Driving a Side by Side is a fun way to get out of the house and go on adventures, but you must know where you can and can’t operate them so you don’t get into trouble.
Side by Sides are legal in every state, however there are restrictions on where you can and can’t ride. Most states have laws about operating them on public roads, have restrictions on using them in state parks or reserves, and have rules that prevent you from being able to ride without permits.
In this article we will take a look at the state of Florida and what their laws are pertaining to Side by Sides so you know what you have to do to keep yourself out of trouble.
If you own a UTV in Florida, you must obtain a title for it. Usually a title is appointed at sale, and if it is not you will need to contact your county tax collector and pay a $29.00 fee to obtain one. You will then receive a sticker for your UTV as proof of ownership. You do not need to register or insure your UTV.
If you are under 16 years of age and wish to operate a side by side or UTV, you must have first completed the OHV (off highway vehicle) safety course with satisfactory completion results and be supervised by an adult at all times.
If you are under 16 years of age and are a non-resident of Florida who wishes to operate a side by side, you are permitted to do so without the completion of the safety course. You may not exceed a 30-day time span with this allowance.
Any persons under 16 years of age must also wear a helmet and over the ankle boots when operating the Side by Side.
In Florida you will need to obtain a permit before you are able to operate any ATV’s, UTV’s, dirt bikes, or the like. The permit requires you to take an online course in OHV safety and you must be at least 16 years of age.
All OHV’s that are operating on public lands must be equipped with a spark arrester that is approved by the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, must have a braking system, and must have a muffler that are all in working condition.
All OHV’s must be equipped with a silencer or any other device that limits sound emissions. The noise from your vehicle must not exceed 96 decibels.
If you are operating your OHV in the dark or in any circumstances that reduce visibility like smoke, rain, smog, etc., your vehicle must be equipped with a headlamp, headlights, and a taillamp or taillight.
If you are only competing in an event in the state of Florida, you may be exempt from the rules and regulations noted above.
You are permitted to operate your UTV or Side by Side on UNPAVED public roadways of a posted 35 miles per hour or less during the daytime in Florida. A stipulation of this law is that you may need to make your Side by Side street legal.
To make your Side by Side street legal you can either purchase a street legal kit which is offered for some makes and models, or you will have to purchase the individual upgrades on their own. Some common upgrades that are needed are all if not some of the following:
1. A Rear-view mirror and side view mirrors
2. A Rear facing tag holder with a light and tag
3. A horn that is audible up to 250 feet
4. Both front turn signals and rear turn signals
5. Both tail lights and brake lights
6. High and low beam headlights
7. Rear reflectors
8. Mud flaps
9. Windshield (or goggles/eye protection)
10. A speedometer
This law should be common sense but, we listed it anyways. YOU CANNOT CONSUME ALCOHOL OR OPERATE A SIDE BY SIDE UNDER THE INFLUENCE ANYWHERE IN THE STATE.
You may not drive your side by side recklessly with an intent to cause intentional harm to others or your surroundings.
You may not carry more passengers than your vehicle is intended to carry. So, if you have a 4-seater Side by Side and want to squeeze a fifth passenger in the back, sorry. If you get caught doing this you will be violating the law.
What do they call it?
Florida actually considers side by sides to be ROV’s. An ROV is a motorized “Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle”. Any ROV is defined as a vehicle that is 80 inches or less in width and has a dry weight of 2,500 pounds or less and is designed to travel on non-highway tires in quantity of four or more for recreational use. It is also noted that a golf cart does not fall into this category.
Some National Forests in Florida allow the use of OHV’s with certain permit requirements. The forests that allow it are:
- Apalachicola National Forest
- Wakulla Ranger District
- Ocala National Forest
- Seminole Ranger District
- Osceola National Forest
Remember when you operate in a National Forest you must abide by their rules. Some of the rules are that you may not engage in cross-country travel through the National Forest, You are only permitted to use your Side by Side on marked open trails and roads that have been designated for their use, and that you may only operate for 11/2 hour after sunset to 11/2 hour before sunrise.
Some of Florida’s State Forests also allow the use of Side by Sides or OHV’s, but again, they have their own set of rules that you must follow to be allowed to ride there. The forests are:
- Blackwater River State Forest
- Tate’s Hell State Forest
- Withlacoochee State Forest
In order to ride in these areas, you must follow rules like obtaining a permit that is to be displayed on the front of your vehicle, you are only allowed to use a vehicle that has been titled, and you may be required to have a muffler.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC)
Some areas under the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation have their own sets of rules regarding usage of your Side by Side. Some of the regions under their name that allow the use are:
- Northwest Region- Panama City
- North Central Region- Lake City
- Northeast Region- Ocala
- Southwest Region- Lakeland
- South Region- West Palm Beach
If you break the law while operating your Side by Side and are caught, you can expect to be in a fair amount of trouble. From fines to misdemeanors, the State of Florida takes full care to charge individuals who engage in mischievous activity with the fullest extent of the law.
- If you damage public lands by use of your side by side you qualify to be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor and be financially responsible for the damage that they have caused.
- This charge includes damage like destruction of trees, flora, sand dunes, environmentally sensitive land, roads, trails, drainage systems, natural water sources, wildlife resources, fences, gates, crops, or cultivated land.
- If you cause any damage to personal property belonging to someone else and the cost to correct such damage is $200.00 or less, you will be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.
- If you cause any damage to personal property belonging to someone else and the cost to correct such damage is $200.00-$1,000.00, you will be charged with a first- degree misdemeanor.
- If you cause any damage to personal property belonging to someone else and the cost to correct such damage is more than $1,000.00 or you interrupt or impair a business from operation, delay public transportation services, ruin supply of water, ruin supply of gas or power, and felony of the third degree will be charged.
- If you cause any damage to a place of worship you will be charged with a third-degree felony.
- If you cause damage to telephone poles, wires, or any property there of you will be charged with a third-degree felony.
Above all, the state of Florida wants you to have fun but also be safe when operating your side by side. That is why they also include some safety tips in their OHV Guidebook that will help you stay safe when you are out on the trail. Although these tips are not the law and you do not have to follow them, they are recommended:
- Always ride within your abilities
- Always wear appropriate protective gear
- Always travel in a group of two or more
- Do not operate a machine that is too big for you to handle
- Always provide someone who is not coming on your trip with a ride plan of where you are going and when you expect to be back
- Be in the proper shape to accept any punishments of the trail in the event you would have to walk out.
- Always take an emergency kit with you
- Check the forecast before you leave
- Obey all traffic and information signs
- Share the trail and give people on foot the right of way
- Stay on the designated trails
- Do not litter
- Keep out of closed areas and off of private property
- Tread lightly with minimum impact to the environment
- Don’t have your rights taken away by not following the rules and regulations.
You can use this checklist of things to take with you before you head out on your side by side. The state of Florida recommends these items to ensure that your experience is enjoyable and safe:
- Your title
- Protective Gear
- Extra food and water
- Extra fuel and oil
- Tool kit
- First aid kit
- Extra spark plugs
- Tow strap or a rope
- Waterproof matches
- Duct tape and electrical tape
- Tire repair kit
- Cell phone or two-way radio
While it is legal to own and operate a side by side in the state of Florida, you must be courteous of your use and never operate it where you are not supposed to. Florida takes care to outline what public land you may operate your side by side on and gives you all of the regulations you need to do so.
Follow all of the laws and be mindful of the environment when you are riding. Remember that the forest may be fun for you, it is the home to animals and you mustn’t set out on an agenda to destroy it. As long as you are safe while you are having fun and are respectful of others and your surroundings, Florida welcomes you in their designated areas of operation.
Be sure to get your title and if you are younger than 16 to always ride with an adult to prevent legal action.