After our past coverage of the Aptera, one question that keeps coming up is, “Will I need a special license to drive an Aptera?”
Given that the vehicle only has three wheels, that’s actually a very good question. In the past, regular driver’s licenses have only covered a vehicle with four (or more) wheels, while one would generally need a motorcycle license for 3 or fewer wheels. Thanks to vehicles like the Polaris Slingshot (a 3-wheeled gas vehicle), governments are changing their policies to allow people to drive some 3-wheeled vehicles with a normal driver’s license, but the changes made differ from place to place.
Be sure to check your state’s laws before putting in a preorder. If you decide to order one, use our link to save $30 (CleanTechnica will get a test vehicle if we get enough referrals).
The National Council of State Legislatures has a good breakdown of the relevant laws.
The big trend is that governments are creating a new category of 3-wheeled vehicle in their laws: the autocycle. As of 2017, 31 states had a statutory definition, but with differing definitions. 28 of the states required that an autocycle have a steering wheel (as opposed to handlebars), so one with a normal driver’s license could drive something like the Aptera, but not a motorized tricycle (a motorcycle with two rear wheels). Some states require seatbelts, others require the vehicle to be enclosed, and some require the driver to be sitting in a seat, not straddling it.
The definitions differ a lot from state to state, and the article goes into a ton of detail about the different definitions. What NCSL didn’t do is give us a good state-by-state breakdown of the law.
Fortunately, Polaris knew a lot of Slingshot buyers would wonder about this question, so they give potential buyers a map of which states require a motorcycle license or endorsement, and which states would allow the Slingshot with only a driver’s license.
Do keep in mind that the Polaris Slingshot might differ from the Aptera enough in some states to make the map a bit different. You’ll need to research your own state’s laws to make sure an Aptera fits the definition and that a motorcycle license isn’t required. It would take days to dig up each state’s definitions, and I am not a lawyer, so I can’t give you legal advice.
I did look up New Mexico’s laws, and this is what I found.
“autocycle” means a three-wheeled motorcycle on which the driver and all passengers ride in a completely or partially enclosed seating area and that is manufactured to comply with all applicable federal standards, regulations and laws and is equipped with:
(1) non-straddle seating;
(2) rollover protection;
(3) safety belts for all occupants; (4) antilock brakes;
(5) a steering wheel; and
66-3-1.4. Motorcycle endorsement not required for autocycle operation.
Autocycles shall be registered as motorcycles and proof of financial responsibility may characterize them as motorcycles, but a driver shall not be required to have a motorcycle endorsement to operate an autocycle.
From what I understand (again, I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t advice), the Aptera appears to fit my home state’s definition, and I wouldn’t need a motorcycle license to operate it there. In the other states I live and travel in, I’d need to look them up as well.
Even if your home state allows you to operate a 3-wheeled car with a normal driver’s license, it still might be a good idea to get a motorcycle license in some cases. If you plan on driving your 3-wheeler in another state that requires a motorcycle license, it might be a good idea to have that endorsement in case you get pulled over in that state.
It may be argued that your home state’s licensing requirement applies in those other states (due to reciprocity agreements for licenses), but you might not want to be arguing about that on the side of the road with a cop and then need to waste time explaining it to a judge or worse, paying a lawyer to take care of the issue.
If I were working for Aptera, I’d probably see about building a section of the website dedicated to Q&A on this issue. Having a good resource for potential owners would make it a lot easier to decide whether to get a motorcycle license and how to get one if needed.
If you’re going to preorder an Aptera, and you feel like we’ve given you good information about Aptera, feel free to use our referral link to make your preorder. You’ll save $30, and we will get an Aptera of our own for detailed testing.
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