Hundreds of new Maine laws will take effect later this week. Among them is LD 1627, “An Act to Authorize the Use of Autocycles,” sponsored by Rep. Mark Bryant of Windham. Mainers on Thursday will get the freedom to drive an autocycle on Maine roads without first having to obtain a motorcycle endorsement, an unnecessary burden Mainers have faced for years as lawmakers resisted proper oversight of these vehicles.
Under the new law, autocycles are defined as “a 3-wheeled motorcycle that has a steering wheel or handlebars, floor pedals for automotive-style controls and seating that does not require the operator to straddle or sit astride on a seat…” They must also meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards applicable to motorcycles and “general motorcycle inspection standards” excluding vehicle design. The vehicle must also be equipped with seat belts, a roll bar, roll hoops or an enclosed cab, and brakes on at least two wheels.
Because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the leading national entity for the regulation of motor vehicle manufacturers, has not established a distinct classification for autocycles as it has for motorcycles, passenger cars, and other vehicles, autocycles fall under the classification of a motorcycle at both the state and national levels. This means autocycle manufacturers have had to meet the manufacturing standards and safety protocols of motorcycles despite being distinctly different vehicles.
Unlike most motorcycles, autocycles can be enclosed, have three wheels, a steering wheel, and roll bars. According to autocycle manufacturers, operator skills are similar to those required for passenger cars. Many also come equipped with airbags and seat belts, and are more fuel efficient than the average passenger car. However, because states have failed to take action in response to federal inaction, drivers of autocycles have been required to obtain a motorcycle endorsement in order to operate one of these vehicles.
The training and requirements to obtain a motorcycle license may enhance an autocycle operator’s knowledge of motorcycles, but these standards are unnecessary and burdensome for someone who wishes to drive an autocycle on Maine roads, as the machine itself and skills required for operation most closely resemble a passenger car.
Due to insufficient federal oversight, states have been left to regulate autocycles as they see fit.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators developed best practices and recommendations for state govermnents wishing to regulate the operation of three-wheeled vehicles (tricycles and autocycles). The group recommends autocycle operators be licensed as they would to operate regular passenger vehicles, and that autocycles be distinguished from three-wheeled motorcycles to track safety statistics more effectively and accurately.
Fortunately, Maine has heeded some of this advice, yet unsurprisingly, we’re late to the party. According to Polaris, the manufacturer of the Slingshot autocycle, Maine on Thursday will become the 47th state to require only a valid state driver’s license and a helmet to operate an autocycle.