Retailers in Australia and around the world may have been expecting golf cart sales to fall as a result, but so far, the tests seem to have prompted more questions than boycotts or bans. Dialogues and discussions will have the greatest influence on keeping these vehicles safe for drivers and passengers.
From Golf Carts to LSVs
Golf carts have been around for nearly 100 years, and in that time, their safety has not often been questioned. This lack of interest in passenger safety is probably because, for the most part, golf carts had been relegated to golf courses where they were driven slowly in closed areas with unobstructed views and light traffic. However, golf buggies have slowly been moving off the links and onto neighborhood streets as people have taken notice of their many benefits, including the following:
- Easy to handle and drive
- Simple maintenance
- Low purchase price and operating costs
- Highly fuel efficient
- Produce zero or nearly zero carbon emissions
- Fun to operate
When golf carts are used for transportation in cities, neighborhoods or communities, they are often referred to as low-speed vehicles (LSVs), neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) or, in Europe, quadricycles. They all share most of the same features of golf carts traditionally found on the links, but these vehicles have been outfitted with most of the safety equipment required for passenger vehicles, including rearview mirrors, a horn, headlights and taillights, turn indicators and safety belts.
To ensure that LSVs and NEVs are as safe as possible, especially on paths and city streets shared with other cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles, the Australia Department of Infrastructure has prohibited the importation of golf carts that have safety belts, rearview mirrors, brake lights or windscreen wipers preinstalled.
It is believed that this regulation gives government and industry officials enhanced power to monitor and inspect the performance of this essential safety equipment, ensuring that it meets all federal standards. However, Darren Chester, the minister for infrastructure and transport, was unavailable to comment because of the bungled election and continued caretaker status of the government.
Why Crash Test Golf Carts?
After it became apparent that the LSV phenomenon was going to grow rather than diminish as a fad, governments in Europe became concerned as to whether there is a safety risk posed by driving these economical yet versatile vehicles in the same manner as passenger cars.
Much of the popularity of LSVs has come about because people around the world have become increasingly conscious that ancient and inefficient petroleum-based fuels are expensive and dangerous for the environment. LSVs are perfect for driving short distances without having to spend $35,000 or more on a full-size electric plug-in, such as those offered by Tesla and BMW.
Legislators across Europe, joined by the voices of the automotive industry, have been calling for new standards that account for LSVs being driven on city streets, and one of those standards is the crash test, which all full-size vehicles are required to meet before they can be sold in the European market.
In Europe, lightweight golf carts that have a maximum speed of 45 kilometers per hour and weigh less than 350 kilograms can be driven without a license or with only a moped license. However, vehicles categorized as heavy quadricycles are not much larger, weighing in the range of 350 to 400 kilograms with a maximum output of 15 kilowatts.
One of the characteristics that both lightweight and heavyweight LSVs currently share is that neither is required to meet a crash-test standard, even though that they are often driven on the same roads as traditional vehicles. However, golf cart sales are not permitted unless the LSVs have an antilock braking system (ABS), airbags or crumple zones.
Euro NCAP Tests Four LSVs
In keeping with the wishes of European legislators and higher corporate powers, Euro NCAP decided to crash test four different LSVs using the same parameters required for standard automobiles.
Euro NCAP was founded in 1997 through a partnership of seven European governments, consumer organizations and motor-vehicle advocates, and it is charged with providing independent assessments of vehicle safety. Since that time, the organization has been a catalyst for implementing stricter safety standards for all vehicles on European roadways.
The four golf carts in the tests were the Renault Twizy, Tzarri Zero, Ligier IXO JS Line 4 and Club Car Villager 2+2 LSV, and each was subjected to two tests that measured the results of a front and a side impact at 50 kilometers per hour. Because most of these golf carts could never reach such speeds on their own, the front test is representative of a head-on collision with another vehicle, and the side test could only come about in a real-life situation from a vehicle faster than a golf cart.
The LSV that fared the best in the tests was the Renault Twizy, but this golf cart is fully equipped with an airbag, a passenger protection shell, and a front crumple zone. The worst part about the Twizy is that its seatbelts could lead to neck injuries in high-speed collisions. However, even as the best of the four, the Twizy only scored six out of 16 possible points.
The golf cart that performed the worst was the Club Car Villager, and the summary statement from Euro NCAP read as follows: “The vehicle performed very poorly and showed serious risks of life-threatening injuries.”
In both the front and side tests, the dummy sitting in the driver seat of the Villager sustained excessive damage. The steering column pushed outward into the dummy’s chest, and even the seatbelt offered no protection. In the side test, the dummy was shaken so hard that its head thrashed outside the vehicle, leaving it exposed to even further contact.
“Our test campaign confirms that quadricycles provide a much lower level of safety than regular passenger cars. The poor results, however, urge us to ask ourselves whether consumers should be satisfied with the protection currently being offered,” said Michiel van Ratingen, secretary general of Euro NCAP. “As quadricycles look set to become more and more familiar, Euro NCAP is calling for manufacturers and legislative authorities to ensure a minimum level of crash safety for this vehicle segment.”