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Low-Speed Electric Vehicles - Golf Carts, NEVs and MEVs

This page provides information on the regulation of low-speed electric vehicles in Washington State, such as golf carts, medium-speed electric vehicles, and neighborhood electric vehicles.



Overview

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-speed 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.


Statutes

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.

  • RCW 46.04.320 - Definition of "motor vehicle" includes neighborhood electric vehicles, medium-speed electric vehicles, and (for purposes of chapter 46.61 RCW only) golf carts
  • RCW 46.08.175 - Cities and counties may create "golf cart zones" on streets or highways with a speed limit of 25 mph or less, allowing for incidental operation of golf carts
  • RCW 46.61.723 - Operation of medium-speed electric vehicles
  • RCW 46.61.725 - Operation of neighborhood electric vehicles

Examples of 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

Safety Standards

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.

Additional Standards


Last Modified: April 02, 2021