Texas puts three-wheeler in legal limbo

With three wheels, the open-top Polaris Slingshot is part car and part motorcycle. But in one state it’s neither.

The sporty two-seater has two wheels in the front and one in the rear, which in most states qualifies it as a motorcycle. Some require a motorcycle license and the use of helmets to operate it, while others let you drive with a standard automobile license.

But neither is the case in Texas, where regulators have reversed an earlier decision to classify it as a motorcycle after revisiting the regulations that govern this type of vehicle. The decision was a surprise to Polaris, which had already begun offering the vehicle in the state when it was notified of the change.

Apparently, while the code that covers three-wheelers describes them as having a steering wheel, seatbelts and other features that apply to the Slingshot, it also categorizes them as “motorcycles,” and a separate code defines motorcycles as vehicles “equipped with a rider's saddle and designed to have when propelled not more than three wheels on the ground.”

Since the Slingshot has car-like seats, rather than a saddle like a Can Am Spyder or Harley-Davidson Tri-Glide, it falls through the cracks. As a result of these conflicting definitions, a Texas DMV spokesperson told FoxNews.com that “in the interest of providing for the safe operation of motor vehicles in Texas with a thorough review of current laws, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has determined Texas statutes do not allow for the Polaris Slingshot to be titled or registered.”

Although it could be used on private property, such as a racetrack, Polaris has temporarily suspended Slingshot deliveries to the Lone Star State while it works with regulators there to sort things out. According to the DMV, legislative action may be required to come to an acceptable resolution. Polaris says it “looks forward to working with DMV, DPS, the legislature and the Governor's office to develop an appropriate vehicle classification for Slingshot and operator licensing classification for its drivers, as soon as possible.”

But the Minnesota-based manufacturer may not be alone in its efforts for long. While the DMV says its current decision applies only to Polaris, there are several similar vehicles on the market today, including the Campagna T-Rex and Morgan 3-Wheeler. They’ll be joined next year by a much-publicized commuter vehicle being developed by startup Elio Motors that will sell for $6,800 and deliver a claimed 84 mpg. Elio’s vehicle is closer to a car than the others, with a full roof, doors, roll-up windows and air conditioning, but also has just three wheels.

Elio Motors wouldn’t say if it had been in contact with Texas officials about the Polaris development, but company founder Paul Elio said many of the 36,000 reservations it’s received for the vehicle are from the state, and that “when the Elio vehicle is available in late-2015, Texas residents will be able to purchase and register it with no motorcycle license or helmet required.”


Speaking of Polaris wheels: