WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – From the fairways to the roadways, golf carts are becoming a more common sight on roads all around the Cape Fear Region.
They might offer people a convenient option to get around town, especially in places like Carolina Beach where their use is now ubiquitous. But the typically low-speed and light-weight carts are also becoming more prevalent in landlocked communities where drivers of full-sized vehicles are less conditioned to sharing the roads with vehicles made for the links.
Earlier this month, a couple was driving their golf cart home from a party in Holly Springs when something went wrong, and a 41-year-old woman was killed. It’s a scene that is becoming more common, according to Holly Springs Police Chief Pau Liquorie.
The rise in golf cart-related accidents has led many people to question whether these vehicles should be allowed on the roads, and if so, what regulations govern them?
For 20 years, the state has regulated these so-called low-speed vehicles (LSVs) and their ability to travel along state-maintained roads.
“The operation of a low-speed vehicle is authorized with the following restrictions: 17 (1) A low-speed vehicle may be operated only on streets and highways 18 where the posted speed limit is 35 miles per hour or less. This does not 19 prohibit a low-speed vehicle from crossing a road or street at an 20 intersection where the road or street being crossed has a posted speed 21 limit of more than 35 miles per hour,” according to state law.
But, it’s not just about speed limits, low-speed vehicles also need to have safety equipment similar to that of a car.
“A low-speed vehicle shall be equipped with headlamps, stop lamps, turn signal lamps, tail lamps, reflex reflectors, parking brakes, rearview mirrors, windshields, windshield wipers, speedometer, seat belts, and a vehicle identification number,” the law states.
Ronnie Stocks owns the Golf Cart Outlet in Wilmington and he says business is booming — not only for golf carts but for low-speed vehicles, which are, basically, modified golf carts.
“These are approved on state-controlled roads where the speed limits are 35. That’s where you can go. The carts can only do 21-25 miles per hour. Now you can cross over 45 or 55 but you can’t go down them, and you don’t need to,” he said.
Golf carts or LSVs are an easy way to get around town for short trips, and a way to save some gas. That convenience is what led Carolina Beach to become almost synonymous with golf carts, according town manager Bruce Oakley.
“A lot of it is citizen-driven, a lot of citizens who have purchased these golf carts and want to use them to make short errands instead of getting in their car and driving – they can just hop in a golf cart and get back and forth quickly – I think that was a lot of the impetus of having this approach to golf carts “
It’s not just beach towns, the carts are making their way inland, too.
But since they don’t often feel like cars, people sometimes treat them as toys. Corporal Colby Edens with the Carolina Beach Police Department explains some of the issues they have faced.
“We’ve had calls about kids, I can’t give the exact ages but 7,10, 13 years old – because at their house in their yard they can drive them, and they may be better than some adults. But here on the roads, you have to be of licensed age to drive them,” Edens said.
And it’s not just underage drivers. While you might be able to sip a beer while you’re on the 9th hole, it’s not the same when you’re on the road.
“Every motor vehicle law that is sanctioned for motor vehicles also applies to golf carts. You can not drink and drive. You can not have an open container in the car while you are driving,” Edens said.
While places like Carolina Beach currently allow golf carts as well as low-speed vehicles, the town could see some changes to its golf cart ordinance.
“We have seen a pretty significant increase in golf carts so we’re having to review our ordinances and see if there is anything we need to review,” Oakley said. “We always want to enhance the safety of our public, our citizens, and visitors.”
In Wilmington, police say all golf carts must be low-speed vehicles if they want to be on public roads and, again, they are expected to follow all of the rules of the road that apply to vehicles.
For now, most places in the region don’t allow anything other than low-speed vehicles but regardless of what they are called, it does not appear that their popularity is going away anytime soon.
“We usually keep two to three hundred golf carts just around but because of the slow inventory turnaround, there is a shortage of golf carts, so we’re using our main ones just for low-speed vehicles — our upper clientele customers,” Stocks said.
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