The path to street-legal golf carts in Clayton met a roadblock Monday as the town’s police chief strongly cautioned the town council against allowing the carts to stray from the fairway.
Last month, through the proxy of real estate agent James Lipscomb, the developers of East Village Walk asked the Clayton Town Council to consider opening some town streets to golf cart traffic. Currently under construction, the 300-home community for adults 55 and older will stand on the east end of Front Street, and the developers want residents to have a low-speed route to nearby downtown.
Clayton Police Chief Wayne Bridges said he found about 15 municipalities that allow and regulate golf carts on their streets. But the chief said he found nothing to persuade him that the carts belong in Clayton.
“When I look at this, the research I did tells me what we all know: basically, golf carts are made for golf courses,” Bridges said. “The manufacturers tell you they are not made for use on roads. That is my major concern. Accidents with golf carts are on the rise across the state as more and more towns adopt ordinances on this.”
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Bridges said most of the towns with street-legal golf carts have far fewer residents than Clayton. And the chief said he found little wisdom to be gained from them other than the obvious: As vehicles, golf carts will inevitably, if rarely, crash, and there will be injuries.
“In Whispering Pines, they love their golf cart ordinance,” Bridges said. “They did, however, have a really nasty golf cart versus bicycle wreck that injured the bicyclist pretty seriously. Their chief called it remote and said that that was the only incident they’d had. But their population is 3,500.”
Introducing golf carts to downtown Clayton, largely for the sake of novelty and convenience, didn’t outweigh the added public-safety concerns for the chief. People downtown aren’t expecting to see golf carts on the street, meaning they might not see them at all, Bridges said.
“We don’t have a lot of accidents on Main Street,” he said. “I’m real careful when I drive down Main Street; it’s tight; there’s a lot of traffic in and out.
“If our goal is to bring people downtown on golf carts, I think we may be creating a safety issue. ... Motorcycle accidents happen all the time. We all know that motorcycles use roads, but the first thing an officer is going to hear is, ‘I didn’t see them.’ It’s not that you don’t see them, it’s that you don’t see them like you do cars. You don’t expect to see a golf cart; you don’t expect to see a motorcycle.”
Councilman Art Holder said public safety is his priority on the golf cart issue and added that he’s already seen the possible abuses with carts in his Glen Laurel neighborhood.
“We’ve had kids driving golf carts in Glen Laurel and underage kids not legally able to drive,” he said. “I saw a kid get thrown out of one one time and hit his head on the pavement. He was unconscious when the ambulance arrived.”
Bridges said said that in his research, kids driving the golf carts was among the main concern raised by towns with the ordinances.
“We do experience this every summer in Glen Laurel, kids driving to the pool on the golf carts, going to visit their friends,” Bridges said. “It usually takes a couple visits to mom and dad to straighten that out. The chiefs I spoke to, their major concern is that young people do tend to drive them. I have no stats to back that up other than what they told me. They see them as more of a toy than they do a mode of transportation.”
At the beach, Councilman Bob Satterfield said, everyone is on the lookout for golf carts, and the towns impose a time, usually sunset, when the carts have to find their way back to the garage.
“It’s a lot safer when you’re at a place like Carolina Beach, where everybody knows they’re there and everybody is looking out for them,” Satterfield said.
At the end of the meeting, Lipscomb spoke to the council during its public comment period and said the developer of East Village Walk will likely still purchase at least one street-legal golf cart for use within the neighborhood.
There is such a thing as a street-legal golf cart already on the market, though it’s more akin to a small electric car than something on the links. Bridges said these are already allowed under state law, have windshield wipers, headlights and taillights, must be plated and fully insured and require a driver’s license to drive.
“You may not ever see it on Main Street, but I do think that’s something they’re going to consider,” Lipscomb said.