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.


Vehicle sizes defined

Passenger car

Passenger vehicle: must comply with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, including crashworthiness standards

Medium Speed

Medium-speed vehicle: has a maximum speed of at least 30 but not more than 35 mph and has some safety equipment such as lights, reflectors, mirrors, parking brake, windshield and safety belts

Low speed

Low-speed vehicle: has a maximum speed of at least 20 but not more than 25 mph, is used primarily for short trips and recreational purposes, and has some safety equipment, such as lights, reflectors, mirrors, parking brake, windshield and safety belts

Minitruck

Minitruck: sold as an off-road vehicle for farms and construction sites and is far smaller than conventional on-road small trucks; can reach top speeds of 55 mph or more, but many have governors to limit their speed to 25 mph

Golf cart

Golf cart: designed and manufactured for operation on a golf course