Riding a 4-wheeler on private property.

Question: What does the law say about riding four-wheelers and dirt bikes in dirt pits or on trails in the woods?

Answer: I assume you are asking whether it is legal to ride your four-wheeler or dirt bike on property that you do not own.  Without going into all of the laws concerning the operation of ATVs and dirt bikes on public roadways and alongside public roadways, the answer to your question depends upon several factors.

The law states that “A person is guilty of criminal trespass in the third degree when he knowingly enters or remains unlawfully in or upon premises.”  That’s pretty broad and taken to it’s most literal meaning, you could be guilty of trespass any time you go onto someone else’s property, period.  However, there are different rules that apply to “unimproved and apparently unused land.”  When you don’t have express permission from the landowner here are the basic rules:

  1. If the property is fenced or enclosed in a manner so it is obvious that the owner does not want intruders on it then you can’t go on it;
  2. If the owner, his agent, a law enforcement officer, or other authorized person tells you to stay off the property then you must stay off of it; and
  3. If the property is posted with “No Trespassing” or “Keep Out” signs then it is illegal for you to ride your dirt bike on the property.

After reading the law and the basic rules above you probably still have some questions like the ones below:

What if the property is only partially fenced?

My advice would be to keep out. Even though the fence doesn’t go all the way around the property, the fact that it is at least partially fenced shows that the owner doesn’t want intruders.

What if there’s no fence but someone has piled up dirt on the trails leading into the dirt pit?

If dirt is pilled up blocking the trails then it is obvious that the owner does not want you on the property. The law doesn’t specifically require that the property be fenced in order to exclude intruders.  Any type of “enclosure” or device designed to keep people out like a barricade, a earthen berm, a ditch, a moat, piles of dirt on the trails, a strand of barbed wire, a row of posts, etc., are enough to warn you that you are not allowed on the property.

What if someone told my friend to keep out of the pit but I wasn’t with him that day and I didn’t hear the person?

If you have knowledge that you are not supposed to be on the property then it’s just like the person told you to keep out even though you weren’t there.

What if the property used to be posted but all the signs have fallen down?

The same rule applies, if you know that it was posted at one time then you should assume that it is still posted.  By the same token, it won’t work just to say that you didn’t see a sign as long as a sign is posted in a conspicuous manner.  For instance, I know that there’s a “No Trespassing” sign hanging on the gate to the dirt pit at the corner of Irvington Bayou La Batre Highway and Four Mile Road.  Even if you come in behind the gate from the Four Mile Road or Argyle Road side of that dirt pit and never see the sign, you are still trespassing because the sign is in a conspicuous place and the property is at least partially fenced.

What happens if I get caught by the police on my bike or ATV in a dirt pit or private property that I don’t own?

You could be subject to criminal charges including a fine and a record and you could be responsible for civil trespassing damages including a money judgement against you.

My advice is if there is any evidence at all that the owner does not want you on the property then stay off.

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