question.

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