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City will look at feasibility of golf carts on streets

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By Walt Reichert

Shelbyville City Council member Shane Suttor thinks golf carts may be the hole-in-one answer to local residents' coping with the rising price of gasoline.

Suttor asked the council Thursday to consider a plan that would allow golf carts to be driven on city streets.

"It's an opportunity to become more of a green city, and it's always fun to ride a golf cart," Suttor said. "It would be an opportunity to shop and eat downtown and get there on a golf cart."

The General Assembly passed legislation in its most recent session allowing cities to permit golf carts on city streets. Golf carts could not leave city limits and would be confined to roads where the speed limit is 35 miles per hour or less. The carts would also have to be equipped with safety features, including headlights, tail lights, and seat belts.

Cities could also apply other regulations if they see fit.

The law, Senate Bill 93, will take effect July 15.

Council members had questions about how the law would apply to the equipment on golf carts and whether or not the carts could cross certain streets.

City Attorney Frank Chuppe said the law is still new and many of those questions will be answered in the future. But he said the law would likely require modifications to the typical golf cart that plies the greens and fairways.

"It's not like what most of us would consider a 'golf cart,'" Chuppe said.

Members also wondered how many residents could take advantage of driving golf carts on city streets given that many of the roads they would have to take or cross have higher than 35-mile-per-hour speed limits.

"Just because one part of town may not be able to make it doesn't mean the majority of the city wouldn't be able to use it," Suttor said.

Safety concerns

Most members were concerned about safety of golf carts vs. higher-powered vehicles on roadways.

"What are the dangers?" council member Val Owens asked?

Shelbyville Police Chief Robert Schutte said safety would be a concern.

"It's a new statute and there are a lot of question marks," Schutte said. "There are good intentions but it raises a lot of questions."

University of Alabama Birmingham Professor Gerald McGwin has studied the increase in the number of injuries as more golf carts and slow-moving electric vehicles take to the roadways. He said 1,000 Americans suffer serious injury every month because of golf cart accidents (not all of those are on roadways), and that the injury rate has jumped 130 percent over the last six years. He said the numbers have increased as the carts hit the public roads.

While there are concerns over safety issues, other cities around the country are allowing golf carts on city streets or considering doing so.

Albany, Mo., recently allowed golf carts on city streets but required drivers to install a 7-foot orange flag to warn of their presence. Wilma City, Minn. allows golf carts on city streets but the chief of police wants to keep them off the busiest streets. Many cities, especially resort cities, are designed with paths that allow golf carts to reach shopping and restaurants.

In Kentucky, the city of Marion, in the western part of the state, will vote on allowing golf carts on city streets later this month.

As for the city of Shelbyville, council members will not have to make a decision immediately. Mayor Tom Hardesty referred the plan to the council's police committee for further consideration. The committee's job is to report back to the council at a later date.