IS GOLF CART CRUSIN’ LEGAL?
Well….that depends, but probably not. I’ve gathered from my ramblings in and around the residential and resort communities of North Carolina that it has become progressively en vogue to own an electric golf cart to be used as an additional form of transportation. These ‘home’ golf carts are used for everything from the obvious like driving to and from the golf course, to joyriding, to maneuvering fishing equipment to and from the favorite fishing hole, to most any conceivable use in between. No doubt, there have been golf cart beer runs. Often these golf carts are used on or across public roads. Attorneys at Horack Talley recently reviewed applicable laws in North Carolina related to the operation of golf carts on public streets. As a result of this investigation, we conclude that in order to legally operate a golf cart on the public streets in North Carolina, the golf cart must be properly registered with the State of North Carolina. This means that a golf cart would need to be professionally altered to be more like an electric car than a golf cart in order to be properly registered. In addition, we do not believe golf carts can be legally operated on sidewalks that are part of public street right-of-ways. There are exceptions or circumstances where these rules may not apply: 1) You are in a county or city that has adopted golf cart rules allowing operation on streets with speed limits no greater than 35 mph; or 2) you are in a private community with private roads not accessible to the general public. Let’s look a little further at the rules and their implications for your HOA. Operation of Golf Carts on Public Roads: The North Carolina General Statutes (N.C.G.S.) defines a golf cart as a vehicle designed and manufactured for operation on a golf course for sporting or recreational purposes that is not capable of exceeding speeds of 20 m.p.h. N.C.G.S. requires that any vehicle intended to be operated upon a public road of the State to be registered with the DMV. The DMV must refuse to issue registration to a vehicle that meets the definition of a golf cart. Unregistered vehicles including golf carts can ‘cross’ public roadways to get to the other side, but ‘cross’ appears to be limited to the quickest and safest route from one side to the other and would be applicable to where cart paths cross public roads. We do not believe carts can actually ‘use’ the public roads outside of the designated cart path cross points. According an attorney with the DMV, only golf cart manufacturers are able to convert golf carts into what can actually be registered with the DMV, and then, the vehicle is arguably no longer a ‘golf cart’ within the definition cited above. Presumably the golf cart becomes more like an electric car. N.C.G.S. does allow counties and cities to adopt their own provisions regulating operation of golf carts on any public street, road or highway where the speed limit is 35 mph or less. Unless the county where you are operating a golf cart has adopted such provisions and you are in compliance with those provisions, golf carts may not be legally operated on the public roads. There is a model ordinance available for review on the website of the North Carolina General Assembly: https://connect.ncdot.gov/resources/safety/Teppl/TEPPL%20All%20Documents%20Library/A-5o.pdf Operation of Golf Carts on Sidewalks: N.C.G.S. prohibits operation of motor vehicles on sidewalks within the road right of way. ‘Motor vehicle’ is defined as “every vehicle which is self-propelled”. Accordingly a golf cart qualifies as a motor vehicle and may not be legally operated on the sidewalks within the public right of way. This rule would not apply to sidewalks or paved trails outside of the public right of way. Operation of Golf Carts on Private Roads: Private communities that own and maintain their own roads wherein the roads are not open to the use of the public would presumably be an exception. Operation of golf carts on these ‘private’ streets would presumably be controlled by the owner of the street or any many cases by an HOA charged with governing the use of the ‘private’ streets. What Should My HOA Do?: Typically we advise HOAs to allow an issue like this one to be between the owners and law enforcement as HOAs are not in the business of enforcing public laws. HOAs, however, typically do have provisions in their Declarations that make it a violation of use restrictions to engage in activity that is unlawful. So many HOAs would have the power to use fines and other powers of enforcement to discourage unlawful use of golf carts on public streets or sidewalks within the public rights of way. In deciding whether to take a proactive role in preventing unlawful use of golf carts on public streets or rights of way an HOA should weigh interest of law enforcement in the issue, volume of golf cart use in the HOA, and risks associated with either being inactive or proactive on the issue. If you live in an HOA or area that allows this type of use either by local ordinance or because you have streets that are not open to the use of the public, then you can grab your sweetheart, jump in your golf cart and head out to find a good place to watch the sunset.