A go-kart, on its own, will not be street legal. If you’ve just built or purchased a go-kart, you will not be allowed to drive it on the road.
But that brings up the question: when can you be allowed to drive a go-kart on the road? There are several laws in place that talk about what makes a vehicle street-legal, or “roadworthy”. In the United States, these laws vary by state. So you won’t face the same regulations in Ohio as you may face in, say, Arizona.
In this article, we’re going to look at the general rules about road-legal vehicles that can be applied to go-karts.
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The information here is based on my own research and interpretation, backed by legal citations. Also, these are just general nationwide rules. You’re still highly recommended to look at your local state laws.
What Are The Laws For A Vehicle Being Street Legal?
There are some general rules that all vehicles must follow in order to be road-legal in each U.S. state. Here are the characteristics each vehicle needs:
Horn – It must have a horn and the horn must be audible for at least 200 feet.
Engine hood – There needs to be a hood covering the engine.
Windshield – Windshields are also required, and this can be tricky for go-karts. Along with this, you also need to have windshield vipers.
Mirrors – You need at least two mirrors. This varies with the vehicle’s design.
Steering wheel – You need a regular looking and regular-sized steering wheel.
Seat belts – This one is just common sense.
Brakes – Another obvious necessity.
Tires – The tires must be such that they don’t pose a danger to other cars on the road, including your own.
Mufflers and Exhaust/Emission Control Systems – These are required to control air and noise pollution.
Lights – Every vehicle needs to have front lights, tail lights, stop lights, and turn signals in the appropriate colors and bulbs.
License plate – You need to have a license plate, for for that, the vehicle needs to be registered. More on that later.
Reflectors – Side and rear reflectors are necessary.
Bumpers – A standard safety measure.
What You Must Avoid
Here’s what will disqualify your vehicle from being street-legal:
- Anything that can evade law enforcement by obscuring views or damaging other vehicles.
- A ride height that’s too low (this is up for interpretation and should be consulted with local laws).
- Having oversized tires and elongated suspension (this is up for interpretation and should be consulted with local laws).
The Low-Speed Vehicle
One way to classify and register your go-kart is as a “low-speed vehicle”, or an LSV.
Here are the requirements for a vehicle to be considered an LSV:
– Has four wheels
– Has a maximum speed in the 20 – 25 mph range
– Has a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 3,000 pounds
The advantage of registering as an LSV is that they’re considered their own class of vehicles, and it’s easy to follow the rules. You also have some lax regulations; for example, you’re not required to have windshield vipers. Generally, golf carts are the most common low-speed vehicles.
Note that you also need to place an orange triangle on the back to indicate to others that it’s a slow-moving vehicle.
Note that you cannot always register your go-kart as a low-speed vehicle. The requirements are pretty tight, and it must have a maximum speed between 20 and 25 mph. If it doesn’t, then you’ll have to get it registered as a regular vehicle. Many go-karts are pretty fast.
Registering Your Go-Kart
Because your ride is a custom vehicle, you’ll need to follow some extra procedures in order to get it registered and made street-legal. You need to register it through your state motor vehicle agency. And before that, you’ll need to do a few things, like getting a vehicle identification number and doing a speed test and a vehicle safety inspection. Here is the full-list of documents you need to register your go-kart:
- A completed application form
- A completed statement of construction (if the go-kart was built or modified by you)
- Proof of the vehicle safety inspection, conducted by your state highway patrol or a licensed safety inspector
- Certificate of origin
- Confirmed vehicle identification number
- Brake and light adjustment certificate
- An emissions test certificate
- Proof of purchase of the vehicle or its major parts
The Best Thing You Can Do Is Contact Your Local Motor Vehicle Agency
Because the laws differ by state, and are not clearly defined, I can’t give a catch-all answer on when a go-kart will be street-legal. This is why you should contact the local motor vehicle agency, and even law enforcement, to ask them about the specific regulations that apply.
Recap – Making A Go-Kart Street Legal
So to recap, here are the steps you need to follow in order to make your go-kart street legal:
- Ask your motor vehicle agency about the laws regarding custom vehicles driven on the road.
- Install the necessary parts that all vehicles need to be driven on the road.
- Get a safety inspection and speed test by a highway patrol or a licensed safety inspector.
- Comply with any additional requirements.
- Take all your documents to the motor vehicle agency and get your vehicle registered.
- You can now drive your go-kart on the road!