Arcimoto Sris 3 wheel gives test drives during the 2017 LA Auto show media day, Nov. 29, 2017. A new Utah law allows for drivers to ride all autocycles with a class D permit, regardless of what their steering device looks like. (Gene Blevins/ZUMA Wire, Alamy)
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SALT LAKE CITY — The transportation and technology communities have talked about autocycles for a few years now, but the way they are classified in state law has made it difficult for them — or at least some brands — to flourish as some in the industry have speculated.
The three-wheeled vehicles are not quite a car and not quite a motorcycle; however, during their rise in recent years, the type of steering device determined whether Utahns needed a motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s license to drive them around.
That’s all about to change. HB391, which Gov. Spencer Cox signed on March 22, tweaks the definition of an autocycle just enough that Utahns won’t need a motorcycle license at all to drive an autocycle when the law goes into effect on May 4.
An Oregon autocycle manufacturer that influenced the bill couldn’t be happier about it.
“We applaud Gov. Cox, Rep. (Kay) Christofferson, and Sen. (Wayne) Harper for passing this forward-thinking legislation which will give the citizens of Utah access to new clean transportation vehicles that are made right here in the U.S.,” said Mark Frohnmayer, the CEO and founder of the company Arcimoto, in a statement a week after the bill was signed.
HB391 didn’t really do much on paper. In fact, when Christofferson, R-Lehi, introduced his bill to the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy and Technology Committee earlier this month, his initial explanation of the bill lasted about 20 seconds total.
He explained that all it does is adjust the state’s definition of an autocycle from having “a steering wheel” to a “steering mechanism” and tacks on a provision regarding seat belts. So the state’s new definition says an autocycle is a vehicle “designed to travel with three or fewer wheels in contact with the ground; and is equipped with a steering mechanism, seat belts and seating that does not require the operator to straddle or sit astride the motor.”
But that small amendment to the law is all that was needed to make some autocycles more accessible to Utah drivers. Utahns who have autocycles with steering wheels could already drive the vehicles with a Class D license, said Joe Dougherty, a spokesman for the Utah Department of Public Safety.
Autocycles with handlebars — like Arcimoto — were classified as motorcycles, meaning they needed a motorcycle endorsement. By tweaking the law to “steering mechanism,” it means all autocycles with seat belts can be driven without a motorcycle license, he added.
Arcimoto has actually done this elsewhere, becoming a major player in getting states to change their laws so autocycles can be driven just with a standard driver’s license. Last year, the company celebrated similar changes in Florida, Hawaii and Louisiana.
In fact, the only person to provide public comment on HB391 at all during this year’s legislative session was someone speaking on behalf of the Oregon-based company. Joel Sheltrown, a former Michigan legislator who has since gone on to lobby for the autocycle industry, said the bill — now a law — doesn’t create any loopholes; people who own motorcycles will still need to get a specific license for that.
The small legal tweak ensures autocycles aren’t classified as motorcycles just because they have handlebars instead of a steering wheel. He points to the growing number of car manufacturers ditching the classic wheel, such as the Tesla Model S or some of the futuristic autonomous as examples of this.
“The problem that we’ve run into is because of autonomous vehicles, steering wheels are becoming obsolete,” Sheltrown said.
So with one little tweak of the Utah law, Utahns won’t need to think about getting a special permit to legally ride the autocycle of their dreams.
Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.