2021 Legislation Amends Rules for Modified Utility Vehicles

Last year, I wrote about new legislation defining and regulating modified utility vehicles.  The legislature returned to that subject again this year in S.L. 2021-33 (S 241), amending that definition and modifying the rules governing the use of such vehicles.

What is a modified utility vehicle? If you are like me, you may need a picture. The one below is from The High Point Enterprise. It features State Senator Steve Jarvis (a sponsor of Senate Bill 241) sitting in the passenger seat of such a vehicle on the grounds of the State Legislative Building.

Photo by The High Point Enterprise

S.L. 2021-33 amends the definition of modified utility vehicle in G.S. 20-4.01(27), effective October 1, 2021. As redefined, modified utility vehicles are four-wheeled motor vehicles that are manufactured or upfitted for off-road use. They must be at least 110 inches long, at least 58 inches wide, and 60 inches tall. As before, they must have a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour or greater. The requirement that modified utility vehicles have an engine displacement of greater than 2,400 cubic centimeters is, however, eliminated by this year’s legislation. (Some folks asked me last year whether this requirement was intentionally included as part of the definition because they thought that was an awfully large engine for this type of vehicle.)

Modified utility vehicles must be equipped with the following operable safety features:

  • headlamps,
  • stop lamps,
  • turn signal lamps,
  • tail lamps,
  • reflex reflectors,
  • parking brakes,
  • rearview mirrors,
  • a speedometer, and
  • seat belts.

The 2020 legislation had required that modified utility vehicles also be equipped with windshields and windshield wipers; that requirement is eliminated effective October 1, 2021. The driver of and all passengers on a modified utility vehicle that is not equipped with a windshield and windshield wipers must wear a safety helmet.

As before, modified utility vehicles must have a vehicle identification number. If they were not manufactured with one, DMV must assign one before registration.

Where may modified utility vehicles be driven? S.L. 2021-33 amends G.S. 20-121.1 to specify that, while modified utility vehicles generally may be operated only on roadways where the posted speed limit is 55 miles per hour or less, they may only be operated on a roadway with four or more travel lanes if the posted speed limit is 35 miles per hour or less. These amendments likewise are effective October 1, 2021.

Not always motor vehicles. Sure, modified utility vehicles are vehicles. And they have motors. But S.L. 2021-33 amends G.S. 20-286(10) to specify that a modified utility vehicle, like a moped, is not a “motor vehicle” for purposes of the laws governing the licensure of motor vehicle dealers and manufacturers. These vehicles still are classified as motor vehicles for other purposes — including applying the rules governing financial responsibility. Indeed, G.S. 20-121.1(3) continues to require that modified utility vehicles be registered and insured.