Driving a go-kart can be a huge thrill. They come in all shapes, sizes and speeds – the world's fastest go-kart reached an impressive 60 mph in 1.5 seconds. If you've invested in a go-kart or been gifted one from a very generous person, you'll be excited to take it out for a test drive. But California has go-kart laws in place to protect drivers, passengers and the general public. To make sure your go-kart joy isn't short-lived, understand what you can and can't do in your new set of off-road wheels.
Go-Kart Engine Regulations
In 1994, the California Air Resources Board approved a number of off-road recreational vehicle regulations that set emission standards for go-karts and other off-road vehicles. Following subsequent modifications, these rules group vehicles into small-engine or large-engine spark-ignition categories. A go-kart is classified as a small off-road engine, a spark-ignition engine rated at or below 19 kilowatts or 25 horsepower, and is subject to the small off-road engine regulations. Emission-compliant go-karts can be registered with a Green Sticker and used all year long. Go-kart models from 2003 and later that do not meet emission standards must be registered with a Red Sticker, which means they are restricted to riding seasons set by the CARB.
Go-Kart Operating Regulations
Under California law, a go-kart is a recreational off-highway vehicle and should not be operated anywhere that is publicly maintained and open to the use of the public for purposes of vehicular travel, including streets, sidewalks and parking lots. If you violate this law, you risk a fine and your go-kart may be impounded. You may ride on private property if you have the owner's permission, on public lands that permit off-road vehicles and on go-kart tracks. You must wear a safety helmet at all times while operating a go-kart on public land. The same applies to a passenger in a go-kart that is designed to seat more than one person. You must also wear a properly fastened seatbelt and a shoulder belt or safety harness while the go-kart is in motion. A person driving a go-kart is not allowed to ride with a passenger unless the passenger can hold the occupant handhold with the seatbelt and shoulder belt or safety harness properly fastened when they are seated upright with their back against the seatback.
Go-Kart Age and Size Requirements
You must be at least 16 years old to operate a go-kart unsupervised, but a younger person can operate a go-kart provided they are directly supervised in the vehicle by a parent or guardian or by an adult authorized by the parent or guardian. By definition, this requires a two-person go-kart. Some go-kart centers in California have their own age and height restrictions for drivers. For example, CalSpeed Karting Center in Fontana has a lower age limit of 12. Some centers require a parent or guardian to accompany a minor driver to the center.
A go-kart is classified as a small off-road engine and a recreational off-highway vehicle, so it is subject to California laws regarding emissions and operation.
- California Air Resources Board: Small Off-Road Engines (SORE)
- California Air Resources Board: Small Engine Fact Sheet
- California Legislative Information: California Vehicle Code Section 500
- California Legislative Information: California Vehicle Code Chapter 8
- CalSpeed Karting: Frequent Questions
- California Legislative Information: California Vehicle Code Section 360
- California Legislative Information: California Vehicle Code Offenses and Prosection
- Motor Authority: World's fastest go-kart claims 0-60 mph in 1.5 seconds, costs $60K
Claire is a qualified lawyer and specialized in family law before becoming a full-time writer. She has written for many digital publications, including The Washington Post, Forbes, Vice and HealthCentral.