Peapod electric car is seen as successor to GEM neighborhood electric vehicle.
Peapod electric car is seen as successor to GEM neighborhood electric vehicle.

Medium Speed Gathers Momentum

More U.S. states are proposing and passing Medium Speed Electric Vehicle regulations despite federal foot-dragging..

By Buck Joiner

There are a number of interesting electric vehicles on the market today that are being operated significantly below their potential due to a lack of appropriate laws. The Zenn, Dynasty, Miles, Peapod (coming soon), and many others have the capability of operating as city vehicles at speeds up to 35 mph. However, because they cannot meet federal safety crash standards, they are classed as Low Speed Vehicles and are limited to a maximum of 25 mph by federal law. The public has very little interest in a vehicle that can only go 25 mph. What works great on the golf course is not practical for the average household.

There is a movement to allow affordable full bodied electric cars, typically powered by conventional lead acid batteries, to operate at speeds up to 35 mph, making them more practical for a wider set of drivers. A number of states have already passed enabling legislation, with others to follow. While the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) remains opposed to allowing the introduction of what are being called Medium Speed Electric Vehicles (MSEVs), the movement is gaining momentum. I have listed states that have passed MSEV regulations and those proposing similar laws.

But first a bit of background.

The electric golf cart was invented in 1951. In the 50s and 60s, developers started creating retirement communities and including golf courses. Soon, retirees recognized it was less expensive to buy a golf cart than to rent one frequently. Golf courses decided it was okay for golfers to use their own golf carts but they were not allowed to keep them at the golf course. Obviously the retirees are not going to haul a golf cart on a trailer so they drove them between their home and the golf course.

Frequently they thought they might as well stop off at the drugstore, post office, and maybe the church along the way. This meant that golf carts with a top speed of 15 mph were on roads where cars and trucks were trying to drive 35 mph. Obviously this created some significant traffic problems. The police, often hired by the retirees, were reluctant to issue tickets.

Each municipality with a retirement community and golf courses had to deal with this problem. The municipalities turned to the states requesting laws to deal with the situation. The states, not knowing what to do, turned to the federal government requesting guidance. The federal government said "Golf carts are not allowed on public roads." That did not solve the problem. Therefore the states each made up their own rules but obviously the rules varied considerably from state to state. That's a problem. The number of retirees driving golf carts on public roads increased to hundreds of thousands and the federal government continued to respond, "Golf carts are not allowed on public roads."

So how long did it take for the federal government to finally address the issue? Forty seven (47) years, from 1951 till 1998. Then NHTSA establish rules for Low-Speed Vehicles, also known as Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, and required headlights, stoplights, taillights, directional signals, seat belts, and rear view mirrors. They also required that the vehicles go at least 20 mph but not more than 25 mph. Initially the LSV/NEV were built by golf cart manufacturers and they look like golf carts.

Fast-forward to 10 years later, and there is a movement by manufacturers to build urban/city/commuter electric vehicles that look like cars instead of golf carts. These vehicles are capable of going 35 miles an hour for longer distances and are of classically-safer design than the open golf cart. There is a movement to create a new class for these vehicles called Medium Speed Electric Vehicles. However, they still must be made light weight to be energy-efficient and they lack the strength and safety features of full speed ICE vehicles like airbags, antilock brakes, and strong bumpers.

The NHTSA denied a petition requesting creation of safety standards for Medium Speed Electric Vehicles. The request was made when there were only 2 states with MSEV laws. Now there are six states with MSEV laws and nine state legislatures considering bills this session.

EXISTING LAWS Medium Speed Electric Vehicles




Tennessee 55-8-101 & 191


Kentucky by administrative order, 45-45


Hawaii Three bills proposing Medium Speed Electric Vehicles died; HB 144, HB 1485, SB 586 (killed by "Gut and Replace")

New York
appears to be dead since no hearing was scheduled.

Alive. For status, search "2542" http://www.leg.state.or.us/09reg/pubs/hsemh.html


South Carolina


New Mexico

Alive but near worthless at this point because of being tied to nonexistant Federal Standards.

The author is a retired engineer, (International troubleshooter on nuclear power plants), lives in Maui, Hawaii and over produces electricity from his grid connected PV system. He owns multiple two, three, and four wheeled electric vehicles and strives to be energy neutral, including transportation. The author initiated the bills in the Hawaii legislature for MSEV.

Times Article Viewed: 11157
Published: 18-Mar-2009


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