First electric scooters, now unlicensed golf carts could be allowed on Utah roads

(Wong Maye-E | AP file photo) John Vai drives his golf cart through The Villages, Fla., on, Nov. 21, 2019. The city where many retirees live has more golf carts than cars on many of its roads.

Elk Ridge City Council member Jim Chase says he sees children as young as 8 years old driving golf carts around his city all the time.

“And the carts are full of other kids. And it’s not mom or dad sitting next to them. It’s an older brother,” he said. “Some are so short they can barely see over the steering wheel.” And he says many think it is fun to drive as wildly as possible.

Chase said his city in Utah County found that it cannot ticket those kids unless it also cites adult cart drivers — because no golf carts are allowed on public Utah roads under current state law.

So his city seeks a way to allow adults, but not kids, to drive carts on its streets because many of its residents moved there to be near the Gladstan Golf Course and Chase said they own carts that they would like to take on short trips around town.

The House Transportation Committee unanimously voted to advance HB184 as a solution on Tuesday, and sent it to the full House for consideration.

It would allow cities to decide whether to allow golf carts on their streets. If they do, it requires them to decide on which streets they are allowed, who may drive and at what hours — which could include banning child or unlicensed drivers.

Its sponsor, Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Salem, said the bill is patterned after laws that allow cities to permit electric scooters.

The bill does some surprising things, considering that carts would be vehicles allowed on public roads.

Cart owners who drive on city streets would not be required to obtain insurance, license plates nor vehicle registration. They would also be exempt from emissions inspections.

The bill adds that golf carts essentially would be treated like bicycles. As it says, “A golf cart shall comply with the same requirement as a bicycle for traffic rules.”

The bill originally exempted drivers from driving-under-the influence laws and fines. But, ironically, it did ban them from drinking while driving or having an open container of alcohol in the vehicle.

Roberts said Utah could lose federal highway funding if it does not specifically ban open containers and drinking while driving, so that specifically was included. He said the exemption from other DUI penalties was copied from scooter laws.

Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, amended the bill to ensure cart drivers are subject to DUI laws.

“I look forward to driving a golf cart around Taylorsville, I really do. But I don’t want to drive drunk,” she said.

Kwan also questioned the wisdom of exempting carts from insurance or allowing unlicensed drivers on the road. But Roberts resisted that, saying, “I don’t want to turn a golf cart into a car.”

Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, praised the idea of allowing cities to legalize golf carts on roads.

“If we’re going to allow scooters, we might as well allow golf carts. Golf carts are safer than scooters I would say,” he said.