Superhero Vehicles – “Chicks love the car”

by on Sep.02, 2009, under Federal and State Regulations

The Batmobile, Ghostrider’s flaming Harley Davidson, and even Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, no crime-fighting gadget is more identifiable or awesome than the superhero vehicle. (Ok, maybe not the jet.) While maintaining a secret identity prevents these heroes from listing their vehicles on an insurance policy, what other regulations are these turbo-charged transports violating as they careen through our streets and fly over our homes?

In addition to State and Federal regulations to carry liability insurance for the above-mentioned vehicles, motor vehicles, planes, and even boats must be registered either with a State’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or the Federal Aviation Administration1 (FAA). Once registered, these vehicles must display registration or identification information. Automobiles2 and motorcycles3 must have at least one license plate (depending on the state of registration) and boats and planes must display visible identification numbers.

So now our heroes find themselves in an uninsured, unregistered, likely experimental or home-made vehicle with….a mask covering their faces and obstructing their vision! Some jurisdictions have laws prohibiting or regulating the wearing of masks (covered in a future post), however, for most heroes this behavior would either fall into the category of reckless driving (for driving with impaired vision) or as a violation of laws prohibiting driving with covered ears (drafted, among other reasons, to ensure that drivers can hear emergency vehicles).

Most of us are aware of the laws that apply while driving (even if we don’t abide by them). While superheroes break more than their fair share, activities such as running red lights and failing to yield hardly set them apart from average citizens. Discussed in this post are some of the less common rules and regulations these individuals find themselves facing, and breaking, while trying to enforce and uphold others.

Motor Vehicles

Fuel & Exhaust Systems – Ghostrider drives a Harley Davidson motorcycle with flaming wheels. While this could certainly qualify as reckless driving and endangerment, laws covering the modification of exhaust systems to produce flames could also apply. If he finds himself in a jurisdiction that does not allow exhaust flames, flames covering a good portion of the vehicle are definitely illegal.

Many superhero vehicles use alternative fuels or experimental engines. Any modification of a vehicle’s original fuel system is a potential violation of the Clean Air Act prohibition against tampering as regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Window Tinting – in California for example, any darkness can be used for back side and rear windows, however, front side windows must allow more than 70% of light in and only non-reflective tint is allowed on the top 4 inches of the windshield. In most representations of the Batmobile all the windows are completely tinted and reflective allowing Bruce to change into his cape and cowl in privacy. Adam West’s Batman, however, had much better forethought, never having to change on the go, allowing him to drive an un-tinted convertible.

On-board Weapons – most offensive capabilities of superhero vehicles would classify as concealed weapons. Some vehicle codes also specifically regulate against the transport of explosives, which frequently find themselves on the weapons lists of these vehicles.

Aviation Regulations

Because the use of aircraft is so highly regulated, pilots must file their destination with the FAA when they takeoff. Since Batman and Wonder Woman are taking off from secret locations it is highly unlikely that they are complying with this regulation.

Stealth – many superhero planes use some form of stealth technology or invisibility (the Batplane, the X-Men’s Blackbird, Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet), however under the Code of Federal Regulations, which governs air travel in the United States, no person may operate an aircraft from sunset to sunrise without the use of position lights to avoid midair collisions4. In addition to violating this provision, stealth planes are also in violation of a provision prohibiting the careless or reckless operation of an aircraft5.

Speed and Altitude – when flying over “congested areas” (cities) no aircraft may fly within 1,000 feet of the tallest obstruction or within 500 feet of obstacles in other areas6. Because most heroes use their planes for illegal transport within the city limits they regularly fly closer than 1,000 feet to obstacles (even landing on some of them). Planes are also prohibited from flying above 288 m.p.h under 10,000 feet. Despite the convenience of flying low in cities, adhering to these rules would have prevented the Batplane from being shot out of the air by a handgun in the first Michael Keaton Batman movie…

Dropping Objects – not surprisingly there is a regulation preventing anything from being dropped out of a plane7. For superheros with bombs and other armaments on board this provision may be of concern.

Aerobatic Flight – intentional maneuvers involving abrupt changes in an aircraft’s attitude, abnormal attitude, and abnormal acceleration, all staples of superhero piloting, are specifically prohibited under the Code8.

If all these regulations weren’t enough to discourage a crime-fighter from learning to fly, the FAA regularly restricts air traffic over areas subject to a disaster or hazard9, the very areas superheroes need to get to.

Next week we discuss the implications of superheroes joining forces and acting as a collective. Are they all liable for the actions of their group members? Are the heroes in charge required to offer medical benefits or insurance?


“It’s the car, right? Chicks love the car.” Batman to Dr. Chase Meridian in Batman Forever.

1 – An example of vehicle registration laws can be found in California Vehicle Code section 4000.

2 – Example: California Vehicle Code section 4850(a)

3 – Example: California Vehicle Code section 5030

4 – 14 C.F.R. section 91.209(a)

5 – 14 C.F.R. section 91.13(a)

6 – 14 C.F.R. section 91.119

7 – 14 C.F.R. section 91.15

8 – 14 C.F.R. section 91.303

9 – 14 C.F.R. section 91.137

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