By Deb Patterson
Originally designed to carry two golfers and golf clubs around a golf course, golf carts are becoming modes of transportation in towns and communities. It possibly all started when gas prices skyrocketed late in 2009.
While this mode of transportation has become common in the area, the lack of knowledge on local ordinances and state guidelines regulating the use of golf carts appears to be evident.
Young drivers, those under the age of 16, are being seen more often operating these carts with and without adult supervision. Additionally golf carts without any type of headlights or taillights are also being observed.
The state enacted a statute in 2009 allowing a city, county or town to adopt by ordinance traffic regulations of golf carts or off-road vehicles (IC 9-21-1-3), as long as it did not conflict with or duplicate another state law or conflict with a driver’s licensing requirement; stipulating how fines assessed for a violation were handled and that it not be operated on a highway.
All three communities, Milford, North Webster, and Syracuse have ordinances regulating the use of golf carts. The county regulations fall under an off-road vehicle ordinance.
While each town’s ordinance varies, there is one clear rule. The golf carts can only be operated by an individual with a valid driver’s license. The ordinances also require the display of a slow moving vehicle emblem or a red or amber flashing lamp. Syracuse’s ordnance also requires full working headlights and taillights.
The ordinances require operators to obey the rules of the road, specify where children under certain ages are allowed to ride, even in the case of Milford’s ordinance anyone under the age of 2 is not allowed to even occupy the golf cart.
In all cases the golf carts are not allowed to be operated on state highways.
Greg Church, North Webster town marshal, stated golf cart users in his town have been “really good” at following the town’s ordinance and there have not been issues enforcing golf cart usage.
Chris Francis, sheriff’s office public relations officer, stated the county follows the county’s off road ordinance and the state regulations. While he believes the fad has died out some, the golf carts are used by many for just cruising the area and looking at scenery, along with saving on gas for short distance errands. “They are safer than a moped,” he noted.
“We have the ordinance, but all we ask is people use common sense. As long as they drive safely and are a proper aged driver we have no problem,” said Derek Kreider, Milford town marshal.
“We have no issues with golf carts (on town streets). We want people to stick by the rules,” said Jim Layne, Syracuse police chief, adding “we do ask if there is a line of traffic behind them (on the streets) to pull to the side and allow traffic to safely pass before they continue.”
Will Wingfield, communications director with the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, provided statistics regarding golf cart collisions. However he noted golf-cart crashes may be under-reported because the state’s crash records database does not have a specific vehicle classification for golf carts and crashes on private roads and paths may not be reported.
Additionally state law does not require police agencies to file motor-vehicle crash reports if the property damage totals under $1,000 and there is no injury or death.
What Wingfield found was in 2015 there were 28 golf cart collisions reported in the state, four with incapacitating injuries, 12 with non-incapacitating injures and two involving an operator who was alcohol impaired. That same year, Kosciusko County had four total collisions, with four non-incapacitating injures and one of those collisions had an impaired driver.
The numbers statewide increased to 47 in 2017 with five incapacitating injuries, dropping down to nine total collisions in 2019 with two incapacitating injuries, two non-incapacitating injuries and one alcohol impaired. There were no golf cart collisions found after 2015 for Kosciusko County.
Ordinances for Milford and Syracuse can be found on each town’s website. A copy of North Webster’s ordinance can be viewed and/or requested at the town hall.