What do you picture when you hear “police golf cart”? Is it some comedy skit, may be reminiscent of the Keystone Kops? Or is it off-duty police officers about to tee off at the local country club?
Well, it’s neither of these. It’s official police equipment–that is, police who are using golf carts for their jobs.
Is the police golf cart indeed rising in popularity? Let’s find out.
First, though, we need to discuss what defines a golf cart and distinguishes it from other lightweight vehicles. Then we need to look at some of its uses–besides for the police, that is. We’ll get to the police later.
What Is a Golf Cart?
The Merriam-Webster definition is “a motorized cart for carrying golfers and their equipment over a golf course.” While a golf cart most certainly still fills this function, it does a lot more these days.
Today’s golf carts come in a range of different sizes, with many various possible features. Traditional golf carts are nothing more than bags with wheels that hold clubs.
But once someone came up with the idea that a golf cart could transport people as well as clubs, the term took on a whole new meaning. Today’s golf carts have wheels and motors and can be quite elaborate.
Golf carts also serve a much higher variety of purposes than they once did, as you’ll see in the following sections.
Where and How Did Golf Carts Originate?
Technically, a golf cart refers to the bag of clubs on wheels that golfers or their caddies will pull around the course. The electric or gas-powered lightweight vehicles we now know as golf carts used to be called golf “cars.”
What can we say? Things got confused. No one says golf car anymore! There are many stories about the origins of golf carts (i.e., golf cars) dating back to the 1930s and the World War II years. All of these were very much in the prototype stages. Mostly, the carts were used to assist elderly and disabled people.
It was Merle Williams of Redlands, California who, in 1951, introduced The Marketeer, the first electric cart explicitly designed for use in golf.
By the end of the decade, quite a few golf cart manufacturers were already in competition. These included EZ-GO, Club Car, and Yamaha–names still familiar to golfers today.
Golf Cart Tips offers a very comprehensive history on the development of the golf cart as well as the makes and models that have appeared over the decades.
Golf Cart Uses
We see more and more golf carts transporting people around tourist destinations, retirement villages, and other private communities.
And we see golf carts more on college campuses, in large parking lots, and in any other spaces that can be hard to walk.
All over the country, especially in warmer parts, golf carts are becoming an ever-larger part of the transportation scene. For one thing, they’re a lot cheaper to operate; even those powered by gasoline use much less of it than automobiles do.
Some cities and states are more accommodating of golf carts than others. See the section below on laws affecting golf carts. More and more cities are allowing them on sidewalks, special paths, and slower streets.
Golf Cart Proliferation and Its Challenges
Nevertheless, the presence of increasing numbers of golf courts in cities means yet one more vehicle type crowding the streets. And like any vehicle, golf carts have their unique pros and cons–that need to be dealt with both practically and legally.
For example, golf carts are slower than other traffic–making them both safer and more dangerous. They’re safer because their drivers can’t go over 30 mph at the most.
But this can cause bottlenecks in street traffic as well as put pedestrians and cyclists on sidewalks and paths at risk due to the golf cart’s width and speed.
These, among other reasons, are why states and municipalities have instituted laws and ordinances that place limitations on the use of golf carts.
Laws Affecting Golf Carts
Among the 50 U.S. states, there are at least 50 different laws or less formal policy governing the use of golf carts on public thoroughfares.
Let’s look at a few states to see how they compare when it comes to golf cart laws:
New York is pretty restrictive when it comes to what it calls “motorized devices,” a vehicle category that includes golf carts (along with motorized scooters, dirt bikes, go-karts, and some others). None of these vehicles may be registered.
As recently as May 2019, there was debate among police officers as to whether New York laws are actually enforceable when it comes to golf carts in non-public areas.
Florida statutes on golf carts are definitely more complex–perhaps a little too complex for many, since various attorneys in the state have taken on the job of explaining them on their websites.
This is good since Florida is a popular state for golf cart ownership. The Villages, FL–a master-planned, age-restricted retirement community–has a population of 71,350 and some 65,000 golf carts, it might be the top golf cart city in the U.S.
Nevada is rather vague with its golf cart laws. According to a Las Vegas law firm, “Nevada state law and local regulations govern the operation of golf carts and related vehicles, so long as they are not capable of going faster than 20 mph …
However, if your golf cart was manufactured to exceed that speed, federal law classifies it as a motor vehicle. This means that it must have specific mandatory safety equipment.”
Not much more is said in terms of policy affecting golf carts in Nevada apparently, except in ordinances set in a handful of municipalities.
Washington’s Golf Cart Resource Sheet essentially sums up provisions of motor vehicle law that would apply to golf carts. Additional information is available on another site, which also includes some local and federal government provisions.
There currently are no federal laws governing golf carts. Interestingly, AARP produced a policy brief in 2011 advocating that the discussion of such be taken up. It hasn’t been yet.
You might find it interesting to see how all the states’ policies and statutes regarding golf carts compare. You’ll see quite a lot of variation among them!
Street Legal Golf Carts
There are legal ways to circumvent golf cart laws, though–at least to some extent.
A primary example is a “street legal” golf cart–which can legally be driven on streets with speed limits under 35 mph.
The small upstate city of Oneida, NY has a business called Street Legal NY. This business is authorized by the state to make golf carts that are street legal. Street Legal means they comply with the following requirements:
- DOT Headlights
- Back-up beeper
- Turn signals
- Rearview mirrors
- Identification number (VIN)
Street Legal NY also makes the following disclaimers:
- It’s also important to know that golf carts drive at a maximum speed of 30 mph and cannot be driven on roads with a speed limit over 35 mph.
- You must also be a licensed driver to drive these golf carts on the road.
- A typical golf cart CANNOT be modified to become New York “street legal.”
Other states have similar businesses offering street legal golf carts. What is the difference between a street legal golf cart and an actual automobile? Hmm … that seems to be getting more difficult to determine.
Police Golf Carts
Another fairly new idea is the use of a golf cart for law enforcement–yes, a golf cart for police. Police officers in the U.S. have begun using golf carts to do their patrol work. And there are plenty of stories to tell.
One such story came to our attention via the UK newspaper and news site The Guardian. And the story was reported from Washington. DC. Yet, it was about a police golf cart in a suburb of St. Louis, MO. Sound odd? Keep reading.
Officer Rickey Jones benefited from his electric golf cart to catch a drug dealer off guard during a drug deal.
Unfortunately, unable to surpass 20 mph in the golf cart and thus not able to catch the escaping suspect, Jones had to ask the help of a colleague in a traditional police car. We may never know how the story made it into The Guardian, though.
Several law enforcement operations around the country have adopted golf carts as a way to help officers do their job. We’ll share some of their stories in the following paragraphs.
Bedford, MA Police Department
The Bedford, Massachusetts Police Department has selected golf carts as part of its “Quality of Life” initiative–which also includes the use of bicycles and officers on foot.
In a blog post dated June 13, 2019, Chief Robert Bongiorno announced that the department’s Quality of Life patrol program would return for the summer season the following weekend.
“Our goal with these patrols is to allow our officers to partake in face-to-face interactions with our residents and visitors, and to dissuade and end illegal and nuisance activity in these areas,” Chief Bongiorno said.
“Everyone should be able to enjoy our bike paths, go shopping and partake in recreational opportunities in Bedford without these annoyances.”
Jacksonville, IL Police Department
Recently, the Jacksonville, Illinois Police Department announced it purchased a police golf cart. Apparently, this would be the first “multipurpose vehicle” in the city fleet.
Formerly, bicycles had been used by officers. However, as Police Chief Adam Mefford explained, they’ve just become not as an important tool as they once were.
“Not that they aren’t important anymore, we just don’t have the number of officers trained for their use.” Mefford further explained that the police golf carts would be used for patrolling the parking lots near the bars on Friday and Saturday nights.
Ohio State University Police
In September 2017, Ohio State University acquired its first “golf cart-like vehicle,” an all-electric Polaris Ranger EV equipped with upgrades such as lights, sirens and an enclosed cab that cost the university $17,000.
Captain David Rose said the cart “allows officers to access places that traditional marked police cars cannot. And, like bikes, it lets them cover more area than they could on a typical foot assignment.”
Several other police departments at colleges and universities around the country are now using golf carts for patrolling. Including the University of Wisconsin and the University of Southern California.
We find it interesting that most of the stories about police officers and golf carts are about the officers either ticketing a golf cart driver for driving where it is prohibited by law or investigating either an accident or a crime involving a golf cart.
There are relatively few news stories about police themselves using golf carts in their work. Are there still that few police forces using them or is it just not as newsworthy a topic as crime or accidents?
The Police Might Have Some Things to Say
The use of police golf carts (or golf cart-type vehicles) is a good thing for various reasons. For one, it helps the environment. For another, it puts a friendly and “up-close” face on the police.
Furthermore, since police increasingly are using golf carts as well as enforcing their proper and responsible use by others, they might be the ones to advocate for tighter and more consistent laws and policy regarding the use of golf carts.
AARP is a highly influential group representing senior citizens. They are heavy golf cart users. AARP was not able to accomplish the policies for which they put forward nine years ago. In light of this, some other entity needs to take this on.
Recently, a number of golf cart accidents have occurred. And more will as their use becomes more widespread. Attorneys can attest to this, as can the police.
Please play a role by letting your local, state, and/or federal legislators know that the time is now!