Low-speed vehicles aren’t designed to protect their occupants in crashes. Although low-speed vehicles (LSVs) must be equipped with basic features like lights, mirrors and safety belts, they are exempt from most federal motor vehicle safety standards, and they don’t have to meet any criteria for vehicle crashworthiness. They aren’t required to have airbags or other safety features beyond belts since they’re intended for short trips in residential neighborhoods and other low-risk driving situations.
Most states allow LSVs on certain roads, usually those with 35 mph or lower speed limits. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines appropriate performance and safety standards for LSVs but has no say in where LSVs are driven. The same goes for minitrucks, which are legal to operate on some roads in 16 states, even though they weren’t designed to meet U.S. safety or emission standards.
The federal government doesn’t recognize medium-speed vehicles as a vehicle class. NHTSA in 2008 denied petitions to create a new medium-speed vehicle (MSV) class. The agency said that unlike LSVs, MSVs travel in higher-risk traffic situations and should comply with all of the safety standards set for passenger cars. Despite the agency’s decision not to recognize MSVs, nine states allow them on certain roads with 35-55 mph or lower speed limits.