Online Exclusive

ATVs & RUVs: Applications & Uses

I was recently invited to join a "writers' conference" to explore the strengths and uses of ATVs and UTVs in the Anthrocite Outdoor Recreation Area in Shamokin Dam, Pennsylvania. Not only was it a gorgeous setting but I had a blast and learned a lot too. Hosted by , the event was educational, well planned, well managed and great fun. My thanks to Josh Sykes of Blue August for having invited me and to all the other attendees who didn't make fun of my ignorance. I came away impressed with the many applications these different vehicles potentially had in the law enforcement arena. So, let's look at the two different types and some of the ways we could use them.

Okay, so let's define them first. An ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) is a four-wheel vehicle specifically designed to function in "all terrain". It has a seat you straddle like that of a motorcycle and handlebars. The throttle (in the case of the Kawasaki models I rode) is a lever you push with your thumb and the brakes are levers you pull with your hands (as well as the one under your right foot). If you're going to carry gear or equipment on an ATV you have to strap it to the platforms provided above the front and rear tires.

An RUV (Recreation Utility Vehicle) has seats you sit in like a car, a steering wheel, brake and gas pedals, seat belts and something similar to a pickup truck bed, but much smaller. It too is designed to function over all terrain but offers you the ability to carry equipment in a more conventional fashion and is easier to drive.

And therein lies the biggest perceived difference: ease of operation. After the day of driving / riding each of these types of vehicles, I agreed with several other writers there:

The ATV was far more fun than the RUV. When you're on an ATV there's a greater perception of play.

The RUV is less work. Turning a steering wheel is easier than controlling handlebars. Pushing a gas pedal with your foot (like you do every day in your car or truck) is easier than pushing a throttle lever with your thumb. Pushing on a brake pedal with your foot is easier than squeezing brake levers.

The ATV is more comfortable. While it may not seem like it would be, reality on rough terrain is this: in the RUV you're seat-belted in. Sure, the seat is padded but you can't use your knees or legs to absorb any of the shock of bumps and bounces. All you can do in the RUV is snug down your seat-belt to hold you tight and use your left leg to brace yourself against the floorboards. The end result is that you get jarred by every big bump and bounce. On the ATV you can absorb those bumps and bounces with your legs - but that's more work.

Both vehicles have potential applications in the law enforcement arena. Which one you choose will be determined by the dominant type of terrain you anticipate. While the RUVs had no trouble going 99% of the places the ATVs went during our test rides, there was one instance where an RUV got stuck because of the narrowness of the trail mixed with a sharp but low hill. The combination was just enough to get the RUV stuck. We had to lift it up and back (thankfully easy to do) and take it a different route. The lesson learned is that if you anticipate generally drivable terrain for the RUV, then it can be your choice. If you anticipate more rugged terrain - or have no clue of the terrain type - then the ATV is probably the better way to go.

As I test drove an RUV during the morning hours I thought about the potential applications. Certainly there is a use for these vehicles along our borders and on the coastline. Although different tire types and inflation pressures are used for different terrain types (sandy beaches versus mountain trails as an example), the RUVs would serve well to patrol the more remote areas of our nation's borders. The RUV would handle known trails in our national parks equally well (as well as other parkland) and could easily be loaded with supplies for search and rescue work. Since all of these vehicles can be fitted with a two-hitch, pulling a trailer for litters wouldn't be hard at all.

After lunch I got to enjoy an ATV and as I rode it I also contemplated potential applications. Obviously it could also be used anywhere the RUV could. However, for wilderness patrols where the terrain is less certain or in instances where law enforcement professionals have to figure out where they're going along the way and therefore can't anticipate the terrain, the ATVs would be a better choice. One thought was enforcement agents searching out covert drug fields, meth labs or stills. In areas where the climate can dump snow measured in feet instead of inches the ATVs would also be excellent for response and / or rescue work.

Both of the vehicles are pretty easy to learn, handle and enjoy. I don't remember ever having been on an ATV before, and I'm sure I've never been in an RUV. While I have previously ridden dirt bikes, the experience only translates in using your legs to absorb shock. (I kept trying to turn the throttle on the ATV only to have to remind myself that the handle didn't turn; I had to push that lever with my thumb). Pricing is not exorbitant and, like all vehicles, ATVs and RUVs can be bought on government contract so you / your agency may be able to ride on a state or county purchase contract in your area.

Plenty of accessories are available for both vehicles. A quick look at them leads me to believe that the RUVs are probably more readily / easily accessorized for law enforcement appearance and identification. I'll address that in a future article.

Stay safe!

Web Links:


About The Author:

Lt. Frank Borelli (ret) is the Editor In Chief for, and has over 29 years of military and civilian law enforcement experience. An instructor since 1989 and having delivered training around the country, he stays active in police work, training, and writing. Frank has had four non-fiction and two fiction books published along with two research papers of specific interest to the law enforcement and/or military communities. All can be found / purchased on his Author Page on linked above. If you have any comments or questions, you can contact him via email to