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Are Low-Speed Vehicles Safe on Roadways?

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Garia Low Speed Vehicle Urban Leisure

It is dangerous enough for bikes, motorcycles, and small cars to be on the roads with SUVs and large trucks. Now another type of vehicle poses its own risks for drivers and passengers. Known as a low-speed vehicle, or LSV for short, it is basically a spiffed up golf cart that is allowed on roads in many states and that sells for as little as $7,000.

As Bill Sapporito reports in the August 22, 2011 issue of TIME magazine,

They used to be confined to retirement villages and gated communities, where no one is in a particular hurry and traffic is a sign of vitality. But changes in state laws have made these souped-up golf carts increasingly popular on regular roads, and some towns have been accommodating the surge by doing things like converting parking spaces for these itty-bitty buggies and designating which major intersections they can cross.

Most states allow LSVs on any road whose speed limit is 35 m.p.h. or less. In New York City, Sapporito tested a luxury LSV called Garia, a $21,000 Danish-made vehicle with a dashboard refrigerator and chrome wheels. It is made by a company named Garia and is assembled in the same factory as the Porsche Boxster.

Sapporito writes:

But by federal decree, it can’t go any faster than a very un-Porsche-like 25 m.p.h. Its squat front end means I can weave through the swarms of pedestrians more easily, and the turning ratio is such that cutting into traffic is a snap.

But then comes the reality of what this maneuverability means: Do we really want LSVs, which have little in the way of passenger protection, out there with the heavy metal? When the IIHS crash-tested one popular LSV model, the GEM e2, the results weren’t pretty. In one test, the institute took the smallest car on the market, the Smart, and rammed it into a GEM at 31 m.p.h. Sensors showed that the crash-test dummy in the Smart was protected from serious harm by the car’s air bags and roll cage. The GEM dummy was toast. David Zuby, chief research officer of IIHS, called LSVs the undoing of 40 years of auto-safety improvements.

LSVs meet the requirements to be on roadways by having headlights, taillights, rear and side mirrors, and seatbelts. But they are not required to pass the crash tests that all passenger cars and trucks have to take. In fact, LSVs do not even have side doors. The Garia has an eight-kilowatt-hour lead-acid battery pack and a four-horsepower motor, and can go about 35 miles on a single charge. It takes about seven hours to charge it using a 110-volt outlet.

In the Los Angeles Times, Susan Carpenter writes about testing the Garia in Los Angeles: “Coupling its acceleration with the independent double-wishbone suspension of its front end made its cornering impressive to me as a driver, but it was a bit scary for my 8-year-old, who, after I took a particularly fast turn, feared he’d be dumped in the intersection. I shared his concern.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has posted a table and map of the states and their laws regarding low-speed vehicles. In Colorado, LSVs can be driven on roads with a posted speed limit of 35 mph or less, but are not allowed to be driven faster than 25 mph.

Source: “Slow Riders,” TIME, 08/22/11 (print edition)
Source: “Garia LSV offers electric luxury at 25 mph,” Los Angeles Times, 05/05/11
Source: “Low-speed vehicles,” Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, August 2011
Image by Garia.com, used under Fair Use: Reporting.

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