New law will allow low-speed vehicles on RI roads
STATE HOUSE – A new law sponsored by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma and Rep. Terri Cortvriend will establish rules of the road for low-speed vehicles.
Low-speed vehicles, particularly electric models, are a growing transportation option in the United States. They are typically small with a top speed of 20 to 25 miles per hour. They are an increasingly popular option for private use and for local delivery, university campuses, hotels and resorts, industrial facilities, golf courses, gated communities and agriculture.
Until now, Rhode Island was one of only three states in the nation that had not adopted legislation governing their use. The legislation (2023-H 5457A, 2023-S 0419A), which lawmakers approved June 15 and the governor signed June 21, changes that, establishing laws governing low-speed vehicles and providing for their registration for use on the road. The new law takes effect July 1, 2024.
“Low-speed vehicles are a great development with so many uses that will be very helpful to our business community, the tourism industry, our schools and so much more. Electric low-speed vehicles are an especially appealing transportation option to welcome to our state, because they will reduce the number of miles being driven in carbon-emitting gas vehicles, helping our state reach our obligations under the Act on Climate to cut carbon. They are safe, which we’ve seen in the rest of the country where they are already being used. Low-speed vehicles provide another clean alternative transportation mode, and we should encourage their use here in Rhode Island,” said Representative Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown).
Said Senator DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton), “This law will enable Rhode Islanders to buy and use electric low-speed vehicles, as people can in almost every other state now. It’s good for the environment and business at the same time, since we are opening our state to a new and beneficial segment of the auto industry, one that will help Rhode Islanders reduce their carbon output while they get around their local area. This is a step forward for clean transportation options for Rhode Islanders.”
The legislation defines low-speed vehicles as electric, four-wheels vehicles with a top speed between 20 and 25 miles per hour and gross weight under 3,000 pounds. The legislation requires low-speed vehicles to have the same basic safety equipment as other vehicles, including headlights and turn signals.
Under the new law, low-speed vehicles need to be inspected, insured and registered with the Division of Motor Vehicles, which the law authorizes to issue “slow-moving vehicles” plates. Only licensed drivers will be permitted to operate them, and they will be subject to existing traffic laws.
The law limits the use of low-speed vehicles to surface roads with posted speed limits of 35 miles per hour or less. It specifically prohibits them from state highways. It also allows municipalities to prohibit their use on a road or section of a road in their community if the city or town deems their use there unsafe. The law not apply on Prudence Island in Portsmouth, where low-speed vehicles have been allowed under separate provisions enacted in 2005.
The sponsors said there are already businesses interested in providing low-speed vehicles to Rhode Island drivers and businesses, and also many that are interested in putting them to work for their businesses.