How Slow Can You Go - Are Low Speed Vehicles the Future?


Golf cart driving down leafy road
Photo by Illán Riestra Nava on Unsplash

As a global community, the fight against climate change requires that we reevaluate our energy consumption and think outside the box for potential solutions to the coming crisis. The automotive industry especially is grappling with how to service the needs of their customers while also finding ways to lower our collective carbon footprint. Cars, in their most common iteration, are gas-guzzling machines, and with over 250 million registered vehicles in the United States alone, are also terrible for the environment.


One rural community in Ontario, Canada think they might have a potential solution - low speed vehicles. In an article for TVO, Josh Sherman looked at the recent introduction of LSVs in Haldimand County, in southern Ontario, where these low-speed vehicles are now being used by bylaw officers.


While LSVs are not frequently spoken of, they are a type of vehicle that you're probably familiar with, whether you're aware of it or not:


"Classified by Transport Canada as an electric vehicle with a top speed of 40 kilometres an hour, among other criteria, it's a cross between a tiny car and a golf cart - and bylaw officers will be using it for routine enforcement trips."

That's right, the next time you're driving through a small town and see a golf cart trying to pull you over, there might just be a ticket in your future.


The appeal of utilizing LSVs for municipal enforcement is how eco-friendly they are. As an electric vehicle, they don't use gas, and their limited speed means that they don't use much energy, period. Not relying on gas, and not requiring much energy to function, also means that they are a cost-saving venture for municipal governments. Those savings will ultimately be passed on to tax payers, as the mayor of Haldimand County, Ken Hewitt, points out. From his perspective, LSVs are a win-win for everyone.


Not everyone feels the same, however. Sherman also spoke to Matti Siemiatycki, a professor of geography and planning at the University of Toronto. He believes that while an LSVs low-speeds may be appealing to some, they could be the source of problems for others: "Motorists getting stuck behind a slower-moving vehicle may result in congestion, road rage, or even dangerous driving as they try to pass." Siemiatycki also pointed out that LSVs aren't exactly new - smart cars have been on the market for years, but consumers have never shown much of an appetite for the tiny car.


Other municipalities have debated introducing LSVs to their communities, bringing up other concerns. One council member from a neighbouring Ontario county feared that LSVs would cause traffic problems and could potentially cause injuries should they be operated on highways or large thoroughfares.


In fact, Sherman brings up to a 2008 study conducted by the National Research Council Canada that found:


"There may be a substantially higher driver injury and fatality rate amongst LSV operators due to the relatively low mass of LSVs compared to other vehicles on public roads."

It's important here to point out that LSVs are not without safety features. Mayor Hewitt pointed out to Sherman that those operating an LSV will still require a license and insurance and in order to be green-lit for the road, LSVs need "proper windshields, seatbelts, blinkers, and a slow-moving vehicle sign affixed to the back."


LSVs are already in use elsewhere in Canada. In both British Columbia and Quebec, they are legal to drive. And Haldimand County's choice to adopt LSVs for bylaw enforcement actually comes as part of a provincial pilot project wherein municipalities can legalize LSVs as long as they don't exceed 50 km/h. Presumably, if the pilot project, which kicked off in 2017, is successful, Ontario could make LSVs legal in 2027.


Slowing down is never a bad option. Whether or not this venture will be successful in Ontario is yet to be seen however.


For more on this story, check out the original article in TVO by Josh Sherman.