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 It's the Law! *



Legal vehicle operation for 13 year-old?

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by Demian David Tebaldi, Esq.

February 6, 2007 

Dear ITL: I saw a 13 year old riding a 4-wheeler across the ice on Lake Whitehall. My question was regarding the legality of the boy riding this motorized vehicle on the ice/public property. I thought that it was illegal to ride one of those ATV's and simply wanted to know what the laws were related to this. ~ Concerned


Dear Concerned: Chapter 90B, Section 25 of the General Laws of Massachusetts reads, in pertinent part, as follows:  “Snow vehicles or recreation vehicles may be operated on any way that is not maintained or used for the operation of conventional motor vehicles.” 


Title 323, Chapter 3.03 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations indicates that a person between the ages of 12 and 14, inclusive, may operate a recreational vehicle only if directly supervised by a person of age 18 years or older, and then only on property on which the operator of the vehicle is domiciled.  This chapter of the Code goes on to say that “snow vehicles” (I’m thinking snowmobiles here, not ATVs) may be operated on public property only with the permission of the owner of the property (in this case, the town, or perhaps the Commonwealth, I would imagine), but is silent as to the same use of “recreational vehicles” (including ATVs) on public property.  This ignorance of detail is not unusual with regard to legislation, and is a greater portion of the reason why legal questions are difficult to answer with any sort of specificity, at least without bringing the matter before a court.


To answer your question as directly as I can under the circumstances, a 13 year old riding an ATV on public property would seem to be allowed by the General Laws of Massachusetts, provided that the same public property is not otherwise open to common vehicular traffic.  A frozen lake is not open to conventional vehicular traffic, but it is not technically a “way” in the traditional sense of the word.  This same act would seem to be prohibited by Title 323 of the Code of Massachusetts Regulations, unless the operating minor is directly supervised by a person over 18 and the property on which the minor operates the vehicle is a portion of property on which the minor’s family lives.  If even one of these conditions is not being met, then the minor would appear to be acting contradictory to the law.  However, the fact that Title 323 specifically leaves recreational vehicles out of Chapter 3.03 as it pertains to public property may indicate to some that a minor is free to ride an ATV on public property, without legal repercussions.


*Disclaimer:      The answers provided in this column are not in any way to be construed as legal advice.  While the author is an attorney admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the questions presented do not come from clients, but from anonymous members of various Massachusetts communities.  The answers presented merely describe what the law is, and do not contain specific strategies for dealing with the situations presented.  If you have questions regarding these or other legal issues, please contact Attorney Demian David Tebaldi at 508-435-5576.


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