One of the first bills introduced in 2015 legislative session (House Bill 6) defines a new type of passenger vehicle that is part-car, part-motorcycle—the autocycle.
A couple of manufacturers across the country, including one in Virginia, have begun to build these three-wheeled motorcycles, which are equipped with steering wheels, pedals, air bags and seatbelts. Unlike motorcycles, autocycles are completely enclosed, obviating the need for a helmet. The Elio is advertised as a $6,800 vehicle that gets up to 84 miles per gallon. The Tanom Invader, made in Virginia, is a sportier model with a much higher price tag–retailing for about $50,000—which boasts of high-performance and speeds of up to 160 miles per hour.
Why change the law? Both the Elio and the Tanom Invader would be classified as motorcycles under current North Carolina law. That’s because they are three-wheeled vehicles with a saddle for the rider. A person with a regular driver’s license is not permitted to drive a motorcycle. That requires a license with a motorcycle endorsement, which in turn requires that a person pass a motorcycle road test or compete a motorcycle rider course.
A lobbyist for Elio said that a person can’t pass a motorcycle road test in an Elio because it can’t be maneuvered around lines and cones like a motorcycle. Plus, autocycle advocates say, specialized training is not necessary to drive such a vehicle. Finally, operators of and passengers on a motorcycle are required by law to wear safety helmets—a rule that seems a poor fit for an enclosed motor vehicle.
House Bill 6. The proposed legislation defines autocycles as a new type of motor vehicle, which may be operated by a person who has a regular driver’s license. It also exempts autocycle operators and passengers from the motorcycle helmet requirement. The bill requires that autocycles conform to many of the safety and equipment rules that apply to passenger motor vehicles other than motorcycles, such as headlamp and safety belt requirements. Unlike motorcycles, which may ride two abreast in a single lane of traffic, House Bill 6 prohibits autocycles from riding more than one abreast in a single lane.
Tanom Motors reports that five states, including Virginia, have enacted legislation permitting autocycles to be driven by a person with a regular driver’s license and expresses optimism that “most of the other 45 states” will soon follow.