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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022 1 week ago

Rules of the ride: OBPD asks for community's help in monitoring juveniles operating golf carts

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Prior to a golf cart crash that injured 10 children, Ormond Beach Police officers were educating parents on the legalities of operating a golf cart.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

In light of a traumatic crash that resulted in the injury of multiple children, following a period of complaints involving minors operating golf carts on roadways, Ormond Beach Police is seeking the community’s cooperation to ensure safety on local streets.

On Dec. 18, 2021, 10 minors – one of whom had to be transported to the hospital as a trauma alert patient — were injured after the golf cart they were riding in flipped over when attempting to make a left turn into the parking lot of 2287 Airport Road. According to a police report, the golf cart, which was unregistered and only had a six-rider capacity, was occupied by 11 people at the time of the crash. A 12-year-old child had been at the wheel, and the lone adult in the golf cart, a 37-year-old Ormond Beach man, was arrested on child neglect felony charges after the crash.

It was an incident that Ormond Beach Police Chief Jesse Godfrey called frustrating. From January 2020 to January 2022, OBPD has noted 13 instances citywide where officers responded to a call for service involving complaints over minors operating golf carts. 

“All of this could have been avoided if everybody would have just followed the rules," Godfrey said.

What the law says

Can you drive a golf cart in the city of Ormond Beach?

That depends. 

Ormond Beach Police Sgt. John Borzner explained that a golf cart can qualify as a low-speed vehicle, which are allowed to operate in roadways with speed limits of 35 mph or less. But, the cart must have title and registration, as well as be properly equipped with tail lights, brake lights, and other parts to make it "street-legal," according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. 

A lot of the low-speed vehicles seen on roadways do comply with these regulations. It's the ones typically being driven inside subdivisions that don't. 

“Tomoka Oaks is probably our biggest area for golf carts, and they ride them on the bike paths in there and through the roadways, and a lot of times, it’s kids," Borzner said. "Anywhere from 13 and older driving them around.”

You have to be 14 years old to operate an unregistered golf cart in designated recreation areas such as some state parks, and of course, golf courses. There are no streets in Ormond Beach that allow unregistered golf carts. 

If the golf cart has been made "street-legal," the driver must hold a valid driver's license.

These aren't rules that only apply within the city of Ormond Beach; the operation of unregistered golf carts on public roads or streets is prohibited in the state of Florida, per section 316.212 of the Florida Statutes.

Using common sense

For one of the grandparents of the children involved in the Dec. 18 crash, whose name is not being reported due to a pending lawsuit related to the incident, the problem isn't the overall usage of golf carts — it's being able to operate them with common sense.

Her granddaughter was one of the most injured in the crash, having broken both of her legs. Since the crash, she has undergone two surgeries and doctors told the family she likely will not be able to walk for 12 weeks or longer. It was a sad situation, her grandmother said. She was one of the first to arrive at the scene of the crash and saw firsthand all the children injured on the ground.

“In all reality, an accident is an accident," she said. "... Could it have been avoided? Maybe, maybe not.”

As long as golf carts are operated by people who take safety precautions and have experience doing so, she doesn't see a problem with them. And, she believes that since the crash, people have been more cautious when driving their golf carts around the neighborhood. 

“It just didn’t affect those hurt," she said. "It affected everybody and their family.”

Falling on deaf ears?

When police receive a complaint involving golf carts, most of the time, it involves minors. If officers are available to respond, Borzner said they'll drive through the neighborhood to see if they can spot them, but a lot of the time, the minors are either long gone or are in an area — such as a bike path — where their patrol vehicles can't access. 

In addition to Tomoka Oaks, The Trails and Breakaway Trails have also been communities in the past from which these complaints frequently generated. 

In some instances, they are able to find the minors at home after seeing the golf cart in their driveway. In those cases, officers speak with the parents or guardians and explain to them that driving these golf carts could result in a criminal charge, depending on the age of the driver or if the golf cart is not titled. 

“Would we handle it as such? Probably not if it’s in there, and it’s normally, like I said, a juvenile," Borzner said. "We’re not going to arrest a 14 year old kid that’s just driving through his neighborhood on a golf cart.”

So far, officers have been trusting parents to educate their children, and OBPD has issued information regarding the legal operation of golf carts.

“The information’s been put out there, it just seems to fall on deaf ears sometimes," Borzner said.

Education before enforcement

However, enforcement is always an option, though one OBPD would rather not resort to. 

“We’re trying to educate before enforcement, but there will be a time where we’re going to move into enforcement, and it’s going to happen," Godfrey said. 

OBPD is asking parents to supervise their children and restrict easy access to low speed vehicles when the child is alone. 

"Whether you’re a pedestrian, or a cyclist or a motorist, the driving laws go both ways and we have to be extremely careful," Godfrey said. "We don’t want anybody to get hurt or get seriously injured, by any stretch.”

The children injured in the Dec. 18 crash should have never been hurt on that day, he added. Complaints have slowed down since the crash, and Godfrey suspects it may have served as a wake-up call for many parents.

Borzner said he believes officers have been "more than fair as far as not hammering these young kids with tickets." Ultimately the responsibility lies with the adults. 

“The 12-year-old is not getting the golf cart, buying the golf cart," Borzner said. "There’s going to have to be some rules set in place at home to help us out so we can avoid these complaints, we can avoid dangerous situations, we can avoid crashes like that out west and keep everybody safe.”

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