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Humvees and other military surplus vehicles could be street legal under Michigan Senate bills

Humvee inside the Allegan County Sheriff's Department Monday, April 6, 2015. The sheriff's department has acquired surplus military vehicles and equipment. (Cory Morse | MLive.com The Grand Rapids Press/TNS)
February 24, 2020

Ex-military vehicles could become street legal under legislation passed in the Michigan Senate this week.

Currently, Michigan residents can purchase decommissioned military surplus vehicles from the federal government. But the vehicles have to be titled as an off-road vehicle, meaning owners can only drive them on off-road trails and can’t register them for general use.

Senate Bills 344, 345 and 346, sponsored by Sens. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, and Erika Geiss, D-Taylor, would let owners of military surplus vehicles like Humvees register them as historic vehicles.

That designation wouldn’t mean people could use the vehicles as their main source of transportation, although the Secretary of State allows vehicles with historic or authentic plates to be driven without restrictions during August.

The $30 historic registration fee is good for 10 years and lets owners of eligible vehicles drive to participate in parades, tours, exhibitions and other events.

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Under the legislation, a person applying for historic registration for their military surplus vehicle would have to have it inspected by a police officer to ensure it has all required safety features before the Secretary of State could issue the plate.

“Owners of these types of vehicles want them for their personal use, collection and restoration,” Barrett said in a statement. “My bills would enable folks to register these vehicles for parades, events and general use.”

The bills are supported by many collectors, military service members and veterans, although they were met with mixed reviews in the Senate, where many Democrats voted against the bills.

The Secretary of State’s office opposes the bill. Spokesperson Jake Rollow said the opposition stems from concerns that the vehicles weren’t designed for regular street use and aren’t subject to the same safety and emissions standards as other cars and trucks.

“We’re concerned about their ability to be safe, both for people operating them and for others,” he said.

Rollow said the Secretary of State is open to conversations about another kind of historical designation: “We fully understand and appreciate their cultural significance.”

A similar plan cleared the legislature last session, but then-Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed the proposal. In a message to the legislature, he wrote that if military surplus vehicles were given historic registration status, “vehicles that were never manufactured or intended for on road passenger use could be registered and permitted on public streets and roads.”

The bills now head to the House for further review. They would need to pass the House and be signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to become law.

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