Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Growth of low-powered vehicles raises questions about legality

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, 1/31/18

This “official use” cart is legally operating on a
McGregor Boulevard sidewalk in Fort Myers.
Electric bicycles, or e-bikes, are becoming more common in Southwest Florida. Perhaps because baby boomers are getting “less ambitious” or because of the economics of using them for transportation, there appears to be a decided uptick in availability and use of e-bikes.

But not all e-bikes are the same, either in the way they operate or their legal status.

My transportation safety experience makes clear to me there’s quite a bit of confusion about the legal status of low-powered vehicles in general.

Golf carts and gas-powered bikes such as mopeds are the most misunderstood.

But because there are three distinct classes of e-bikes, their status is and will remain just as confusing — and controversial — as low-powered vehicles proliferate.

In this week’s column I’ll cover vehicles other than e-bikes.

In Florida, mopeds and bikes equipped with a gas engine require a driver’s license, regardless of how small the engine is or its top speed. That goes for any gas-powered vehicle, including pedal-less scooters.

Many people with suspended licenses have had their lives complicated even further by depending on a moped salesperson’s insistence that a 49cc engine that won’t propel the vehicle above 29 mph is legal have found out the hard way that’s not the case, at least in Florida.

Electric golf carts are not allowed to operate on public roads unless special permission has been granted on specific roads, a rarity in Lee County.

There are probably a few more, but the locations I’m aware of that allow golf carts on the roads are Whiskey Creek and part of Captiva Island. Golf carts can also be operated on the shared use path that runs along Shell Point Boulevard and on Boca Grande’s rail-to-trail pathway. Additional restrictions, such as hours of use, can also be attached to any permitted uses. Operators must be at least 14 and golf carts can never be driven on sidewalks (pathways that are less than 10-feet wide and clearly intended for pedestrian traffic).

Regardless of how many golf carts are seen on McGregor Boulevard’s sidewalks and neighborhood streets, the general public may not operate them there. It’s no secret that anyone using a golf cart in the Dunbar, Midtown or most other areas of Fort Myers or Lee County wouldn’t do so for very long before being stopped by law enforcement.

Personally, I like the idea of slow-speed vehicles (including bikes) operating on our neighborhood roads and any streets with speed limits under 40 mph because of their traffic-calming effect.

But the use of motorized vehicles on pathways is not appropriate for a number or safety-related reason.

As for where their illegal use is overlooked, this is a clear example of social inequality in applying the law.

Florida allows golf carts powered by any type of energy source to be converted to Low Speed Vehicles or Neighborhood Electric Vehicles that can operate to at least 20 mph but not above 25 mph. This allows them on public roads that have speed limits no higher than 35. They must be registered and have specific safety equipment such as headlights and turn signals. The operator of a LSV/NEV must have a valid driver’s license and carry insurance. Local jurisdictions may restrict their use by ordinance.

All-terrain vehicles are not allowed on paved public roads but may on unpaved public roads with speed limits of less than 35. Adult operators must hold a valid driver’s license and minors must be “supervised” by a licensed driver. The law specific to ATVs is silent about use on pathways but that’s covered in state law — “No person shall drive a vehicle except by human power on a sidewalk or sidewalk area.” Off-highway vehicles need not be registered and are not required to be insured. Most of the vehicle types being discussed are allowed to be used by government workers and other “official” operators where they’d otherwise be banned.

Next week: The types of e-bikes and some of the issues involved for the operator, other road- and path-way users, governments and law enforcement. ¦

- For running, biking and pedestrian events, and transportation issues, see

- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at and 334-6417. 

For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (; Florida Mudcutters (; and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group ( The Florida Bicycle Association ( is your source for statewide happenings. BikeWalkLee’s blog site has all the information you’ll need to stay abreast of advocacy efforts in Southwest Florida as well as statewide and nationally.

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