Objection, Ambiguous: Never Assume a Vehicle’s Identity

FJA Journal

June 22, 2020

There is an emerging trend of three-wheeled motorcycles, also known as motorized tricycles or motor trikes, proliferating on the roadways. Some may even offer the appearance of a car, yet with all the hazards of a motorcycle. Interestingly enough, three-wheeled ATVs were banned in the United States in 1988, due to a rash of injuries and death, leading to the now standard four-wheeled machines.

Yet, time and time again, three-wheeled vehicles demonstrate why they pose a serious danger due to their uneven weight distribution and ambiguous nature. This article addresses the liability concerns surrounding the Polaris Slingshot, whose 2015 model was its first edition into the U.S. market.

The Slingshot seeks to appeal to both the car and motorcycle markets. It is in this identity ambiguity that the liability issues for these motor trikes come about. While motorcycle advertising tends to focus on the entirety of the vehicle and experience, the three-wheeled vehicle marketing often focuses on the driver’s engagement with the steering wheel, akin to traditional car advertising.

The Slingshot is unique in that it seeks to emulate a car in most respects, except safety. The first concern that naturally arises is that users are being potentially misled into operating this vehicle like a car. In fact, deep in its owners’ manual is an admission that the Slingshot “handles differently than two-wheel motorcycles, other three-wheel vehicles and four-wheel vehicles.” In essence, it is a brand-new, street-legal driving experience for motorists. Almost forebodingly, Polaris itself lists out 14 distinct characteristics of this vehicle that are novel for motorists:

How does a Slingshot differ from a two-wheel motorcycle?

  • Low center of gravity
  • Steering wheel
  • Foot controls (brake, clutch, accelerator)
  • Front suspension and steering
  • Side-by-side operator and passenger seats
  • Seat belts for both riders
  • Lighting
  • One rear drive wheel and two front wheels

Read Objection, Ambiguous: Never Assume a Vehicle’s Identity.