The Honorable Russell D. Feingold
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Feingold:
Thank you for your letter on behalf of your constituent, Bob Fraik, regarding his sons electric car. Information provided with your letter indicated that his son has developed an electric vehicle and would like the Federal regulation on low speed vehicles to be changed from 25 mph to 35 mph. We appreciate the opportunity to discuss this issue.
By way of background, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is authorized to issue Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) that set performance requirements for new motor vehicles and items of motor vehicle equipment (49 U.S.C. Chapter 301). Chapter 301 provides that a person may not "manufacture for sale, sell, offer for sale, introduce or deliver for introduction in interstate commerce, or import into the United States" any new motor vehicle or new item of motor vehicle equipment unless the vehicles or equipment are certified to comply with all applicable safety standards.
NHTSA has used its authority to, among other things, establish a special category of motor vehicles called low speed vehicles (LSVs). This was done in part to accommodate the use of small golf cars as personal transportation vehicles in controlled, low-speed environments, such as retirement communities. In order to qualify as an LSV under the agencys definition, a vehicle must, among other things, have a speed capability no higher than 25 mph and a gross vehicle weight rating of less than 3,000 pounds. LSVs are subject to a limited set of safety requirements, including ones related to the installation of lamps, mirrors, seat belts and a windshield. However, LSVs are not subject to most of the occupant protection standards with which other light vehicles such as passenger cars are required to comply, including many of our standards designed to protect occupants in the event of a crash.
NHTSA recently considered and denied petitions requesting that the agency commence rulemaking to create a new class of motor vehicles known as medium speed vehicles, which would have a maximum speed capability of 35 mph. The petitioners contemplated
The Honorable Russell D. Feingold
that these vehicles would be subject to a set of safety standards greater than those that apply to LSVs but substantially less than the full set of safety standards that apply to other light vehicles such as passenger cars.
We denied the petitions (copy enclosed) because it is our belief the introduction of such a class of motor vehicles without the full complement of safety features required for other light vehicles would result in significantly greater risk of deaths and serious injuries.
As we discussed in that notice, vehicles with a speed capability above 25 mph are more likely to be driven outside controlled, low speed environments, and the limited LSV safety requirements are not appropriate for such vehicle operation. Moreover, the traffic environment in which medium speed vehicles would likely travel, including, e.g., urban roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or 45 mph, is an environment for which the full set of the Federal motor vehicle safety standards is needed to prevent fatalities and serious injuries.
I would like to note that there is intense work all over the world to develop and bring to market hybrid vehicles, battery-powered vehicles, and many other types of low-fuel consuming vehicles. Some are available now and other more advanced vehicles, according to the manufacturers, will be available by the 2010 model year. These vehicles, which are available to U.S. consumers, are certified to meet all the required safety standards.
If you have any questions, please have your staff contact me or Stephen R. Kratzke, Associate Administrator for Rulemaking, at (202) 366-1810.
James F. Ports, Jr.
 See 49 CFR Part 571.3.