One North Wildwood father has discovered the key to encouraging his children to get ready faster for their beach trips.
Greg Fagan’s newfound secret? Take them in an electric low-speed vehicle.
The vehicles are not to be confused with golf carts, but might pass for them at first glance. They can go up to 25 mph, are powered by electricity, and share a four-wheeled, no-door structure similar to a golf cart.
On a recent day, Fagan’s 16-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son climbed into the backseat of their father’s four-passenger vehicle as the upbeat “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay rang out from a portable speaker.
In some towns, including North Wildwood, drivers can purchase permits to park right on the beach — and the Fagans enjoy that special access.
“Normal parking takes forever,” said Fagan, 52, who owns his vehicle. “... It’s less of a headache for my wife and kids, so I don’t care what it costs, really.”
Towns along the Shore have seen low-speed vehicles cruising down their streets with increasing frequency in the last five years. Many have turned to this energy-efficient mode of transportation to help them move with ease from sandy beaches to downtown destinations.
Low-speed vehicles are regulated under the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and by the state. Licensed drivers can take them on roads with speed limits not exceeding 25 mph or 35 mph if a municipality deems that appropriate, according to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission.
The guidelines state that low-speed vehicles “must be titled, registered and insured in New Jersey. However, they are not subject to regular vehicle inspection” and may be exempt from state sales tax if certified by the state Department of Environmental Protection commissioner.
Vehicles need to be equipped with the same features as a car — windshields, brakes, and seatbelts for all passengers, as well as head, tail, and stop lights.
Municipalities can ban them. A spokesperson for the motor vehicle commission said the agency does not track such bans.
Tricia Piola, the owner of Harbor Outfitters, a shop with locations in Stone Harbor and Sea Isle City that rents and sells the low-speed vehicles, said they fit with the pace Shore visitors seek: At the beach, they want their lives to slow down.
“It just makes you feel fancy-free,” she said of the vehicles, which can be rented for about $1,000 for one week.
Piola said the eco-friendly vehicles are especially popular with tourists and families looking for convenient ways to get around during trips to the Shore.
“I need to grow my fleet,” she said, looking out her Stone Harbor shop’s window at the sole vehicle that had been returned that day.
The increased demand for low-speed vehicles isn’t unique to Piola’s business.
“Our biggest problem is keeping up with everything,” said Ethan McGinnis, who co-operates South Jersey Electric Vehicles, which has locations in Egg Harbor Township, Rio Grande, and Wildwood.
Emily Adams, who works with the business’ sales and rentals, said they’ve accomplished that by adding 10 more vehicles to their fleet over the last two years.
“It’s the cool new toy that everybody wants to have,” she said.
Jen and Mike Kleuskens, who have come to Stone Harbor during the summer for years, purchased a vehicle for $12,000 a year ago.
They prefer this method of travel to prevent tracking sand into their car when they go to the beach. Plus, their four kids “love it.”
The couple are happy with their purchase, but that came after contentious debate –– Mike wanted a black one; Jen preferred lime green.
Others, such as Laura Heinmiller, opt to rent a vehicle. She comes to Avalon or Stone Harbor every year with her husband and five children to escape the Minnesota cold and spend time with her extended family.
The party totals 15, so the vehicle the Heinmillers rent is spacious — seating seven to eight. The Heinmillers shelled out $1,000 for a weeklong rental — Saturday to Saturday — from Harbor Outfitters for a rover.
“We joke that you don’t really feel like you’re on vacation unless you have [one],” Heinmiller said.
With five kids ranging in age from 2 to 10, safety is a top priority. Only she and her husband get behind the wheel, but the children are satisfied with being passengers.
John Regan, 58, who lives in Bensalem and has a summer home in North Wildwood, said he sees “more and more” of the vehicles on the road. People stop him on the streets to ask about his experience with the one he owns.
“It’s important to remember that all the rules of driving a real car apply to driving this,” he said, even though the vehicle may appear to just be “a little thing.”
That means drivers must follow the usual rules of the road, such as wearing a seatbelt, using turn signals, and not driving under the influence.
Other coastal cities in states such as South Carolina and Florida permit the use of low-speed vehicles.
In Florida, golf carts may also be driven on certain roads if municipalities allow them. Golf cart drivers do not need a license and may be as young as 14, though low-speed vehicle drivers do need a license like operators in New Jersey. South Carolina adopted tighter permitting laws for golf carts in 2018 and requires drivers to be licensed.
Several New Jersey police officers told The Inquirer that people abide by the laws and responsibly drive low-speed vehicles in their towns, even as their popularity grows.
“You’d think you’d have a kid here or there trying to take mom’s and pop’s car [on the road], but we haven’t seen that at all,” said Matthew Gallagher, the North Wildwood police chief.
Chris Luesner, the Middle Township police chief and president of the New Jersey Association of Chiefs of Police, said officers working in Shore communities have told him that low-speed vehicles have not caused problems on the road.
While these vehicles are not made with the same comprehensive set of safety features as other vehicles, Luesner said, he thinks the regulations successfully mitigate potential risks.
Ultimately, he said, these are communities where people are trying to have “good, clean fun and get down to the Shore for vacation.”