The state of Rhode Island has recently issued a formal request to owners of vehicles classified as "kei cars" to voluntarily surrender their registrations. This measure stems from ongoing concerns regarding the safety and legality of operating these diminutive vehicles on Rhode Island roadways.

What are Kei Cars?

Kei cars are a unique class of ultra-compact vehicles predominantly manufactured in Japan. They are designed to meet stringent size and engine displacement regulations to qualify for certain tax and insurance benefits in their home country. Kei cars often feature small four-cylinder engines with displacements ranging from 0.66 liters to 0.99 liters, as well as highly space-efficient designs to maximize interior space within their diminutive dimensions.

Safety Concerns Raised

Rhode Island officials have expressed concerns about the safety of kei cars due to their inherent size and performance limitations. Compared to standard passenger vehicles, kei cars offer less occupant protection in the event of a collision. Additionally, their smaller engines and reduced horsepower may limit their ability to maneuver safely in high-speed traffic conditions.

Legality in the United States

The legality of operating kei cars in the United States has been a topic of debate. While some states have explicitly prohibited their operation, others have allowed their registration on a case-by-case basis. In Rhode Island, the legality of kei cars has been unclear, with no definitive regulations governing their use.

Voluntary Surrender Request

In light of the aforementioned safety and legal concerns, the Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has reached out to all known kei car owners in the state, requesting their voluntary surrender of registration. The DMV emphasizes that this request is not a directive but rather an appeal for cooperation.

Consequences of Non-Compliance

While the DMV is not currently actively enforcing a ban on kei car operation, it reserves the right to take action against vehicles that do not comply with state regulations. This could include the seizure and impoundment of vehicles or the issuance of citations for operating an unregistered or illegal vehicle.

Options for Kei Car Owners

Kei car owners who wish to comply with the DMV's request have several options available to them:

  • Surrender registration: Owners can voluntarily surrender their registration at any Rhode Island DMV branch.
  • Export vehicle: Owners may choose to export their kei car to a country where its operation is legal.
  • Convert to kit car: In some cases, it may be possible to convert a kei car into a kit car, which could allow for its registration as a custom vehicle.

Impact on Kei Car Market

The DMV's request is expected to have a significant impact on the kei car market in Rhode Island. As owners voluntarily surrender their registrations, the number of kei cars operating on state roadways will likely decrease. However, it is important to note that this is not a complete ban on kei cars and that some owners may choose to pursue alternative options to maintain their vehicles.


The Rhode Island DMV's request to kei car owners to voluntarily surrender their registrations is a reflection of growing safety concerns surrounding these vehicles. While the request is not a legal mandate, owners are strongly encouraged to consider their options and comply with the state's recommendations. By working together, the DMV and kei car owners can help ensure the safety of all road users in Rhode Island.

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