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What is an OHV?

By J.Gunsch
Updated May 23, 2024
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Off highway vehicles (OHVs) are land vehicles mostly used for recreation purposes. As the name suggests, an OHV is usually not legal to operate on public highways, streets or roads. An OHV is instead driven on public or private trails, beaches or fields, or in the woods. All terrain vehicles (ATVs), off road motorcycles or dirt bikes, snow mobiles and four wheel drive vehicles such as jeeps and trucks can all be defined as OHVs.

Beside recreational sport, OHVs are also used by police departments, forest rangers and the military. The ability of an OHV to navigate and tackle rough terrain makes it a valuable resource for law enforcement. ATVs and 4x4s are often used in rescue missions as well. People who are injured while hiking, rock climbing or engaging in similar activities benefit from the ability of an OHV to reach them when other forms of emergency medical treatment, such as a traditional ambulance, cannot.

Because of the rough terrain and lack of enclosure, an OHV is often the cause of serious injuries. It is extremely important for riders to wear seatbelts while in a 4x4 and to wear helmets, safety glasses, gloves, sturdy boots and other protective gear on ATVs, dirt bikes or any other OHV that does not have a restraint system. OHV organizations also strongly advise that vehicles be maintained in their optimal condition to prevent accidents. In the U.S., some states require the completion of a safety course before purchasing an OHV, but this precaution is always recommended.

Many national parks provide designated trails and other areas for people to enjoy their OHVs. Some private land owners also allow the use of OHVs on their property. However, the use of OHVs is often met with criticism and concern, especially in undesignated areas. Off highway vehicles can be very destructive to wildlife, plant life and other people. Not only do the vehicles trample plants and harm or threaten wild and domestic animals, but they are also a source of noise pollution. As such, many states in the U.S. have developed regulations and placed restrictions on the use of OHVs for recreational purposes.

In order to ensure that OHVs continue to be permitted on public land, it is essential to ride responsibly. First, it is important to ride only in areas which are designated for OHVs. There are often good reasons why some areas are prohibited to OHVs, though they may not be obvious to riders; therefore, it is best simply to heed any and all regulations. It is also important to be friendly and respectful of the environment, landowners and other people, such as campers and hikers.

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Discussion Comments
By anon5407 — On Nov 24, 2007

OHV of course also refers to a type of petrol engine whose valve-gear is operated by pushrods (Over-Head-Valve). As the wiseGEEK is surely aware, vehicles equipped with this type of engine are found in both on and off-road configurations.

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