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States make way for low speed vehicles

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Neighborhood electric vehicles can have a range of up to 50 miles per charge, which costs about $1. But things are even better for NEV owners in Lincoln, Calif.

In 2006, Lincoln passed laws that led to special sign­age (“You are entering a neighborhood electric vehicle-friendly community”) and NEV lanes. Residents of the gated communities who lobbied for the laws can easily cruise downtown. It’s common to see mall parking lots with charging stations, where retailers pay to top off NEV batteries for free. Studies put the number of NEVs operating in Lincoln at about 600 – and growing.

David Honeywell, an engineering manager at a local tech company, was one of the first NEV drivers in Lincoln. He joined in the gated communities’ fight for NEV access to roads. Once the laws passed, he hit the roads. But he had an unusual problem.

“I was getting stopped by people all the time, saying ‘What is it?’ ” he says. So he created a website – www.lincolnev.com – and printed it on cards that he hands out, “just so I could get some shopping done.”

Mr. Honeywell was irked by naysayers’ claims that NEV advocates were just exchanging tailpipe emissions for even dirtier smoke stack emissions from power plants. So he studied the issue, crunching numbers he has had verified by experts on the California Air Resources Board.

He found that an NEV charged in California, where clean-air standards are tougher on power plants, is more than six-times cleaner than a gas vehicle when it comes to carbon-dioxide emissions and many times that for nitrous oxide. When charged at an average location in the US, NEVs still produce three times less carbon dioxide.

Even so, long suffering electric-car purists often look with disdain on NEVs. Bob Rice, president of the New England Electric Auto Association, calls NEVs “training wheels for real electric cars.” They give full-blown electric cars that operate at highway speeds a bad name by slowing up gas-powered vehicles, he says.

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