Are Low Speed Vehicles Safe on Public Roadways?
LSVs are becoming increasingly popular for use on public roadways. But are they safe?
Currently, local and state roadway speed regulations for LSVs vary by jurisdiction. These vehicles typically have a maximum operating speed of 25mph and cannot cross roadways with a higher speed limit unless authorized by the local traffic authority.
What are LSVs?
In the United States, GEM and other Low-Speed Vehicles can operate on public streets as long as their top speed is 35 miles per hour or less. You can find LSVs operating in senior communities, transporting tourists around shore towns and shuttling people from work or school to home.
In addition to the limit on top speed, they also have to be equipped with headlights, turn signals, parking brakes and windshields as well as seat belts. Those requirements make them much safer than golf carts that may not have these features.
Transport Canada recognizes the important role that these vehicles play in providing zero tailpipe smog and greenhouse gas emissions, and a safe alternative to conventional larger, heavier motor vehicle classes that travel our public roads with mainstream traffic. However, unlike the United States, where golf cars are not required to meet Federal safety standards, Transport Canada has been unable to document a consistent or increasing on-road crash history of these vehicles to support calls for them to be exempt from Federal safety requirements.
Despite these limitations, LSVs can be a great transportation solution for many. They can carry you 30 miles on a single charge and can easily access your garage and your friends’ homes without the need for wheelchair lift equipment and wheelchair storage. For many individuals with accessibility needs, LSVs can provide quick and affordable transportation low speed vehicles to the grocery store, doctor’s offices, hospital and post office, and to run errands in town.
LSVs are Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs)
NEVs are ideal for quick trips to the grocery store, family outings to your friend’s house, or a leisurely ride down the beach at sunset. They’re street legal in most states, and their compact footprint takes up less space on crowded streets than larger vehicles. Plus, their engines emit zero emissions, making them eco-friendly and eligible for tax rebates in California.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration first approved neighborhood electric vehicles as low speed vehicles in 1998. They are defined as four-wheeled motor vehicles with an attainable speed of at least 20 but not more than 25 miles per hour on a paved level surface and have a gross vehicle weight rating of no more than 3,000 pounds.
As you might expect, the federal rules that govern low speed vehicles don’t require NEVs to comply with as many of the crashworthiness standards that apply to standard passenger motor vehicles. The absence of airbags, side door protection, roof crush resistance, and padded interiors for occupant safety can put NEV occupants at a disadvantage in the event of a crash compared to passengers in standard motor vehicles.
Fortunately, there are several NEV manufacturers that offer models that meet both the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for LSVs and CARB regulations for zero-emissions vehicles in California. For example, the Eli ZERO is an all-electric two seat car that has been designed from the ground up as an LSV and can be driven on roads in US states that allow them. Another option is the MDEKFL Sprint, which has a top speed of 25mph and can be driven in most states that permit low speed vehicles.
LSVs are Golf Cars
In general, golf cars and NEVs operate at speeds much lower than the 25 mile-per-hour speed limit for most roads. However, the vehicles are used for a wide range of purposes including traveling to and from senior living communities, transporting tourists around coastal towns, shuttling people around electric pickup truck college and business campuses, and running errands within a neighborhood or city. As these vehicles grow in popularity, it is anticipated that the number of LSV crashes will increase and that there will be more serious or fatal injuries to occupants of these vehicles.
In light of these facts, NHTSA considered the impact of increasing the top speed capability of golf cars and NEVs from 20 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour in order to allow them to travel faster on streets and other public places. NHTSA has decided not to do this because it would be expected that these changes would significantly increase the crash forces that these vehicles experience in single and multi-vehicle crashes.
NHTSA also considers that, even if these changes did take place, the limited number of fatalities associated with golf car use on-road may indicate that state and local government regulation is already adequately addressing this problem. In any event, a majority of those who testified at the agency’s public meetings were against subjecting golf cars and NEVs to safety performance standards.
LSVs are Street Legal
Driving LSVs on public roads is a great way to get around for short distances. They offer ease, convenience and efficiency, while adding a little bit of that coveted “cool factor” to your life. They are also much cheaper to purchase than traditional cars, making them an affordable option for those with budget restrictions. And, as mentioned above, they can be driven in a wide variety of settings including campuses, parks, town centers and designated low-speed neighborhoods.
To be street legal, an LSV must be equipped with specific safety features such as headlights and taillights to increase visibility, seat belts for occupant protection and reflectors to enhance the vehicle’s conspicuity. They must also be able to operate in mixed traffic with larger vehicles, which requires the ability to accelerate, turn and merge without being impeded by fast-moving traffic.
The federal government sets safety standards for these small vehicles, and states and local governments can require additional safety features. These requirements must be consistent with the standards set by the federal government, but they can exceed those standards in some areas, such as headlights and taillights. However, they must meet all federal standards in the area of crashworthiness. A collision between a full-size automobile and an LSV can be more devastating than a collision between two golf carts.