Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Golf carts? Go for it…

Golf carts are going beyond the green these days to become a greener alternative to your car.

More and more people are toying with this mode of transportation beyond the golf course. I’ve seen it just blocks from my house, even though we’re far from a grocery store or other retail and about a mile from the nearest gas station.

Several Indiana towns allow golf carts as alternative forms of transportation, and others are debating the safety. Four states actually have on their books laws against golf-cart usage on public streets, according to the Indianapolis Star.

If a cart has safety lights, then why is this any more of a safety concern than the casual cyclist, or someone on a scooter?

Writes Star reporter Tim Evans:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration does not recognize golf carts as on-road vehicles, so they don't have to meet the same federal safety standards as automobiles. McGwin said he isn't opposed to expanding the use of golf carts but said safety must be addressed. That includes requiring operator training and seat belts.

…Dennis Rosebrough, spokesman for the state Bureau of Motor Vehicles, concedes the law is unclear. He said the BMV's stance is that golf carts cannot be registered with the agency, "so, in theory, they should not be on the roads."

So why are bicycles allowed to share those same roads, but not golf carts?

According to the Associated Press, citing studies reviewing U.S. emergency room records, 1,000 Americans are injured each month while riding golf carts.
Males aged 10 to 19 and people older than 80 had the highest injury rates….
falling or jumping out of carts accounted for the largest number of injuries, 38

Only half occurred on streets or residential property. The report continues:

... golf cart injuries are hardly an epidemic. According to the database from which the studies were derived, there were 35 times as many injuries blamed on bicycles in 2006, and golf carts were also far outstripped by injuries blamed on vacuum cleaners, roller skates and swing sets, among others.

Cyclists must ensure they follow safety rules, whether it’s proper hand signals, reflectors or helmets. With a little common sense on the part of the riders and similar safety features for golf carts, there’s no reason why this mode of transportation shouldn’t be an option. In Gas City, Indiana, the Star reports:

Carts must be equipped with head-, tail- and brake lights, a windshield and a triangular slow-moving-vehicle emblem. Drivers must be at least 16 and provide
proof of insurance when they register their carts each year with the police department. The carts may not be used on state highways and may cross them only
at designated intersections with traffic lights.

Still, if you’re looking to save costs, you’ll need to weigh the cost of acquiring a cart with the benefit of the gas you’ll save over the long term. According to the Star, golf carts can be found for as little as $2,500, and can cost about 3 cents a mile to operate.

If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, there’s the Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, which retail around $8,000, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
The vehicles run on batteries, carry license plates, and can be legally operated on thoroughfares with speed limits up to 35 miles per hour – at least for now.
Before you hop on board the golf cart trend, make sure it meets your lifestyle. If you’re currently facing a heavy commute, live long distances from retail, your church or workplaces or other places you often frequent, or have small children, this might not be right for you just yet.

Not ready for a golf cart? Find other ways to save gas on your commute and daily living.

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