From: Jerry Abboud


This issue of what the federal government must honor as a state law and what a state must honor as another state's law is coming under increasing scrutiny as ATVs/UTVS are licensed in some states and not in others and what the federal government must honor or not honor as a street legal motor vehicle.

I can only address the general legal issues that probably will enter into this discussion. The first thing is that vehicles identified for legal street use are identified under state law. The first issue is often framed as "my state titles and registers ATVs/UTVs and so another state must treat them the same." This argument is a probable misapplication of the the U.S Constitution's Full faith and Credit Clause (Article IV, Section I) (FFACC) that provides:

"Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof."

The issue if raised about use of the vehicle on federal lands is is not between states and whether the FFACC should apply but between a state and the federal government., thus the clause does not apply. The United States is not bound to recognize the decisions of states regarding traffic laws, title and registration of vehicles. Federal policy decisions on matters of safety on federal lands are exclusively up to the federal government and not controlled by state law. A National Park/Monument is what is know as a federal reservation. To give you an example, a military base on US soil is a federal reservation and we all know that you play by their rules.

Assume for the moment on the issue of Telluride, a city in Colorado: does the State of Colorado have to honor the Indiana registration and identification of the ATV as a motor vehicle? NO! Even under the FFACC the US Supreme Court clearly has created what is known a the "policy exception" to the clause:

"[T]here are some limitations upon the extent to which a state may be required by the full faith and credit clause to enforce even the judgment of another state in contravention of its own statutes or policy. See Wisconsin v. Pelican Insurance Co., 127 U.S. 265; Huntington v. Attrill, 146 U.S. 657; Finney v. Guy, 189 U.S. 335; see also Clarke v. Clarke, 178 U.S. 186; Olmsted v. Olmsted, 216 U.S. 386; Hood v. McGehee, 237 U.S. 611; cf. Gasquet v. Fenner, 247 U.S. 16. And in the case of statutes...the full faith and credit clause does not require one state to substitute for its own statute, applicable to persons and events within it, the conflicting statute of another state, even though that statute is of controlling force in the courts of the state of its enactment with respect to the same persons and events." Pacific Employers Ins. Co. v. Industrial Accident Comm'n, 306 U.S. 493, 502 (1939).

The policy exception can be applied to what another state sees as not licensable as a vehicle under its laws. Here is another example; the old car-planes of the '50s where supposed to be both plane and street legal vehicle. Unquestionably, no state will be compelled in federal court to recognize the status of the car/planeas a motor vehicle in any given state unless congress steps in as it has with motor carriers. The public policy exception will defer to an individual state's ability to determine what is safe and what is not on their roads. Congress has weighed in on a few issues that affect interstate commerce such as the above mentioned regulation of motor carriers. These are very special cases. I am not aware Congress has taken any action to provide interstate protection of the status of vehicles that are manufactured to not be used on public streets and highways and then "converted' under a state law to a street legal vehicle.

For a little extra insight the Colorado State Patrol will ticket an ATV/UTV with a license plate from another state under Colorado law as not being a motor vehicle. Only where CO or its political subdivisons allow for such vehicles to use the streets and highways under CO law will you not be ticketed. You may contest your ticket in court in CO and my sense is you will ultimately loose because of the Policy Exception to the FFACC.

This is a rather simple explanation to a complex issue. As always, I suggest you follow what the government directs and do not violate the law. Some of you may wish to challenge what the states or feds do. Ask your lawyer first. Even if you are looking to litigate the issue recognize the time and money involved.