When is a Golf Cart Not a Golf Cart?

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During the summer when more are on the road, we occasionally see a story about a crash involving a golf cart. But all aren’t created equal.

For many coastal communities, the golf cart can be a popular choice for getting around. That’s especially true for short trips within the same neighborhood. Unfortunately, we sometimes see stories about golf carts involved in traffic accidents. As you can imagine, in such crashes, those in the carts face more serious injuries.

When some people see such stories, they ask what seems like an obvious question. They want to know what golf carts are doing on the roads with cars.

Well, it’s a valid question to a point. But you have to remember that not all “golf carts” are the same.

Golf cart or low-speed vehicle?

When police provide the media with an incident report on a crash, the incident report will typically list “golf cart” on the report. But the vehicle in question may actually be a “low-speed vehicle.”

LSVs look to most people just like golf carts. They look a little fancier, perhaps a little more souped up. But the two still look mostly the same. An officer who responds to an accident may or may not know immediately which of the two vehicles they’re looking at, particularly when they’re dealing with a lot of wreckage.

They may list golf carts on the incident report rather than LSVs because everyone can easily picture what golf carts look like.

But it turns out there’s a big difference.

Golf carts are designed for golf courses. They’re not street-legal, meaning they don’t belong on roadways unless a small community permits within their town limits.

Low-speed vehicles, on the other hand, are more likely to be street-legal. Again, that depends on the individual community, however.

In my home state of South Carolina, there are definite rules for LSVs. For one thing, to be street-legal, an LSV must have headlights and tail lights, turn signals and seatbelts. (When did you last see seatbelts on a golf cart?) LSVs also must have rear-view and side-view mirrors and windshield wipers. That suggests they must have windshields as well. They also need a speedometer and a horn.

The last time I was on a golf cart, it might have had a rear-view mirror. I don’t think it had a horn, since it was on a golf course and golfers would probably have frowned at that. It had none of the rest.

On a golf course, some teens under 16 years of age can drive their golf carts. But here, you must be at least 16 to drive an LSV and you must have a valid driver’s license.

An LSV driver can operate one day or night on streets — but only where the speed limit is under 35 mph.

The average speed of most golf carts are only about 15 mph. An LSV can go about 20-25 mph. So even at full speed, an LSV will still slow traffic behind it on a road with a 35-mph speed limit.

Yes, the terminology matters

As I said, most incident reports or news releases from law enforcement on crashes won’t differentiate between the two. Those releases typically call them “golf carts” whether they’re really golf carts or low-speed vehicles.

But the distinction is important. If a crash happens on a roadway and it involves a golf cart, unless the crash happens on private property, the cart driver is probably at least partially to blame. If the crash involves an actual low-speed vehicle, that may limit the responsibility of the LSV driver.

All too often, car drivers refuse to see the difference between the two. That’s a problem, because if the LSV is legally allowed, the car driver is required to share the road.

They may not like it, but depending on where they live, the law may well demand it.

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.