New rules for three wheeled vehicles are on the way from Congress if Senator David Vitter gets his way. He is the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and sits on its Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He also happens to represent the district in Louisiana where Elio Motors is located.
The Elio, of course, it that three wheeled enclosed concept car that principal owner Paul Elio says will whisk folks around in air conditioned comfort while getting 84 mpg. He thinks the world is ready for a low cost, high mileage vehicle with plenty of creature comforts that is ideal for commuting and city driving. Who knows? He may be right. But the world of regulators and safety officials doesn’t really know what to make of his 3 wheeler or any of the other 3 wheeled offerings currently on the road.
Are they cars or motorcylces? Do drivers need to wear helmets? Seatbelts? Are they subject to normal crash testing procedures or exempt? How about roll over and side impact standards? Nobody knows the answers to all these questions and, as a result, various states have come up with different rules, creating a confusing welter of conflicting and contradictory standards.
The world of transportation is changing before our eyes. Electric cars we once thought of as glorified golf carts have morphed into the high performance luxury car known as the Tesla Model S. Hydrogen fueled cars are on the horizon. Climate change is pushing governments to mandate more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles. That, in turn, encourages manufacturers to make smaller and lighter vehicles — like the Elio.
The Elio isn’t the only 3 wheeler out there, of course. Today, we have the Toyota i-Road, Campagna T-Rex and Polaris Slingshot. And don’t forget the Morgan 3 Wheeler or the Can-Am Spyder. Some of them are obviously closer to being cars than motorcycles. And some of them are clearly just motorcycles by a different name. Should they all be regulated the same or should regulators make a distinction between them when it comes to licensing and safety standards?
If Senator Vitter can craft legislation that addresses all those questions, he will have performed a valuable public service. But what are the odds there is intelligent life within the halls of Congress? Maybe we shouldn’t get too excited about the prospect of sensible legislation happening any time soon.