New state law toughens regulations on young golf cart drivers to help reduce accidents

A child driving a golf cart on a golf course with his dad in the copilot seat.

Putting the brakes on young children operating golf carts was a necessity, said State Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, who represents St. Johns County, including St. Augustine and Ponte Vedra.

"We're having 70-80 accidents a year," she said. "There were two during Session (a recent 17 days of legislative action in Tallahassee), one in which three children were thrown from a cart when a 14-year-old driver ran into a parked car, and then they almost got hit by a truck.

"With young drivers, it can really have a serious consequence."

Statewide regulation of golf cart usage got a little stricter, when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 949 on Thursday to raise the minimum age of a driver from 14 to 15 and further requires that a person operating it to have a valid learner’s permit or driver's license.

The law, which goes into effect Oct. 1, only applies to carts designated as low speed vehicles.

It took 45 steps from when Stevenson filed the bill on Feb. 20 to Thursday, when the bill was signed. "We were happy for that ... it was a tough little bill to get passed," she said, laughing.

The ruling, which also allows municipalities to designate certain areas, or paths, golf carts may be used, won't have much of an impact on Key Biscayne's ordinance from April of 2022.

Key Biscayne Police Chief Frank Sousa said he was already speaking to the Village lawyers Thursday on how adjustments should be made to the current ordinance. He doesn't expect to present it to Council until July, at the earliest.

"We're working on changing the updated bill to reflect our ordinance," he said.

Key Biscayne's ordinance requires a driver's license (no learner's permit is allowed) to operate any motorized vehicle, meaning 16 is the age minimum, and a registration with the Village is required.

Currently, there is a state statute that prevents local communities from designating certain roads covered by other jurisdictions.

"We already have paths designated on Key Biscayne," said Sousa, also noting that carts are not allowed to go more than one block on Crandon Boulevard before turning into a private road or public parking area, "or as soon as they are able to make a turn."

Among the current rules, subject to $75 fines for the first offense and $175 for the second, in the Village of Key Biscayne (Article II, Chapter 26 of the Code):

– Driving without a valid driver’s license.

– Driving without a current Village issued permit affixed to the golf cart.

– Carrying more passengers than those for which the golf cart was designed.

All equipment violations will be enforced by Uniform Traffic Citation under Florida State Statute.

Also included in HB 949 will be a law affecting adult golf cart operators. A person who is 18 or older will have to possess a valid form of government-issued photographic identification. A violation of the law would include a non-criminal traffic infraction.

Stevenson said the bill, for now, doesn't affect senior drivers who, for certain reasons, would not be able to obtain a driver's license, but she said they might consider re-visiting it later.

A low speed vehicle (LSV), as defined in Section 320.01(41), Florida Statutes, are “any four-wheeled vehicle whose top speed is greater than 20 mph, but not greater than 25 mph” and can only be operated on streets where the posted limit is 35 mph or less.

The new law also adds Flood Control District roads to the streets that can be designated for golf cart users.

The law does not apply to private properties, private roads or golf courses, Stevenson said. Some HOA communities may have their own regulations in place.

"We have entire communities built around this type of transportation in St. Johns County," Stevenson said. "One community is like a trail community, and they're enjoying (riding in the carts), they're outside getting fresh air, but these young (drivers) are not safety conscious.

"I hope this will settle (the accidents) down and give people a state law that's enforceable in court."

Stevenson said she "learned a lot" as the bill was being filtered from the House to the Senate.

"All of these communities have local ordinances," she said. "Local governments can designate certain public roads ... and usually can work with the state, if there's a crossing road, and the city and county. Exceptions are when a public road that goes through a golf course, or a highway that divides a mobile home community.

"So, it was a really hard bill to work on, kind of like a 'crazy quilt' with all kinds of rules (and different interpretations)."

Raising the age limit is a start and, potentially, could lead to state rules for other forms of mobility transport.

"That's why we filed the bill in the first place," Stevenson said. "We needed young drivers to have training on rules of the road ... to at least have an idea."


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