At retirement communities from
But as the bare-bones buggies move from the back nine to the blacktop, safety experts and advocates for seniors say they're worried about them sharing the road with larger, faster cars and trucks.
"People in these vehicles are at as much risk as someone on a bicycle," said
At least two dozen states have passed laws authorizing local governments to allow golf carts on public roads and regulate their use, said
At least four states --
And it's not just a
"They're simple to operate and maintain, they're less costly, and they're a boon to the environment," said
State Laws Vary
Golf carts traversing the roadways aren't all alike, and states have different ways of dealing with them. And they're not just driven by seniors: While golf carts have long been common on college campuses and in vacation areas, some people are hopping on them to get to work and families are using them for short trips.
An article in the
Personal golf carts have a top speed of less than 20 mph. They may be gas powered or electric, and they aren't required to meet any federal safety standards. Some states require drivers to be licensed; others don't.
Low-speed vehicles (LSVs) are similar, but their top speed is 25 mph and they're often electric. Because of their higher speed, they must meet certain federal safety standards, such as being equipped with seat belts, windshields, mirrors and turn signals.
The number of states that allow LSVs on public roads has skyrocketed from 15 in 2001 to 47 today, according to the
Safety experts say there's not much of a difference between golf carts and LSVs when they share the road with bigger and heavier cars.
"If they get hit by a much larger vehicle, they aren't going to hold up," said
Cicchino said her group did a crash test in 2010 between an LSV and a Smart car. The driver in the LSV would have suffered serious or fatal injuries, she said. A driver in a regular golf cart would likely be even more at risk.
"They are not crashworthy," Cicchino said. "An SUV can weigh three or four times as much as a golf cart or an LSV."
Cicchino said it's particularly worrisome when older people are involved. "They're more fragile and more susceptible to injuries in a crash, so it can be especially dangerous."
Somers, of the golf cart industry group, disputes the insurance institute's position. "We've done our own studies that tell us these vehicles are very safe when they're used properly," he said. "They are engineered very carefully."
Many golf cart accidents or fatalities involve driver negligence, distraction, or drug or alcohol abuse, he said.
Somers said his industry agrees that golf carts shouldn't be allowed to mix with traffic on roads with speed limits that exceed 25 mph. And, he said, golf cart operators driving on public roads should be required to have a driver's license or be at least 16 and have completed driver's education.
"You shouldn't allow people who can't qualify for a driver's license, whether because of age or sight, to operate them," he said. "It's too dangerous."
Golf Cart Love
New golf carts cost from about
Many residents customize their carts, getting their names painted on them as well as their favorite sports teams' colors and logos.
"They're just fun to ride around in. I love it," said resident
Gallo said some residents soup up their carts by adjusting engine capacity so they can go faster. It's a fairly common practice, and it's illegal. Souped up carts are considered unlicensed vehicles when driven on a public roadway. Violators can be fined and charged with a misdemeanor.
In the first quarter of 2016,
"Those same reasons would make them not really fit to drive an LSV or golf cart," she said.
Lynott said state and local officials need to enact golf cart laws that protect the public. But they also need to design and build roads that are safe for golf carts, such as providing marked golf cart lanes on roads with higher speed limits, using medians and landscaping to slow down traffic, and posting signs to make sure car drivers know to watch out for golf carts.
"Golf carts raise questions about safety, but they're obviously popular," she said. "So we need to be thinking about how to make it safer to use them on our streets."
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