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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Regulatory Impediments to Neighborhood Electric Vehicles: Safety Standards and Zero-Emission Vehicle Rules


The California Air Resources Board mandated the production of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) starting in 1998. Other states may follow. Among the types of vehicles that may satisfy the requirements of this mandate are small, neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) that would be used in urban areas and on collector and arterial streets for a wide range of short trips. Although NEVs hold the potential for large energy and environmental benefits, their introduction is hindered by two institutional barriers. The first of these is the federal safety standards designed for full-sized, gasoline-powered automobiles. The second is the California ZEV regulations that may not award ZEV credits to manufacturers for all vehicles certified as ZEVs, particularly very small NEVs. Also there are important inconsistencies in the vehicle definitions used in these and other regulations and vehicle codes. This has created confusion with regard to their applicability to various small vehicle designs. The history of legislative rule making as it relates to small vehicles is explored, and possible strategies for overcoming these regulatory barriers to the production and sale of NEVs are discussed.

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