Gas is really expensive right now. No arguing it.
Therefore, cities and towns should take some steps to help out residents and allow golf carts and other utility vehicles on city/town streets.
The golf cart issues just came before the Butler City Council this past week and reception between the mayor, city council and police chief was mixed.
However, within the last year we’ve seen some other communities open up their roads to more non-automobiles, including DeKalb County, which passes an off-road vehicle ordinance in April and Avilla, which has been setting the groundwork to allow UTVs on town streets.
Northeast Indiana is a hodgepodge of local rules on the issue, with some communities embracing these small, slow-moving vehicles and others holding firm against them.
The last time golf carts and other similar vehicles really became a statewide issue back around 2008, the last time gas prices spiked to very high levels. Gallons of gasoline were retailing for over $4 per gallon at points — likely more expensive than now in terms of inflation-adjusted cost — so everyday people started looking for alternatives to getting around town.
Instead of piling in the car and driving to the local Dairy Queen, wouldn’t it be nice to hop onto an electric golf cart or a Gator and take a leisurely cruise there during the summer?
The issue often gets stuck due to safety concerns, the kind that Butler’s police chief mentioned at the recent meeting. These are slow-moving vehicles, often without the kind of safety features that regular vehicles have including lights, seat belts, turn signals, etc.
In the event of a car vs. golf car crash, it’s fairly obvious which side is going to lose that collision every time.
That being said, in the communities that do have them, those kinds of accidents are extremely rare. In towns, where speed limits are typically not more than 30 mph on any given street, there’s less risk to operating a motorized vehicle that can’t do more than that.
Communities that have adopted golf cart-friendly ordinances do typically impose some regulations to ensure safe operations. Owners may need to get a local registration and plate to put on it. Some communities require vehicles have lights for operating at night. Requiring a reflective slow-moving vehicle sign on the back to make it more visible to normal traffic is a good idea. Not letting underage drivers pilot them around town will add safety.
And, like Butler noted, keeping them off state highways or other roads where faster traffic is allowed is key.
Rural living is, by definition, laid back. And with gas prices so expensive, we’d encourage communities to be more open-minded to alternative modes of transport.
Coming into this summer, we encourage cities and towns to open the discussion and work toward ordinances that will open up the roadways for their residents.
OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Grace Housholder, Andy Barrand, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. We welcome readers’ comments.