Go-karts come in a variety of types, from gravity-driven models, such as soap-box carts, to engined vehicles. They're used for recreational purposes as well as competitive racing, as a precursor to advanced motor sports. Although go-kart off-roading and racing are popular past-times in North America, most states, including California, enforce strict laws for the vehicles, particularly engine-powered ones.
In 1994, the Air Resources Board (ARB) of the California Environmental Protection Agency approved a number of off-highway recreational vehicle regulations. These rules, though later modified, originally established emissions standards for off-road vehicles, including go-karts. It grouped them into small engine or larger spark-ignition categories. According to the ARB, go-karts that are emission-compliant are eligible for Green Sticker registration and can be operated year-round. Non-compliant go-karts, eligible for a Red Sticker, are subject to usage restrictions.
Where You May Ride
According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, a go-kart is a motor vehicle but it's non-licensable. It should not be operated on public roads, streets or highways, in parking lots, on sidewalks or in alleys. If you get caught riding a go-kart in a restricted area, you may be fined and your go-kart may be impounded. You may ride on private property, if you have the owner's permission, on public lands that allow off-road vehicles, or on go-kart tracks.
Age and Size Requirements
You must be at least 14 to operate an off-road go-kart in California. However, some go-kart manufacturers, such as Baja Motorsports, suggest a minimum age of 16 for operating their vehicles. For safety reasons, some companies in Los Angeles and Southern California restrict go-kart use on their tracks to drivers who are between 4'8" and 6"8" tall and who weight less than 270 pounds. Minors must be accompanied by a parent or guardian at some go-kart tracks.
California Off-Highway Vehicle Laws state that all persons, regardless of age, who operate or ride on a go-kart on public property must wear an approved safety helmet. Also, it's against the law to operate a go-kart while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, to cause environmental damage while driving a go-kart, or to have a passenger in the vehicle, unless it's designed to seat more than one person.