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Questions and answers about mini electric cars

Are electric mini cars mobility devices?

Our view is that certain enclosed four-wheeled electric mini cars being sold as mobility devices are not mobility devices.

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Why have you come to this view?

The Land Transport Act 1998 says a mobility device is a vehicle that:

  • is designed and constructed (not merely adapted) for use by persons who require mobility assistance due to a physical or neurological impairment, and
  • is powered solely by a motor that has a maximum power output not exceeding 1500W.

Our analysis did not find evidence to support claims that electric mini vehicles were designed for physically or neurologically impaired users.

Some of the key features likely to be found on a mobility device, for example specially designed steering (such as a tiller instead of a steering wheel) for someone with impaired hand control, are not present in mini cars.

Mini cars are sold in their home market (China) as lower speed, lightweight vehicles for use in urban areas, generally on roads, supporting the view they are simply small motor vehicles for New Zealand purposes.

In our view, the intent of the legislation was to cover conventional mobility scooters. Other larger vehicle types, like these electric mini cars, would not have been envisioned at the time.

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Is this view legally binding?

We have informed Police of our view, and enforcement is their responsibility. It will be up to the Courts to determine the final status of these mini cars.

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What are some of the differences between a recognised mobility device and an electric mini car?

Based on the legislative definition, we’ve found some of the likely features of a mobility device include:

  • tiller control for users with restricted grip and inhibited dexterity
  • one seat
  • minimal obstructions to getting on and off the device, a low floor and movable armrests
  • customised throttle and braking
  • limited speed at or about pedestrian walking pace
  • narrow width enabling comfortable sharing of pathways.

Electric mini cars tend to not have these features.

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If they’re not mobility devices, what are they?

Mini cars don’t fit in our current vehicle classification systems. They look similar to an MA-Class vehicle although they are unlikely to meet the requirements of the class such as frontal impact requirements – no formal analysis on their suitability as an MA-Class vehicle has been done to date.

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Can you issue an exemption or similar to make these vehicles legal?

We can declare a vehicle a mobility device under s168A of the Land Transport Act, but we would only do this if satisfied that it was appropriate, that the engine power output does not exceed 1500W, and that their use would not increase the risk of harm to other footpath and road users.

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What does this mean for using these vehicles?

Electric mini cars cannot be used like conventional mobility scooters – that is, primarily on the footpath (and inside many shops and supermarkets) and without vehicle licensing and registration, and driver licensing, requirements.

Unless the Courts determine otherwise, they will not be able to be used at all in New Zealand because they are unlikely to meet the requirements of the relevant vehicle class, such as frontal impact requirements.

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What can owners of these vehicles do?

We appreciate there will be some very disappointed vehicle owners. Purchasers – and distributors – are encouraged to do their homework when considering new types of vehicles.

Any potential remedies are a question of consumer law – owners should contact the supplier in the first instance and the Consumer Protection website has general information about resolving problems. link)

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Will you change vehicle classifications to accommodate these vehicles?

The Transport Agency does not have the authority to change these classifications. This action would be for the Minister of Transport, or Cabinet, to decide based on advice from the Ministry of Transport.

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What are the safety concerns?

These vehicles are larger, heavier and faster than recognised mobility scooters, and their speed and size can cause problems for other users on urban footpaths.

On the road, their lack of crash protection and lower speeds relative to other vehicles can make them dangerous for operators.

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Why are people allowed to import non-compliant vehicles?

It’s the importer’s responsibility to undertake due diligence when considering importing a vehicle. What may be acceptable in another country may not be acceptable in New Zealand. Importers should also be aware that it can take time for the relevant rules to be interpreted or updated if required.

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What help is available for people wanting to import similar vehicles?

We’ve issued some guidance on what to look for when importing a mobility device.

Guidance on importing a mobility device [PDF, 46 KB]

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