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Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008 05:32 pm

Make fuel-efficient cars legal in Illinois

Urban electric cars are available, but you can’t drive them here

Suppose you’re feeling patriotic. Maybe you’d like to finally do something to help America reduce its addiction to foreign oil. Perhaps you’ve thought about buying an extremely fuel efficient or electric vehicle as your second or even third transportation choice, just to run all of those endless daily errands around town.

Wouldn’t it be nice to park your big car until it’s actually needed and drive something else that uses little or no oil for all of those short trips? Save miles on the “real” car and lots of gasoline? You might make a big difference!

So, how many moderate-speed (35-40 mph) highly efficient vehicle choices are allowed by Illinois law? There is one, the lowly moped. They sure are fun and get over 100 mpg. Might be a little cold this time of year and when was the last time you tried to juggle a bag of groceries and another passenger on one in the rain? Your choice doesn’t provide much crash protection with or without the helmet, either. Sorry, it’s your only legal choice.

Your second choice is waiting until 2010 for General Motors to roll out its new $40,000 electric Volt. Honestly, the sad question of the day is, “Will GM even exist in 2010?” If GM does survive and brings you that electric car they have promised for more than 60 years, more subtle questions arise, “Why are only wealthy people able to drive cars that use little or no oil?” and “Can’t people of modest incomes choose to fight our oil addiction as well?”

Here’s the surprise. There are already more than two dozen small manufacturers in America and around the world that produce modern reasonably priced urban electric cars fully capable of meeting the 30-40 mph needs of most city drivers. These are cars with bumpers, seatbelts and dozens of other comfort and safety features far beyond those of a moped. You are denied a free market for such a vehicle in Illinois simply because our laws do not provide for it. No one can buy and drive such a modern vehicle at reasonable speeds. No small Illinois business can make money selling new ones because they cannot be licensed.

Either you drive a moped or the same old inefficient car. There is nothing in between. Several other states, including Tennessee, have already noticed this inequity and recently passed legislation (Tenn. Law 55-8-191) that creates a new “medium speed” vehicle classification. These laws provide for a free market, free choice and the opportunity for people to make things better through their own initiative. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be all about in America? Perhaps one of our legislators will simply cut and paste the same opportunity for people in Illinois. Dare I ask, can Illinois be as progressive as Tennessee on this issue?

David Brunson is the daily driver of a legal American-made antique electric car, featured in IT’s Nov. 13 issue [see Zach Baliva, “Plug and play: Fun with an electric vehicle in Springfield].

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