There has been a growing public interest in using low-speed four-wheeled electric vehicles to make short trips for shopping, social, and recreational purposes. These passenger-carrying vehicles, although low-speed, offer a variety of advantages, including comparatively low-cost and energy-efficient mobility. To drive on public roads in Washington, these vehicles must be “street legal.” Washington provides for the use of Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) and Moderate-S peed Electric Vehicles (MEVs) under certain conditions. These vehicles are often referred to as "golf carts." Golf carts are called "golf cars" in the industry and are not classed as low-speed vehicles under federal motor vehicle safety standards. This page provides a summary of Washington laws, local government sample provisions and background information on safety standards and industry standards for golf cars.
Washington Low-Speed Vehicle Legislation
Washington motor vehicle laws provide for Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV) and Medium-Speed Electric Vehicles (MEVs). Both NEVs and MEVs must conform to federal regulations under 49 CFR Sec. 571.500, and both may be driven on city streets and county roads that are not state routes if the road has a speed limit of 35 mph or less.
- Washington law defines a “golf cart,” in Sec. 3 of Ch. 217 Laws of 2010 (SSB 6207) as a gas-powered or electric-powered four-wheeled vehicle originally designed and manufactured for operation on a golf course for sporting purposes and has a speed attainable in one mile of not more than 20 miles per hour. A golf cart is not a nonhighway vehicle or off-road vehicle as defined in RCW 46.09.310.
- Golf Cart Zones - Ch. 217 Laws of 2010 (SSB 6207) allows Washington cities and counties to create “golf cart zones” around golf courses and permit incidental use of “golf carts” on public roads that have speed limits of 25 mph or less.
Medium-Speed Electric Vehicles (MEV)
- Definition - RCW 46.04.295 amended by Sec. 1 of Ch. 144 Laws of 2010 (SB 6346) - "Medium-speed electric vehicle" means a self-propelled, electrically powered four-wheeled motor vehicle, equipped with a roll cage or crush-proof body design, whose speed attainable in one mile is more than 25 miles per hour but not more than 35 miles per hour and otherwise meets or exceeds the federal regulations set forth in 49 CFR Sec. 571.500.
- Operation- RCW 46.61.723 - Medium-speed electric vehicles, amended by Sec. 2 of Ch. 144 Laws of 2010 (SB 6346)
Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV)
- Definition - RCW 46.04.357 - "Neighborhood electric vehicle" means a self-propelled, electrically powered four-wheeled motor vehicle whose speed attainable in one mile is more than 20 miles per hour and not more than 25 miles per hour and conforms to federal regulations under Title 49 CFR Part 571.500.
- Operation - RCW 46.61.725 - An electrically powered, four-wheeled vehicle that can reach speeds of 20 to 25 mph.
NEV and MEV in San Juan County
- Ch. 144 Laws of 2010 (SB 6346) allows a person to operate an NEV and MEV on city streets and county roads that are not state routes if the road has a speed limit of 45 mph or less. However, this provision is only applicable to counties (San Juan) consisting of islands whose only connection to the mainland is by ferry.
Local Government Golf Cart Provisions
- Arlington Municipal Code Ch. 10.88 - Use of Golf Carts (or Similar Vehicles) on Public Property
- Cheney Municipal Code Ch. 11.90 - Operation of Golf Carts
- Grant County Code Ch. 11.34 - Operation of Golf Carts
- La Conner Municipal Code Ch. 9.50 - Golf Cart Zone
- Langley Municipal Code Ch. 10.24 - Golf Cart Zone
- Liberty Lake Municipal Code Ch. 7-4 - Operation of Golf Carts
- Mill Creek Municipal Code Ch. 10.20 - Golf Carts (2006 provision) - Prohibits golf carts on city streets; carts may be operated in designated sidewalk/bike lanes
- Orting Municipal Code Ch. 7-8 - Golf Cart Zone
National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA)
As a result of a growing conflict between state, local, and federal laws which restricted the ability of vehicle manufacturers to produce and sell vehicles and consumers to buy them, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) set safety standards for a class of low-speed vehicles in 1998. Those are the standards that Washington NEVs and MEVs must meet.
When the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) was setting safety standards for low-speed vehicles, it chose to use the industry term golf car. It noted that: While many members of the public use the term "golf cart," the manufacturers of those vehicles use the term "golf car." This final rule uses "golf car," except in those instances in which the other term is used in quotation.
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Final Rule 49 CFR Part 571 [Docket No. NHTSA 98-3949] - via NHTSA Web or 63 FR 33194, June 17, 1998- via GPO Access - Provides discussion and background to final rule.
- 49 CFR Sec. 571.500 - Standard No. 500; Low-speed vehicles- via GPO Access - This is the minimum safety standard for Washington’s NEVs and MEVs to operate on public roads and streets of this state. The manufacturers of golf cars that operate at less than 20 mph do not have to meet these safety standards. The federal rule went into effect in 1998 and was amended in 2003.