Changes in consumer preferences can catch government unprepared. Witness the number of governments large and small scrambling to accommodate, or regulate or ban the likes of ride-sharing service Uber and hotel alternative Airbnb.
Back in the day, I suppose, government scrambled too to accommodate consumers’ new preference for the automobile over the horse. A little Internet surfing shows that in 1901, Connecticut became the first state to enact a speed limit for automobiles. (It was 12 mph in cities, 15 mph on rural roads.) The first speeding ticket was issued three years later in Dayton, Ohio. Cleveland, the Ohio city, not the Johnston County community, erected the first stoplight in 1912. The proliferation of a new mode of transportation, the automobile, had prompted new regulations and enforcement of those regulations.
Lately, some drivers have taken a shine to golf carts; they are a common sight in my Four Oaks neighborhood. And a few years back, Benson had to address golf carts because they had become a preferred way of getting around the town’s Mule Days festival. Now, Clayton leaders have heard a request to legalize golf carts on downtown streets.
On social media, reaction to the Clayton request has been, not surprisingly, mixed. It has ranged from “yes please” to “uh no.” Here’s another resident’s way of saying no, at least I think he was against the idea: “What are we becoming, a South Florida old-age community? Get up and walk to where you need to be. Please don't turn this whole town into a 55+ community.”
In Clayton, cars, of course, are legal on town streets, but so are bicycles, horses and pedestrians. In that sense, golf carts are just another form of transportation and should reasonably be legal on Clayton streets.
Then again, while horses and bicycles are legal on Clayton streets, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one on Main Street or on Front Street, which leads to the 55+ community seeking legal street-legal golf carts in town. Perhaps that’s because horses and bicycles don’t travel quickly enough from point A to point B. Or perhaps that’s because no one in his right mind would ride a horse or bicycle on a busy Clayton street. (I think that would go double at nighttime.)
But compared to a horse or bicycle, a golf cart is speedy, making it a more acceptable alternative to a car for getting from, say, a 55+ community on Front Street to one of the many restaurants in downtown Clayton.
But against a car or truck, a golf cart is no safer than a horse or bicycle, so if Clayton or any other Johnston town is inclined to make golf carts legal on town streets, it should do so with safety foremost in mind.
In my Four Oaks neighborhood, children of all ages drive golf carts. That might be OK in a quiet residential area like mine, but it won’t do on Main Street in Clayton, which is to say that if golf carts become legal in Clayton, their drivers should be of legal age, or 16. And if they’re going to be on Clayton streets after dark, golf carts should have headlights and taillights. On more than one occasion, I’ve come close to hitting a golf cart after dark and ending the lives of one or more children.
In a free country, people ought to be able to come and go when and how they please, and that means by golf cart at all hours. But while I believe in that freedom, I also believe no one should have to live the rest of his life knowing that he killed someone on a golf cart because that cart or its driver wasn’t ready for the roadway.