Maryland Stops Treating 3-Wheeled Cars Like Motorcycles

Maryland recently solved a big problem that could keep some of the most efficient vehicles off the road with the passage and signing of HB 1391. By making it easier to legally operate a 3-wheeled vehicle, more people will want to drive them.

The Problem

In the United States, only a single-digit percentage of households own a motorcycle. Of those that do, it’s often used primarily for recreation, such as a cruiser bike someone takes out to ride mountain roads on the weekend, or a dirtbike that gets used out in the forest or desert for fun. You do see a few motorcycles used as daily drivers, and you see a few more in places where the weather is nice and it doesn’t rain much.

This is really a shame because motorcycles are one of the most efficient forms of transportation, if not the most efficient. By only carrying the rider and what it takes to drive them down the road, even gas-powered motorcycles can emit less overall emissions per mile than some 4-wheeled EVs (when gently, of course). And when they’re powered by electricity, they use 3-5x less electricity than a 4-wheeled EV. This makes motorcycles cleaner than the per passenger emissions of riding a bus, and competitive even with riding a train (numbers here).

This leads us to the question of why more people don’t ride to work on two wheels. The answers are fairly obvious: safety and comfort. While safety perceptions of motorcycles are probably exaggerated, there’s no doubt that you’re more likely to die in a collision or other accident when you aren’t surrounded by metal armor, crumple zones, airbags, and other safety features. What would be a minor fender bender in a car could hospitalize or kill a motorcycle rider. Even if you don’t get hurt, the comfort of being indoors with heating and air conditioning is nice, too.

These concerns are compounded by another problem: licensing. You can buy a motorcycle, but you can’t legally ride it unless you’ve got a motorcycle license or a motorcycle endorsement on your driver’s license. Requirements to get one vary from state to state, but there’s almost always some form of training and maybe even a road test. Then, you’ve got to pay a fee for both the riding course and the license or endorsement. This alone keeps many people from wanting to ride a motorcycle.

Manufacturers Find A Solution

Let’s face it: the human body isn’t terribly aerodynamically efficient. We didn’t evolve to swim or fly, so our design isn’t terribly sleek. When we’re sitting atop a motorcycle, we tend to be one of the least efficient shapes on the road getting drug along by one of the most efficient vehicles. This is why the sportiest of bicycles and motorcycles are designed to be sat on while leaning far forward to keep us from making as much drag as we would sitting straight up.

This means there’s a lot of room for small and light efficient vehicles to actually beat motorcycles in the efficiency game, or at the very least, be competitive. But to get those numbers, you can’t add in twice as much wheel friction and rolling resistance. To come up with a stable vehicle that doesn’t require the skill to safely drive it, the next best option to two wheels is three, and the better efficiency of having an aerodynamically efficient vehicle body instead of a human body in the wind more than makes up for that.

The end result? Vehicles like the Arcimoto FUV, Aptera solar-powered vehicle (Save $30 on your order here with our referral code), and ElectraMeccanica Solo. They get motorcycle-like efficiency, but with an enclosed or semi-enclosed cockpit, no need to worry about tipping over, better crash safety, and controls (steering wheel familiar, pedals, etc).

Government Gets In The Way, But Can Usually Get Out Of The Way

When the Polaris Slingshot, one of the first modern 3-wheeled vehicles, came out, buyers had a problem. In a number of states, anything with less than 4 wheels was considered a motorcycle. This lead to bizarre situations, where you could buy the vehicle and drive it in one state with a regular driver’s license but break the law by crossing an imaginary line and going into a state where a motorcycle license is required.

With some work and letting lawmakers see that state laws stupidly applied motorcycle rules to something that just isn’t much like a motorcycle at all, change came. All but two states (Massachusetts and Alaska) adopted new laws creating a new category of vehicle: the autocycle. This usually means a vehicle with two front wheels, one rear wheel, a steering wheel, and pedals to operate the accelerator, brakes, and (if applicable) a clutch.

Vehicles like the Aptera and Solo were able to come along after the Slingshot and take advantage of laws that treat 3-wheeled vehicles fairly more.

Arcimoto Got Hung Up in Maryland’s Autocycle Law

As I pointed out earlier, all states have different autocycle laws. The differences weren’t much, and won’t affect most vehicles, but the Arcimoto FUV has a problem: it has handlebars instead of a steering wheel. This left them in a position where they didn’t meet the autocycle law in Maryland, as they required a steering wheel. So, until very recently, you’d be stuck with needing to wear a helmet and have a motorcycle license.

Fortunately, with a one-word change to the law, Maryland lawmakers were able to include Arcimoto in the autocycle law. They struck out the word “wheel” and replaced it with “mechanism,” effectively allowing other methods of steering, while not requiring a wheel specifically.

“Addressing climate change is important to us here in Maryland, to protect both our people and our natural areas, and transportation is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in our state,” said Delegate Fraser-Hidalgo. “…HB 1391 also revised the definition of ‘autocycle’ to be more flexible and inclusive about steering technology, because we want to be as welcoming as possible to a wide range of zero-emissions vehicles, as long as they meet necessary safety standards. ”

If you look at Arcimoto’s website, a number of other states managed to make similar changes that allowed for more flexibility, and that’s going to go a long way toward improving transportation efficiency!

Featured image by Arcimoto.


 


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