The Elio Dilemma or Why I’m Glad to be Living in New Jersey


Judie spent this past weekend at motorcycle school working toward getting her motorcycle license. She needs it to drive her Elio. She wondered if I, with one wrist fully fused, will be able to pass my test. Suddenly my ability to drive MY 3-wheel car was in doubt. Would I be legally able to drive mine when it comes?

The Can-Am Judie will be reviewing in the next few weeks.

Here’s problem #1: The Elio is a 3-wheeled vehicle that promises to get up to 84 miles per gallon, top out at speeds of 100mph or so and offer a 5 Star crash rating. Add in the fact that the car will cost under $7000 and you have a potential game-changer. Because it is a 3-wheeled vehicle however the vehicle is considered a motorcycle. As such a motorcycle license is likely needed in order to legally operate one and, in many states, there may be a helmet requirement. That, and the Can-Am 3-wheeler Judie will be reviewing soon, are why Judie went to school this weekend.

Image 2Yay Judie!


The motorcycles Judie spent the weekend riding

And here’s problem #2: A few years ago my right wrist “collapsed” thanks to rheumatoid arthritis. The only way to reduce the constant pain was to fuse it by removing all the small bones, adding a metal plate and, effectively, eliminate my wrist entirely. It worked. The pain is gone and I have full function of my hand. I do not, however, have any ability to bend my hand. What never occurred to me was the fact that many of the controls on a motorcycle are on the handlebars. Giving the bike gas or shifting gears requires bending the wrist… A wrist I do not have. That means getting a motorcycle license is all but impossible for me.

The best paid plans looked all but dashed and my non-refundable deposit on the car looked like it was in jeopardy.

The good news about the Elio

A quick search of the web made clear that 3-wheeled vehicles in New Jersey require a motorcycle license.

Every New Jersey resident who operates a motorcycle or “trike” must have a New Jersey motorcycle driver license or a motorcycle endorsement on an existing New Jersey basic or commercial license.

Uh Oh!

There is, however, one caveat.

One exception exists: The operator of a three-wheeled motor vehicle, equipped with a single cab that has a glazing around the occupant, seats similar to those of a passenger vehicle or truck, seat belts or automotive steering, is not required to have a motorcycle endorsement added to their basic automobile driver license, and is not required to wear a helmet.


Screenshot 2014 03 31 10 02 56

In other words, in the State of New Jersey the 3-wheeler will be considered a motorcycle by definition but will be treated as if it is any other car. No motorcycle license will be required and, when my Elio is ready for delivery… So am I.

Categories: Autos, Rants and Raves

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3 replies

  1. While it is good for you that in NJ there is a work-around, from what I am reading that doesn’t exist in most states … meaning you are supposed to have a motorcycle license and possibly helmet. In my opinion, unless they get that fixed, the Elio is DOA. Which is a shame.

    • Mike, it IS a shame, because I can tell you after doing it that the moto class is harder than I thought it would be, and it is nothing like what I anticipate driving the Elio will be.

      Riding the motorcycle itself isn’t that bad, but some of the things you have to do during the evaluation — like tight u-turns (figure 8s) are tough to master in the day and a half you have before having to do them, and if you are even a bit klutzy (as I am), there is a potential for dropping your bike on top of you (as I did).

      While it’s great to now have my moto driving portion under my belt, and to know that all I have left to do is take the written portion of the test for my license (I’m doing it Wednesday afternoon), I think this will turn out to be a big intimidator for anyone whose state requires them to take a Motorcycle Operator Training Course before getting their license, as Texas does.

      It’s one thing to have to take this course and get the M designation if you intend to ride a motorcycle, but it is quite another if your sole intention is to drive a fully-enclosed 3-wheeled car. Hopefully Texas (and any other state which hasn’t yet) will introduce legislation similar to what NJ has done to exempt three-wheeled cars.

  2. Good deal as long as you never need to leave NJ. :)