Polk could consider regulating golf carts on some public roads

Published 5:09 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Commissioners asking for resident feedback on Jan. 8

COLUMBUS – The Polk County Board of Commissioners set a public hearing to gauge from residents whether the county should regulate golf carts and which public roads residents would be interested in including.


Commissioners met Monday, Dec. 4 and heard from resident Mel Collins, who spoke in favor of the county regulating golf carts. Commissioners also heard from county attorney Jana Berg regarding a possible ordinance if the county decides to regulate golf carts.


Collins said he lives on Green River Cove Road where a number of residents have golf carts, including one man who recently lost a limb who uses one to go to church, and by a lady who uses one to transport children around the cove.


Golf carts are legal to use on roads that have a speed limit of 35 mph or under in North Carolina, as long as the golf cart’s VIN is registered with the state, and it has all safety features, including headlights, tail lights, turn signals and seat belts. The driver must be over 16 years old and licensed. The golf cart must also carry insurance.


Collins said the problem with the state regulating the golf carts is it costs $2,600 to affix a VIN number and there are only three locations in the state that can assign a VIN number.


The county can regulate golf carts with a serial number, which Collins said would save residents $2,600.


“If the county regulates, the sheriff’s office can inspect and collect a registration fee,” Collins said. “The only real difference in what we are proposing and the state is the VIN number versus a serial number and $2,600.”


Collins also said there are hundreds of bicycles that travel Green River Cove Road as well as farm equipment, which don’t have to be regulated and don’t have to carry insurance like golf carts.


“We just think this is a very rational proposal,” Collins told commissioners. “This is going to be well regulated and people are going to have to have the identical safety equipment they would have to have them today through the state.”


Commissioner chair Tommy Melton asked if the golf cart has to be gas or electric. Collins said through the state it has to be electric only. Through the county, a golf cart can be gas or electric.


Berg said the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) has a model ordinance to regulate golf carts on public streets under 35 mph and licensed drivers at least 16 years of age. Berg said if the county decides to regulate golf carts, the county can add restrictions to the state’s ordinance, but the county’s ordinance can not be less restrictive than the state’s.


The county’s ordinance would also require the golf cart driver to abide by all state laws, including not operating the cart while under the influence, and obeying all traffic rules and regulations, according to Berg. Another requirement if the county decides to regulate golf carts is that people registering them would have to register with a county agency. Berg suggested the sheriff’s office for an inspection, to check proof of insurance and to collect a fee for a sticker.


Commissioner Shane Bradley asked if golf cart operators could do the inspection at a normal inspection station, so as not to tie up someone in the sheriff’s office. The owner of the vehicle would pay for the inspection, Bradley said.


Berg said the county can’t make an inspection department do the inspection for the county. If the county had no inspection agencies willing to take on the inspections, the county would need to have the ability to give owners the inspections.


Commissioner Jake Johnson asked if the county can charge for an inspection.


Berg said the county could charge $50 for an inspection and the owner would have to renew that every year.


Commissioner Ray Gasperson asked if the county could restrict this to golf carts only, and not include 4-wheelers or ATVs. Berg said yes, it would have to be a golf cart.


Melton said he has mixed emotions on the county regulating golf carts.


Gasperson asked if the county could restrict the use to certain roads, like Green River Cove Road and not make it county-wide.


Melton suggested a public forum to ask what residents want. Melton also said he would like some statistics regarding golf cart use from the sheriff’s office and the N.C. Highway Patrol.


“There’s no way I’d get a golf cart on a public highway,” Melton said.


Commissioner Myron Yoder said he doesn’t see the difference between golf carts and mini bikes that are on the road. Yoder also said he would like for the inspections to be done at an outside agency to keep it off the sheriff’s office, like he does for his motorcycle.


“I also don’t see why the sheriff would have to do that,” Yoder said.


Gasperson said he doesn’t want this to be a county-wide thing. He said it should be for individual roads and the county should come up with a system for residents to petition the county to add certain roads.


Commissioners decided to set a public hearing for Monday, Jan. 8 at 6:30 p.m. Residents are invited to come and give feedback on whether the county should regulate golf carts and what roads would be feasible.


Currently, the City of Saluda and Town of Tryon allow golf carts with certain restrictions.