It looks like golf carts – or low-speed vehicles – will never go away. Across the country, legislators are allowing low-speed vehicles (LSV) to drive down public roads, with some restrictions. In Kentucky, several municipalities have recently passed, or are looking to allow, golf carts on their streets. Or take a look at Peachtree City, GA, where just about all the residents are driving golf carts, and that's just fine with the city government.

LSV rules have been turning in favor of golf carts for several years now. In 1998, the federal government passed safety standards for what it termed "low-speed vehicles." They didn't apply to golf carts, since most of them don't travel in the 20-25 miles per hour range and now, final decisions tend to be made at the local level and many municipalities are allowing LSVs to travel in 35 mph zones. There are only four states in the US that don't allow LSVs to mix with traffic on regular roads (Montana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. See the map here). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has raised concerns about the safety of driving these tiny cars, but state officials don't seem to share it.

So what's their appeal? In his commentary for The Atlantic Cities, Eric Jaffe starts off with the question of why all these people would choose golf carts over electric vehicles. It seems to come down to consumers choosing LSVs as a transportation alternative because it a cost-effective secondary car.

A top-selling LSV – the Polaris GEM – sells for $8,000 for the starter model up to $15,000 for a six-seater. Even with all the incentives and price wars in the EV space, these LSVs are a better deal for consumers with tight budgets. The golf cart is ideal for quick trips to the grocery store while the family car stays parked in the driveway. You can read Jaffe's complete argument here.


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  • 18 Comments
      chambo622
      • 16 Hours Ago
      Maybe if you live in some paradise retirement community where everyone is tooling around in these things. But I value my life and am certainly not going to venture out on a highway to get to a grocery store when the cars around me are designed to withstand high-speed crashes, and my vehicle is a fraction of the weight and size and is not designed to protect me in an accident. And yes, I feel the same way about motorcyles. Feel free to downrank me.
        Tysto
        • 16 Hours Ago
        @chambo622
        They're called "neighborhood electric vehicles" for a reason. No one expects them to mix with traffic above 35 MPH. They're certainly no more dangerous than bicycles and horse-and-buddy, which are allowed on medium duty roads (55 MPH), let alone neighborhood streets. We need to stop being afraid of change and stop letting safety matrons rule the country.
        Letstakeawalk
        • 16 Hours Ago
        @chambo622
        These vehicles are very location-dependent, but not everybody needs to get on a highway to go to the grocery. A huge percentage of Americans live in urban areas, where an NEV or even golf cart is a reasonable alternative to a full-size auto. I live in a town of 100,000. Golf carts are extremely popular here, and are commonly seen on the city streets. The average speed limit is 25mph, so there's no danger from high-speed shenanigans, and the smaller electrics are very easily parked in spaces that simply wouldn't accommodate a larger vehicle. Paradise retirement community? Some may consider it so... We are frequently rated as one of the top cities in the US!
          Letstakeawalk
          • 16 Hours Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          I'm going to resist the urge to say something about the poorly-designed streets in your neighborhood that obscure drivers' vision. I've never understood why suburban tract-house builders (can't really call them architects) thought they could improve upon the space efficiency and organization of a grid plan by instead creating a dendritic street plan that results in longer driving times over shorter distances while also building in congestion by reducing the option to use side streets.
          chambo622
          • 16 Hours Ago
          @Letstakeawalk
          I suppose it would work in such a location. But when I think 'urban' I think high traffic, congestion, high likelihood of a collision. Even at 25mph in a vehicle like this will loose to any 'normal' car. For me personally, I have to go on a road with a 50mph speed limit to get to a grocery store. Even if that trip is less than 5 minutes, which it is, it's too dangerous. And I wouldn't even test my fate on blind twists in my 25mph residential neighborhood. Maybe I'm paranoid, but I'd like to think it's pragmatic. Haven't run the numbers on the newest crop of these vehicles, but in the past, the efficiency trade-off to upgrade to a small economy PHEV or EV has been relatively minor compared to the huge gains in space, comfort, safety, refinement and practicality.
      Ziv
      • 16 Hours Ago
      I think an NEV is a good idea for a lot of people, but $8k is still a bit rich. And I would want that thing to do at least 30 mph. There is a GEM in South Arlington I see from time to time and it is keeping up in a 35 mph zone. There is no AC other than the breeze from the sides so you aren't going to want to drive more than a few miles in August but GEM has sold almost as many NEV's as GM has sold Volts so there is a market out there for them. Nice little commuter with a 30 mile range. Maybe Elio will add competition to this pricepoint, though Elio will be a real highway speed 1+1 seater vehicle with heat and AC for $7k, if it ever actually sells any vehicles. But I think that there has to be after market kits out there already to add speed to the 25 mph that they are supposed to be limited to.
        Warren
        • 16 Hours Ago
        @Ziv
        They had better hurry up! I am one of those boomers who is in no hurry anymore. I drive 45 on most secondary roads. If I must get on the interstate, I am doing 60 in the right lane. Most people are going to hell in a handbasket..and they seem to be in a hurry to get there. :-)
      Koenigsegg
      • 16 Hours Ago
      Smart ED is the best, stop wasting time reporting on all of these wack small ev's
      Spec
      • 16 Hours Ago
      NEVs are dead right now because the way the tax-credit is set up, you might as well buy a full-speed EV. You can probably negotiate a deal for a Mitsubishi-i these days that would cost the same price as an EV after the tax-credit. So why buy an NEV?
        JakeY
        • 16 Hours Ago
        @Spec
        But with the NEV (or golf carts really in this article; this doesn't seem to be talking about fully enclosed vehicles) you can often find one even cheaper than that without any negotiation. There's also probably laxer permitting/registration/insurance requirements for such vehicles. A lot of people buying these seem to be getting them as second vehicles, even though they might not want a second "car".
        EZEE
        • 16 Hours Ago
        @Spec
        In Florida, there are several areas where these are very popular. In every case, I have seen golf carts, but never a NEV (not contradicting myself, just differentiating). The golf carts will be tricked out - sometimes very cool. When people want more, it is either full EV or ice.
          Spec
          • 16 Hours Ago
          @EZEE
          Yeah, they are great in such communities. And as long as they have turf tires, you can drive them to the golf course and use them on the golf course.
          EZEE
          • 16 Hours Ago
          @EZEE
          Here is one community - watch this for a bit, and there will be at last a few that drive by: http://www.thevillages.com/lifestyle/cam_ss.asp
      kaylaanna
      • 16 Hours Ago
      until I looked at the check which was of $5595, I didn't believe ...that...my brother had been truley bringing in money in their spare time from there pretty old laptop.. there best friend haz done this 4 only about 20 months and just now paid the loans on their place and got a great new Audi Quattro. reference ᵂᵂᵂ.xurℒ.es/qstxq
      vwrolln
      • 16 Hours Ago
      Low speed is definitely coming "fast". I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but people are driving slower in many of the hippy/medical areas. As boomers age to where they can't ride a bike up a hill, they will switch to electric bikes and golf carts. (Many don't want to drive a car fast either, its not their age.. its really their heart meds etc.) During Christmas UPS uses a cart toed by a Golf-Carts to deliver packages. I won't be surprised when packages are delivered like this every day.
      Spec
      • 16 Hours Ago
      permitting/registration/insurance requirements are the same. Why buy an NEV when you can buy a full-speed car for just a few thousand more. I think NEVs will have a role in the future . . . but for now they just don't make much financial sense due to the way the tax-credit is set-up.
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