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Federal Law

Federal law includes a new vehicle category, the "Neighborhood Electric Vehicle", to encourage the use of zero-emission vehicles for inner-city use. Smaller than traditional cars, they are still required to have automotive grade headlights, seatbelts, windshields, brakes and other safety equipment. With a top speed of 25 MPH, the cars can only be used on streets with a posted 35 MPH speed limit.

NHTSA/DOT final rule on Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV)

63 FR 33913, June 17, 1998
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
49 CFR Part 571
[Docket No. NHTSA 98-3949]
RIN 2127-AG58
Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards
AGENCY: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), DOT.
ACTION: Final rule

SUMMARY: This final rule responds to a growing public interest in using golf cars(1) and other similar-sized, 4-wheeled vehicles to make short trips for shopping, social and recreational purposes primarily within retirement or other planned communities with golf courses. These passenger-carrying vehicles, although low-speed, offer a variety of advantages, including comparatively low-cost and energy-efficient mobility. Further, many of these vehicles are electric-powered. The use of these vehicles, instead of larger, gasoline-powered vehicles like passenger cars, provides quieter transportation that does not pollute the air of the communities in which they are operated.

Currently, there is a growing conflict between state and local laws, on the one hand, and Federal law, on the other, in the treatment of these small vehicles. That conflict unnecessarily restricts the ability of vehicle manufacturers to produce and sell, and the ability of consumers to purchase, these vehicles. In recent years, a growing number of states from California to Florida have passed legislation authorizing their local jurisdictions to permit general on-road use of "golf carts," subject to speed and/or operational limitations. A majority of those states condition such broad use upon the vehicles' having specified safety equipment. Further, some of these states have opened the way for the use of vehicles that are faster than almost all golf cars. Most conventional golf cars, as originally manufactured, have a top speed of less than 15 miles per hour. These states have either redefined "golf carts" to include vehicles designed to achieve up to 25 miles per hour or have established a new class of vehicles, "neighborhood electric vehicles," also defined as capable of achieving 25 miles per hour.

Under current NHTSA interpretations and regulations, so long as golf cars and other similar vehicles are incapable of exceeding 20 miles per hour, they are subject to only state and local requirements regarding safety equipment. However, if these vehicles are originally manufactured so that they can go faster than 20 miles per hour, they are treated as motor vehicles under Federal law. Similarly, if golf cars are modified after original manufacture so that they can achieve 20 or more miles per hour, they too are treated as motor vehicles. Further, as motor vehicles, they are currently classified as passenger cars and must comply with the Federal motor vehicle safety standards for that vehicle type. This creates a conflict with the state and local laws because compliance with the full range of those standards is not feasible for these small vehicles.

To resolve this conflict, and to permit the manufacture and sale of small, 4-wheeled motor vehicles with top speeds of 20 to 25 miles per hour, this final rule reclassifies these small passenger-carrying vehicles. Instead of being classified as passenger cars, they are now being classified as "low-speed vehicles." Since conventional golf cars, as presently manufactured, have a top speed of less than 20 miles per hour, they are not included in that classification.

As low-speed vehicles, these 20 to 25 mile-per-hour vehicles are subject to a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 500 (49 CFR 571.500) established by this final rule. The agency notes that the growing on-road use of golf cars has already resulted in some deaths and serious injuries, and believes that the new standard is needed to address the effects in crashes of the higher speed of low-speed vehicles. The standard requires low-speed vehicles to be equipped with headlamps, stop lamps, turn signal lamps, taillamps, reflex reflectors, parking brakes, rearview mirrors, windshields, seat belts, and vehicle identification numbers. The agency believes that these requirements appropriately address the safety of low-speed vehicle occupants and other roadway users, given the sub-25 mph speed capability of these vehicles and the controlled environments in which they operate.

This rulemaking proceeding was initiated in response to a request by Bombardier, Inc., that the agency make regulatory changes to permit the introduction of a new class of 4-wheeled, passenger-carrying vehicle that is small, relatively slow-moving, and low-cost.

DATES: The final rule is effective upon its publication in the Federal Register. Petitions for reconsideration must be filed not later than [45 days after publication of the final rule].

Incorporation by reference of the materials listed in this document is approved by the Director of the Federal Register and is effective upon publication in the Federal Register.

ADDRESSES: Petitions for reconsideration should refer to the Docket number and be submitted to Docket Management, PL-401, 400 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

For technical issues: Stephen R. Kratzke, Office of Crash Avoidance Standards, NHTSA, Room 5307, 400 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590 (telephone 202-366-4931; fax 202-366-4329).

For legal issues: Taylor Vinson, Office of Chief Counsel, NHTSA, Room 5219, 400 7th Street, SW, Washington, DC 20590 (telephone 202-366-5263; fax 202-366-3820).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Table of Contents

I.Glossary

II.Executive Summary

A.The Final Rule

B.Comparison of Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Final Rule

III.Background

A.Introduction; Sub-25 MPH Vehicles and the Traditional Interpretation of "Motor Vehicles"
B.1996 Request for Regulatory Relief
C.Pre-Rulemaking Study and 1996 Public Meetings
D.Regulatory Options Considered
E.1997 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
F.Summary of Comments on Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

1.State and Local Officials; Utilities
2.Manufacturers and Dealers of Golf Cars and Neighborhood Electric Vehicles
3.Advocacy Organizations
4.Other Commenters

G.Post-Comment Period Comments and Information

1.Manufacturers and Dealers of Golf Cars; Members of Congress
2.Other Sources

IV.Final Rule and Resolution of Key Issues

A.Summary

B.Authority and Safety Need for this Final Rule

1.Low-Speed Vehicles are Motor Vehicles

a.Speed-modified Golf Cars Are Motor Vehicles
b.Neighborhood Electric Vehicles Are Motor Vehicles

2.The Agency Has Authority to Regulate Anticipated as well as Current Safety Problems
3.Issuance of this Rule Appropriately Addresses an Anticipated Safety Problem

a.Crash Data Show a Limited Safety Problem Involving the On-road Use of Fleet and Personal Golf Cars
b.The States Have Adopted Laws Requiring Safety Equipment on Fleet and Personal Golf Cars Used on Public Roads
c.There is a Similar, But Greater Anticipated Safety Problem Involving Low-Speed Vehicles
d.This Rule Requires Safety Equipment on Low Speed Vehicles Consistent with Their Characteristics and Operating Environment

4.The Agency Has Appropriately Considered the Experience of Foreign Small Vehicles

C.Safety Engineering Issues

1.Speed Range of Motor Vehicles Subject to this Standard

a.Minimum Threshold of 20 Miles per Hour
b.Upper Limit of 25 Miles per Hour

2.Seat Belts
3.Windshields
4.VINs, Horn, and Warning Label
5.Other Areas of Safety Performance; Future Considerations

D.Compliance with Other Statutory Requirements Relating to Safety and With Federal Statutes Regulating Non-Safety Aspects of Motor Vehicles

1.Other Statutory Requirements Relating to Safety
2.Federal Statutes Regulating Non-Safety Aspects of Motor Vehicles

a.Theft
b.Content Labeling
c.Corporate Average Fuel Economy
d.Bumper Standards

V.Effective Date

VI.Rulemaking Analyses and Notices


Adjusting Local Speed Limits
In order to accomodate NEVs, one city adjusted the speed limit of two streets down to 35 mph.

Speed Limit Change Will Allow Neighborhood Electric Vehicles to Travel on Most Foster City Streets
Foster City, CA; April 5, 2007

Drivers are cautioned to be especially aware of their speed when traveling on East Hillsdale Boulevard and Shell Boulevard in Foster City.

Starting May 1, 2007, the speed limits on East Hillsdale Boulevard between Altair Avenue and Edgewater Boulevard and on Shell Boulevard between Bounty Drive and East Hillsdale Boulevard will be reduced to 35 miles per hour in order to allow Neighborhood Electric Vehicles to travel on most Foster City streets.

The City is using various media to get the word out. Warning signs will be set up in each area prior to the implementation of the new speed limits in order to give drivers who use the route time to become aware of the changes and adjust their driving habits. The Police Department will place its radar trailer in the affected areas to alert drivers to their speed.

Upon implementation on May 1, police officers will do high visibility monitoring to educate the public and ensure compliance with the new posted speed limit. After an initial warning period, the Police Department will begin issuing citations.

The City Council determined that speed limit reductions were important in order to allow Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVís) to travel on most public roadways in Foster City. NEVís use less energy and generate fewer emissions than traditional fuel vehicles. The City Council is encouraging all residents to consider electric vehicles as an energy-efficient alternative for in-town trips.

With these adjustments to speed limits, NEVís can be legally driven on most Foster City streets except limited stretches of Foster City Boulevard, Edgewater Boulevard, East Hillsdale Boulevard and East Third Avenue.

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