House OKs bill allowing low-speed vehicles on RI roads


STATE HOUSE – The House of Representatives today approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Terri Cortvriend to 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 local delivery, university campuses, hotels and resorts, industrial facilities, golf courses, gated communities and agriculture.

Rhode Island is one of only three states in the nation that has not adopted legislation governing their use. Representative Cortvriend’s legislation (2023-H 5457A) would change that, establishing laws governing low-speed vehicles and providing for their registration for use on the road.

“Low-speed vehicles are a great development that have so many uses that could 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).

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 bill, low-speed vehicles would need to be inspected, insured and registered with the Division of Motor Vehicles, which the bill authorizes to issue “slow-moving vehicles” plates. Only licensed drivers would be permitted to operate them, and they would be subject to existing traffic laws.

The bill would limit 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. The bill also allows municipalities to prohibit their use on a road or section of a road in their community if the town deems their use there unsafe. The bill would not apply on Prudence Island in Portsmouth, where low-speed vehicles have been allowed under separate provisions enacted in 2005.

Representative Cortvriend said there are 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.

“This is a small business bill as much as it’s an environmental bill, and I’m hopeful that we will see low-speed vehicles in Rhode Island soon,” she said. 

The legislation now goes to the Senate, where Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) is sponsoring companion legislation (2023-S 0419).



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