AUGUSTA — Lawmakers are pondering what to do with a proposal that would create a new class of on-the-road vehicle that amounts to a cross between a motorcycle and an automobile.

There’s a push nationally to clarify the rules for so-called autocycles, which are basically enclosed, three-wheel vehicles that operate much like a car but without the bulk.

Companies are lining up to try to capture what they see as a potentially lucrative market. A Phoenix-based company, Elio Motors, says it anticipates selling a model for about $7,500 and says it will get 84 miles to the gallon, calling it “the ultimate commuter vehicle.”

Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, is pressing Maine to revise a law that lumps autocycles in with motorcycles, a provision that would require drivers to have motorcycle licenses and passengers younger than 18 to wear helmets.

Given that autocycles are controlled by a steering wheel, have pedal controls for braking and acceleration and have air bags in their enclosed cabin, Miramant said, the easiest solution would be to allow operators to have passenger vehicle licenses.

Lt. Bruce Scott, commanding officer of the State Police Traffic Safety Unit, isn’t convinced.

Scott told the Legislature’s Transportation Committee this week that introducing autocycles onto public roads “where they will interact with much heavier and larger vehicles” is potentially dangerous.

He pointed out the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission hasn’t defined autocycles yet and doesn’t require them to meet the federal safety standards of a passenger car.

Jacob Poski, a policy analyst for the Maine Heritage Policy Center, said that because autocycles have three wheels, a steering wheel and roll bars, they’re more like a car than a motorcycle. They also have air bags and seat belts.

As a result, he said, it is “unnecessary and burdensome for someone who wishes to drive an autocycle on Maine roads” to go through the trouble of obtaining a motorcycle license.

Poski said that Maine is one of only nine states that hasn’t yet made it easier for people with passenger vehicle driver’s licenses to operate autocycles.

He said the policy center hopes lawmakers will back the idea “so that Maine drivers have the freedom to operate autocycles on Maine roads without obtaining an unnecessary motorcycle endorsement.”

Maine used to have special rules for autocycles at a time when they were presumed to be low-speed, short-distance vehicles that were only allowed on roads posted for 45 mph or less, said Patty Morneault, deputy secretary of state for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

But the law doesn’t currently define them at all, something Miramant’s bill would change.

Elio claims to have a waiting list of more than 65,000 customers who hope to purchase autocycles. It plans to manufacture them in Louisiana.

Another company, the Minnesota-based Polaris, is selling autocycles that look more like motorcycles because they don’t have cabins.

The federal government has been reviewing the issues surrounding autocycles for years. There is no sign that it is close to announcing a new standard for them.

“It has become evident from the gridlock in Washington that we cannot wait for leadership in legislation,” Miramant said. “States are taking the lead and doing a great job.

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