- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Utah lawmakers plan to set safety and licensing rules next year for three-wheeled vehicles that resemble motorcycles but operate like cars.

Autocycles have barely begun showing up on Utah roads, but state Rep. Stewart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, said the state needs to have rules in place before manufacturers start rolling out the unconventional vehicles in force.

“In the next year or two, you’ll see them everywhere,” he predicted.

Most autocycles have two side-by-side wheels on the front, and one in the back. But instead of handle bars they have steering wheels and safety features such as a steel roll cage, air bags or anti-lock brakes.

Chris Caras, the director of the Utah Driver License Division, said state officials reported a few months ago that about 65 of the vehicles had been registered in Utah so far.

Caras said they’re expected to become more popular because many models offer better gas mileage than most cars and have a futuristic, sporty look.

The vehicles have thus far been classified as motorcycles, and driver’s license officials have had to put drivers through tests that motorcycle drivers take.

“It doesn’t seem to make good business sense, nor does it serve any real traffic safety purpose, if you’re licensing them to operate a motorcycle but they’re operating something that handles like a car,” Caras said.

Utah should make it easier for people to own the narrow vehicles and clarify which laws about seatbelts, helmets and licensing should apply, Barlow said.

Under legislation Barlow plans to introduce next year, regulators would still treat autocycles like motorcycles because they don’t have four wheels like cars and trucks. But because the vehicles drive like cars, autocycle operators would be allowed to skip motorcycle licensing requirements.

The proposal would spell out required safety features for autocycles, including headlights and seatbelts, which passengers would be required to wear.

Barlow’s bill would also set rules for some versions of autocycles that are not fully enclosed with a roof and require an operator to sit on a saddle like a motorcycle instead of a seat. Those open-air autocycles would require operators or passengers under 18 to wear a helmet, as Utah requires for motorcycles.

His proposal is modeled after a law Idaho lawmakers approved this year.

Congress is also considering legislation that would require autocyles to follow federal motor vehicle laws, but Barlow said Utah still needs to address the issue locally to ensure the rules are clear for licensing officials and law enforcement.

Phoenix-based Elio Motors, which is rolling out a three-wheeled autocycle, has lobbied for similar legislation in other states.

Barlow said he has not worked with Elio on his bill.

Joel Sheltrown, Elio’s vice president of governmental affairs, said Utah’s bill is a great step in the right direction. He said about 20 states have passed legislation addressing autocycles in recent years.

Wayne Jones, the executive director of Utah Powersport Dealers Association, which represents sellers of motorcycles and ATVs, told lawmakers in October that his industry supports the proposal.

Jones did not return messages seeking additional details.

Utah legislators will consider Barlow’s bill when they meet for their annual session starting in January.

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