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Lawmakers make way for golf carts on Virginia roads

By   /   February 18, 2011  /   No Comments

Abby Rogers

Virginia Statehouse News

Residents in some of Virginia’s smaller towns have been using an alternate means of transportation to get around town — golf carts. Now lawmakers are looking to set restrictions on where these carts can go.

Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Montross, has sponsored legislation allowing the use of golf carts on public roads throughout the state.

According to the bill, golf carts could only be used on roads with a speed limit of 25 mph or less. The vehicles can cross streets at intersections controlled by traffic lights and if the highway has a speed limit that doesn’t exceed 35 mph. The bill also requires golf carts to display a slow-moving vehicle emblem and stipulates residents need a valid driver’s license to operate a golf cart on a public highway.

A special provision in the bill would allow would allow golf carts in Colonial Beach to cross any highway that has an intersection marked with a golf cart crossing sign.

Clarksville, a town near the North Carolina state line, already allows residents to drive their golf carts on the 25 mph back roads, said police department administrative assistant Carol Elliott.

“We’re a very small rural town,” Elliott said. “It’s a few that do it, especially in the summer going down to the lake.”

Clarksville requires the cart drivers to obtain a yearly permit. They must show proof of insurance for the cart and must be at least 16 years old to drive it, Elliott said.

The permit program began in the end of 2009, making this the first year residents needed to renew their permits. Since the program’s inception, Elliott said she hasn’t seen any accidents involving the golf carts and she also hasn’t seen any problems between cars and the carts.

Despite those promising facts, Elliott cautioned against passing legislation that would create blanket statewide regulations for golf carts..

Limiting carts to streets with speed limits of 25 mph or less isn’t enough. Stuart’s bill doesn’t consider traffic patterns or other unique factors in a community, she said.

In Clarkesville, the main road, Virginia Avenue, has a posted speed limit of 25 mph but golf carts aren’t allowed on the road because of traffic congestion. The bill doesn’t take that into consideration, she said.

Golf cart driving is common in Colonial Beach, said Colonial Beach Police  Lt. Ron Webster.

“We have quite a few that do that,” he said.

Speed limits on streets in town are set at 25 mph so golf carts are able to drive on them. However, like all slow-moving vehicles, golf carts have to move to the right to let other vehicles pass them, Webster said.

If a golf cart were to drive on a road with a higher speed limit, the driver would receive a ticket, he said.

Colonial Beach also designates certain intersections where golf carts can cross. One is near a new housing development. The golf cart-friendly intersection allows carters to cross from the development to a nearby shopping center, Webster said.

There’s also an intersection at the edge of town that allows golf cart drivers to cross from the county into the town. At all locations, the speed limit is 25 mph so they’re already in line with state law, Webster said.

Despite the increased use of the golf carts, Webster said he hasn’t seen any golf cart-related accidents in his more than three years with the Colonial Beach Police Department.

“It’s not a safety hazard,” he said. “They have to be inspected and they have to have certain pieces of equipment.”

While golf carts in Colonial Beach are inspected every year to make sure they display a slow-moving vehicle emblem, just as Stuart’s bill requires, the town’s inspection process also requires golf carts to have seat belts, headlights, a horn and a review mirror, Webster said.

Stuart’s bill passed the Senate in early February and moved to the House Committee on Transportation. It passed the House on Feb. 14, and is now headed to the governor’s desk for his consideration.