Off-road Vehicles – Are They Regulated?

Transport Canada is issuing this update to help with interpreting recent amendments to the Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations (MVSR) that came into force Feb. 4th, 2021. It is intended for use only as a quick reference tool to establish the preliminary classification of a vehicle based on its unique characteristics and configuration when compared against the definitions in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act and associated Regulations. Users are directed to the Regulations for current definitions and safety standards applicable to their respective class of vehicle.

On this page

Restricted-use vehicle – a new classification

A new prescribed vehicle class entitled Restricted-use vehicle was recently added to Schedule III of the Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations (MVSR) which now includes side-by-side utility vehicles (i.e., UTV) as well as vehicles formerly belonging to the classifications of Restricted-use motorcycle (i.e., dirt bikes, ATV's etc.). As a result, the former Restricted-use motorcycle (RUM) classification has been removed from Schedule III, and Restricted-use vehicle becomes the regulated class requiring full Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) certification and compliance for both manufacturing and importation.

The new Restricted-use vehicle definition reads as follow:

  • Vehicle — excluding a competition vehicle but including an all-terrain vehicle designed primarily for recreational use — that

    • (a) is designed to travel on not more than four wheels in contact with the ground, and
    • (b) is not designed for use on public roads.
  • Restricted-use vehicle also require specific labeling requirement found under MVSR 6(10):

    • In the case of a restricted-use vehicle, a statement in both official languages that the vehicle is a restricted-use vehicle or all-terrain vehicle and is not intended for use on public roads must appear on the compliance label or on a separate label permanently applied to the vehicle in a conspicuous location.

A notable enforcement exemption applies to this new Restricted-use vehicle  classification by virtue of MVSR 4(b)(2); when the vehicle's ungoverned maximum speed attainable in 1.6 km (1 mile) is less than 32 km/h, it is not considered a prescribed class of vehicle, hence not regulated under the Motor Vehicle Safety Act (MVSA) and MVSR.

As of Feb. 4th, 2021, manufacturing and importation compliance therefore only applies to restricted-use vehicles designed to exceed speeds of 32 km/h. This now includes:

  • the dirt bike (formerly regulated as a restricted-use motorcycle),
  • the all-terrain vehicle or ATV (also formerly regulated as belonging to the classification of restricted-use motorcycle)
  • the utility terrain vehicle or UTV (commonly named the side-by-side) manufactured on or after Feb. 4th, 2021

Note: Utility terrain vehicles (UTV) manufactured prior to Feb. 4th, 2021 are not subject to compliance enforcement under the new amendments to the Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations. They continue to qualify for importation as non-regulated vehicles.

The speed factor

The importer is responsible for providing adequate information to support his claim that a restricted-use vehicle is exempt under the lesser than 32 km/h speed limitation of MVSR 4(2)(b). Situations where the maximum attainable speed cannot be adequately validated are referred to Transport Canada.

Products equipped with speed limiters are assessed by first taking into consideration the untethered speed capacity of the vehicle. In cases where the vehicle's design makes it highly impractical to remove a speed governing mechanism, Transport Canada may, on a case-by-case basis evaluation, consider the speed limitation as valid.

Off-road versus on-road environments

Off-road restricted-use vehicles are often equipped with on-road features to the point of potentially meeting the definition of an on-road vehicle.

Transport Canada looks at these restricted-use vehicles on an individual basis to assess their on-road capability. This ensures that vehicles designed with on-road capabilities are not improperly classified to circumvent federal standards.

If it appears that a restricted-use vehicle is not designed exclusively for off-road use because it has enough design features for practical on-road use, it may be deemed to meet the definition of an on-road vehicle. If this is the case, the importer/manufacturer must demonstrate that the vehicle complies with all Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) applicable to the most suitable on-road vehicle classFootnote 1.

If compliance to the applicable standards is not shown, the vehicle cannot be manufactured or imported into CanadaFootnote 2. If there is no clear design intent for the vehicle by the manufacturer regarding on or off-road use, Transport Canada considers the vehicle to belong to a regulated class of on-road vehicles.

The following criteriaFootnote 3 are used to determine whether a vehicle is designed exclusively for off-road use or not:

  • The original design intent of the manufacturer;
  • The features of the vehicle demonstrate that the vehicle was designed exclusively for use on undeveloped road rights of way, marshland, open country or other unprepared surfaces. These design features should not be limited to readily detachable components such as mirrors, lamps or tires but instead should include features such as suspension characteristics, driveline characteristics and any other features that are only found on vehicles designed exclusively for use on unprepared surfaces;
  • If the vehicle manufacturer or dealer will assist the importer/end purchaser in obtaining a New Vehicle Identification Statement (NVIS) or a permit (vehicle ownership) to register the vehicle for on-road use; and
  • Whether or not the vehicle is consistently promoted exclusively for off-road use.


On-road vehicle: A vehicle equipped with design features that enable it to be normally operated and to mix with regular traffic on public roads, including highways, streets, bridges, etc.

Off-road vehicle: A vehicle designed primarily for recreational use or for the transportation of property or equipment exclusively on undeveloped road rights of way, marshland, open country, or other unprepared surfaces.

Contact us

Transport Canada
Motor Vehicle Safety

Telephone: 1-800-333-0371 (toll-free), 613-998-8616 (Ottawa region)

This web site is meant as a helpful reference. It has no legal force or effect. To fully understand the law, consult the Motor Vehicle Safety Act S.C. 1993, c.16 and the Motor Vehicle Safety Regulations.