Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

States make way for low speed vehicles

More and more permit them to travel on state roads where speed limits are low.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 3, 2008

Parking-enforcement officers in Belmar, N.J, a town of about 6,000, use ‘neighborhood electric vehicles’ to save money and be green. Belmar’s mayor began the trend back in 2004.

Courtesy of Borough of Belmar, N.J.


Ken Pringle could be driving his Jaguar. But the senior elected official in Belmar, N.J., mostly chooses to silently cruise town roads at 25 miles per hour – top speed for his all-electric “Mayor-mobile.”

Skip to next paragraph

That’s what kids in his tiny, oceanside borough dubbed Mayor Pringle’s bulbous “neighborhood ­electric vehicle” or NEV after he bought it on eBay for $5,000 in 2004.

Way back then, gas was just $2 a gallon and only a couple of dozen states allowed NEVs on state roads where the speed limit was under 35 miles per hour. But now, with gas hovering around $4 a gallon, more states are moving to allow them and Pringle’s NEV predilection looks prophetic.

That’s right: In America, land of the muscle car, the hot new way to strut your stuff on the road is gliding in electric near-silence at 25 miles per hour. From Belmar to Lincoln, Calif., the big car buzz is all about down-shifting to the slow lane.

At least 40 states have now passed laws to permit NEVs to operate on many state roads with more working on new regulations. Meanwhile, some 40,000 NEVs are operating nationwide, says the Electric-Drive Transportation Association. Kentucky and Massachusetts are considering regulations to permit low-speed vehicles (LSVs) on state roads. LSV is a federal designation that includes NEVs, and also some gas-powered vehicles.

Federal standards established for LSVs in 1998 set equipment requirements and operating standards. What separates NEVs from golf carts, for instance, includes minimum vehicle speed of 20 miles per hour and a top speed of 25 m.p.h. They must have windshield wipers, headlights, taillights, and turn signals, to name just a few differences.

State laws vary. In New Jersey, Pringle successfully lobbied the state to allow LSVs in 2004. Rhode Island and West Virginia permit them on roads posted at 25 miles per hour. Kansas allows them on roads up to 40 m.p.h. and Montana up to 45.

Seizing on their growing popularity, leading manufacturers, like Global Electric Motorcar (GEM), a Chrysler subsidiary, are ramping up production. So is Toronto-based Zenn Motor Company, whose NEV looks more like a regular car than a golf cart. Its sales have jumped 68 percent over the same period last year. Tomberlin and Miles Electric Vehicles have also seen sales surge.