Golf carts are no longer confined to golf courses. These leisure vehicles have been making the rounds through neighborhood streets, community parks and pedestrian sidewalks. With their low speeds and easy operation, they can lull people into thinking they are safer than they actually are.
Dr. Jesse Walck, medical director of the Pediatric Emergency Department at The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart, said in the past he’s treated several golf cart-related injuries in the ER. Sacred Heart Hospital is part of Ascension, the largest non-profit health system in the U.S.
“Golf carts can be especially dangerous for children both as drivers and passengers,” Dr. Walck said. “Parents won’t let their kids ride a bicycle without a helmet, but they will let their kids drive golf carts without any supervision. Golf carts are not suitable toys for kids because they don’t have the motor skills and judgment that is essential for driving.”
A study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy found the number of golf cart-related injuries rose by a staggering 132 percent from 1990 to 2006. The most common types of golf cart-related injuries were soft tissue damage, such as bruises, fractures and lacerations. Other injuries included concussions, internal injuries, subdural hematoma, spinal cord injury, or acute respiratory compromise. The number of injuries will continue to rise as demand for recreational golf carts continues to grow.
Nathan Ford, public information officer for the City of Gulf Breeze, said he understands why people find golf carts an appealing mode of transportation.
“Golf carts are fun to drive and save on gas, but adults need to be mindful of what they and their kids are doing,” Ford said. “I’ve seen teens overload their friends in golf carts, kids driving themselves to sporting events, and people driving through parks.”
Ford said it’s important for people who are operating golf carts to know they have to follow all rules of the road that apply to conventional vehicles. For example, a person cannot consume alcohol while driving a golf cart, or drive through park or field systems and pedestrian sidewalks.
“Since public safety is a major concern for the City of Gulf Breeze Council and the Police Department, we are actively reviewing policy on golf cart usage and registration,” he added.
In Florida, 16-year-olds are required to complete driving education classes before they get behind the wheel of a car. Children’s inability to understand the rules of the road can lead to a serious accident, Dr. Walck warned.
Under Florida law, golf carts are designed for use on golf courses and for certain recreational purposes. They may not be operated on public roads or streets by anyone under age 14. Also, these motorized carts are not allowed on roadways where the posted speed limit is greater than 35 mph.
To stay safe on golf carts, make sure you:
• Don’t let children younger than 14 drive golf carts unsupervised.
Don’t overload with passengers or equipment.
• Don’t let children ride on your lap.
· Keep arms and legs inside the cart.
• Sit back in the seat and use the hip restraints.
• Wear seat belts when available.
• Are prepared to use the handgrip to prevent a fall.
• Do not get on or off the cart until it has come to a complete stop.