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Summer 2010 | Vol. 12 | No. 4
IIHS Calls for an End to Low-Speed Vehicles and Minitrucks on Public Roads
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is urging an end to both low-speed vehicles (LSVs) and minitrucks on public roads with regular traffic. These automobiles were created for low-risk in controlled environments, like farms or gated communities, but are now being seen increasingly on public roads and highways.
“By allowing LSVs and minitrucks on more and more kinds of roads, states are carving out exceptions to 40 years of auto safety regulations that save lives,” says David Zuby, the Institute’s chief research officer.
LSVs are 4-wheel vehicles that resemble golf carts and travel between 20 to 25 mph. Purchasers of new LSVs can receive a $2,500 tax credit under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and many states offer additional tax incentives. NHTSA requires little more than a safety belt on these vehicles, since they were intended for low-risk driving, so safety features like airbags are not required.
Eight years ago, only a dozen states allowed LSVs on public roads. Now, practically every state allows LSVs, also called neighborhood electric vehicles, on certain roads, mostly with 35 mph or lower speed limits. The Energy Department estimates 45,000 LSVs are currently on U.S. roads.
Imported from Japan, minitrucks, or Kei-class vehicles, are smaller than conventional pickups and more lightweight (at about 1,500 pounds Gross Vehicle Weight). Their original purpose was for off-road use, normally by farmers or hunters. To meet Clean Air Act provisions, the trucks are limited to speeds of 25 mph or less, but capable of going much faster. The push for the use of minitrucks on public roads began in 2007 and is growing quickly, with 16 states now allowing their legal use on certain roads.
Although there is a growing demand for these vehicles as a way to cut emissions and save on fuel costs, they do not meet basic U.S. safety standards for cars and pickups and are not designed to protect occupants in the event of a crash. In crash tests, the test dummies from the LSV and minitruck recorded indications of seriously debilitating or fatal injury to drivers in real-word crashes.
“Lost amid the talk about so-called sustainable transportation is any regard for the safety of people who ride in LSVs and minitrucks,” Zuby says. “We’re all for green vehicles that don’t trade safety for fuel efficiency.”
NHTSA can define appropriate performance and safety standards concerning LSVs and minitrucks, although they have no regulatory role regarding where these vehicles are driven.