There are cars and there are motorcycles, and the differences between them are pretty clear: you sit in a car with four wheels and a steering wheel, but you sit on a motorcycle with two wheels and handlebars. Those lines, however, are being blurred by a new category of "autocycles," and the government is going to need new regulations in order to determine where they fit in.
That is, at least, the substance of the bill being proposed by Senator David Vitter. The ranking member on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works – and its Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure – Vitter is putting forward legislation that would create a new category for three-wheeled enclosed vehicles.
Those built by Elio Motors in Vitter's home state of Louisiana may be the driving force behind the legislation, but it would ostensibly also extend to vehicles like the Toyota i-Road, Campagna T-Rex and Polaris Slingshot, among others: vehicles with two wheels up front and one in the back that are more stable than the opposite orientation, let alone the motorcycles under whose category they mainly fall at present. The new category would affect both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as well as the Environmental Protection Agency.
As fuel consumption regulations continue to constrict, these lighter and smaller three-wheelers could stand to play a more central role in urban transportation. But whether they're designed for fuel economy (like those proposed by Elio and Toyota) or for entertainment (like the T-Rex and Slingshot), it's clear that they don't fit into any existing category, so the notion of regulating them under a more suitable category would seem logical enough.
After all, why should you need to wear a helmet when driving (not riding on) an enclosed vehicle just because it's missing a wheel? On the other, would it make much sense having the Morgan Three Wheeler in one category but the same company's four-wheeled vehicles in another, or putting something like the Renault Twizy in a different category from the Toyota i-Road simply because it has one more wheel? And where would a three-wheeled motorcycle like the BRP Can-Am Spyder fit in? There may be no straightfoward answer, but what is clear is that the face of the automobile is changing, and we're going to need new regulations to keep up with the times.