Acronyms, abbreviations, nicknames, brand names. It’s often difficult to understand or visualize what someone is discussing when you don’t know what the heck they’re referring to. This article aims to clear up some confusion with actual definitions that are outlined by either industry-standardization or by codified regulation.
Everything being discussed in this article is grouped into the large category called Personal Mobility. In a few cases, these machines can sometimes be propelled by gasoline motors, however each year electronic and battery technology takes a leap and gasoline propulsion gets pushed further and further back as legacy technology. The overwhelming majority of newer machines are all-electric.
Golf carts seem ubiquitous, but what really defines what a golf cart is?
Industry standard ANSI Z130.1 defines what a golf car is (“car” is used since a “cart” is not necessarily self-propelled). The standard defines these as passenger-carrying vehicles designed to transport small numbers of people short distances, and provides actual specifications for the machine. Most state regulations, including Florida Statute, don’t clearly define the vehicle as much as they define a performance characteristic.
Florida restricts this category to 20 mph or less and dictates that they are not permitted to be operated on any roadway unless a local municipality has passed regulations to permit it. Florida then defines the criteria by which a local municipality must follow to permit its limited use. This also includes defining specific modifications that must be made to the machine before it may be permitted on the road with other motor vehicles. These additional modifications must include a windshield of some type, safe brakes, reflectors, reliable steering, turn signals, brake lights, headlights, and a horn.
Local municipalities may define the allowable navigational area, but that must not include any roads with a speed limit greater than 30 mph. The State of Florida further defines that municipalities may allow the crossing of roads with posted speeds no greater than 35 mph, provided the navigable crossing street is no more than 30 mph on each side.
Examples of golf carts, modified or otherwise, appear in the market under several well-known name brands including EZ-GO, Club Car, Star, Yamaha, and Cushman.
LSV and NEV
The acronyms LSV – Low Speed Vehicle, and NEV – Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, are defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Division of Transportation (or NHTSA – DOT) under 49 CFR Part 571. These vehicles are defined as small, 4-wheeled vehicles, including but not limited to golf carts, designed to carry passengers at low-speed which is clearly defined as faster than 20 mph but no more than 25 mph.
Since this category is a fully recognized motor vehicle by Federal Standard, they are required to have several highway-rated features including a DOT-certificated solid (not foldable) windshield, DOT-approved tires, and seatbelts for every passenger, in addition to the lighting, signal, reflector, and horn requirements from the definition above. Since LSVs and NEVs are fully recognized motor vehicles they also must have a federally compliant VIN number which can either be provided through the original licensed manufacturer or by a state inspection agency. (FLHSMV).
LSVs and NEVs must also be fully registered with a state’s motor vehicle division, display a normal vehicle license plate, and carry state-minimum required insurance. Legally registered, compliant LSVs and NEVs may legally travel on any road with a posted speed limit no greater than 35 mph, and are not restricted from crossing of roads with greater posted speeds unless posted signage indicates the crossing is restricted at that specific intersection. (FL Statute 316.2122 ).
Examples of true, factory-built LSVs seen in the market include brands from Tomberlin, Ford Think (“neighbor” model), and GEM (now a division of Polaris Corporation).
E-Bikes are a modern evolution of a classification that used to be called “mopeds”. Due to their efficiency and performance, the popularity of e-Bikes has rapidly outpaced golf carts and LSVs.
So much, in fact, that the Federal Government has defined three distinct classifications by performance but delegates restrictions to the state level.
States are very quickly moving to regulate these types of machines because some e-bikes are capable of speeds higher than even LSVs; yet their bicycle-like stature physically allows them to navigate with pedestrians at speeds considered unsafe to combine with pedestrian traffic.
Pinellas County has prohibited all types of motorized vehicles from operating on all 45 miles of the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail. This, however, appears difficult to enforce. As of this writing, the author is not aware of any registration, insurance, or safety equipment specifications in any regulations associated with e-bikes.
MSV / MEV / MSEV
Medium Speed Vehicles, or MSVs, and Medium speed Electric Vehicles, or MEVs, are a category of passenger vehicle one grade higher than LSVs and are defined by the NHTSA-DOT as a vehicle with a speed between 35 and 50 mph. The Federal Government has not yet recognized and applied restrictions and definitions to this category, though authorities agree that safety features must be greater than those applied to LSVs. Many states have passed regulation and do specifically defined this category in the absence of federal guidelines. Florida is not one of them however those that have include: Colorado, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington state.
In Asia, India, and the Nordic countries, this is the fastest growing category of motor vehicle because of their lower cost and higher efficiency when compared to normal automobiles. They are increasingly popular in urbanized areas. You don’t typically see this category of vehicle here in the US, but a few do appear in the American market. The Ford Think (“city” model), the Wheego, and the ZENN are a couple of examples of this category.
Back in the 1970’s the CitiCar, and its younger brother the ComutaCar, were a type of MEV developed and produced by Vanguard right here in Sebring, Florida.
Emerging technology is delivering modes of personal transportation that stretch the limits of any definition mentioned above. Look no further than the smartphone in your pocket or those drones in the sky. Clearly our technical achievements have allowed us to develop products with remarkably efficient methods of controlling situational awareness, orientation, direction, and acceleration; all with an amazingly large amount of stored energy in a small package.
Many of these machines are defined and recognized by their brand name. These include the Segway™, the Ellwee™, the Swift™ to name a few. The styles of these devices vary wildly but they all share some sort of leading-edge technology that control the machine, along with some of the very latest technology in electric drive systems.
The Ellwee™ is a device that looks a lot like an ATV but with golf cart-like tires, however it is all-electric and speed limited to 25 mph. The Ellwee’s 4-wheel configuration is highly prized for its stability and its 60-mile range. Ather is one of many companies producing electric scooters that look like traditional 49cc gas-powered scooters, and also have a 60+ mile range and a total re-charge time of just 2 hours.
From smart phones to computers, education to entertainment; our culture is changing rapidly. Understanding some of the abbreviations and definitions of these emerging products and technologies is key to having constructive discussions about how we will integrate them into our lifestyles and our communities.