autocycle car on side of road

Autocycles Now Allowed in North Carolina, But What Are They and What Risks Do They Pose?

It’s not a motorcycle. It’s not a car. It’s an autocycle, and thanks to recent legislation passed by the North Carolina Legislature (as reported in the News & Observer), it is now considered its own classification of motor vehicle.

In other parts of the country, autocycles are becoming a popular transportation option for baby boomers and other individuals looking for the thrill of a motorcycle but with some of the safety features of a traditional car.

When these vehicles first appeared, North Carolina and other states treated autocycles like motorcycles. This meant that operators not only had to apply for and obtain motorcycle licenses or motorcycle endorsements, but they were also subject to the state’s helmet laws. Legal recognition of autocycles as motor vehicles alleviates some of these regulatory hurdles to riding autocycles, but it does not mean these vehicles have been determined to be as safe as cars.

If you are considering buying an autocycle, consider the pros and cons before making your purchase.

What an Autocycle Is … And What an Autocycle Is Not

An autocycle is distinct from a car and a motorcycle. It is also distinct from three-wheeled “trike” motorcycles, which have one wheel up front and two wheels at the rear. Autocycles are distinguishable by having two wheels up front and one wheel at the rear. The driver and passenger ride in a bucket-style seat (as opposed to a saddle seat found on a traditional motorcycle). The new North Carolina statute (House Bill 6) defines an autocycle in the following manner:

“A three-wheeled motorcycle that has a steering wheel, pedals, seat safety belts for each occupant, antilock brakes, air bag protection, completely enclosed seating that does not require the operator to straddle or sit astride, and is otherwise manufactured to comply with federal safety requirements for motorcycles.”

Now in North Carolina, operators of these vehicles do not have to obtain a motorcycle operator’s license or wear helmets. Note that South Carolina does not have a comparable law at this time. Any operators of autocycles in South Carolina will have to continue to comply with the licensing requirements and helmet laws applicable to motorcyclists.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Autocycles

Autocycles are popular for several reasons:

  • They are able to get good gas mileage – some advertise an ability to achieve 84 miles per gallon.
  • Some models are being offered at an introductory price of less than $10,000.
  • They offer a more “motorcycle-like” thrill than a typical passenger car.
  • Many have a body (fiberglass or a similar material) that partially or completely encloses the occupants, providing protection from the elements and some additional protection over the protection afforded motorcyclists involved in motorcycle accidents.

Despite their growing popularity, there are some considerable drawbacks to autocycles:

  • They do not afford occupants the same protection in the event of an accident as does a passenger vehicle.
  • The performance of some models may make them dangerous to operate on highways – they may not be able to accelerate quickly enough or travel at a sufficient speed to make them safe on highways.
  • An autocycle may maneuver and handle differently from a car, so motorists accustomed to driving a passenger car may have difficulty driving an autocycle.

Legal Help After an Autocycle Crash

Autocycles appear to be a new and increasingly popular alternative to traditional means of transportation. It is likely that more and more individuals will choose to travel by autocycle. This means that in the coming years we can expect to see an increasing number of autocycle accidents.

At Grimes Teich Anderson, we take pride in helping residents of Western North Carolina and Upstate South Carolina who are injured in car accidents, truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, and autocycle accidents caused by the carelessness of another. We have helped residents in Asheville, Waynesville, Franklin, and surrounding areas of North Carolina, as well as Greenville, Spartanburg, and surrounding areas of South Carolina. If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle crash, contact us for experienced and dedicated personal injury assistance by contacting our office.

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