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Carthage Council Pondering Whether to Allow Unlicensed Golf Carts on Town’s Streets
March 11, 2009 - The Carthage Town Council has been asked to consider adopting an ordinance legalizing the operation of unlicensed golf carts on town streets.
Jim Zimmerman told the council at last Wednesday's regular monthly meeting that his father and some of the Carthage's other elderly residents rely on the golf carts for transportation around town. He said he thought there were also others who would use the golf carts if the town legalized their use.
"A golf cart, for these people, gives them the mobility to live the kind of life we all want to live," Zimmerman said. However, he said there is currently "a big conflict between ... state and local authorities" with respect to how golf carts are treated by the law, something he said has prompted several proposed bills during the current legislative session.
Zimmerman said he didn't think the town should treat golf carts the same way it treats off-road four-wheelers, or "quads," when it comes to licensing requirements. "It's like comparing apples and oranges," he said, noting that the golf carts travel at lower speeds and are not made for off-road travel.
Council President Rick Bush said he agreed with Zimmerman "100 percent." However, he said the Rush County Prosecutor has taken the position that golf carts are motor vehicles that must be registered with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and be operated by a licensed driver.
Zimmerman said that his father was not a licensed driver, and further noted that the BMV had told them it could not issue a vehicle registration for a golf cart. At one point, he said it wasn't possible to "get a solid answer anywhere when it comes to the golf carts."
The town council, Bush said, has no authority to dictate how the state classifies vehicles. He described the current confusion over the classification of golf carts as "a quagmire."
Bush told Zimmerman that state lawmakers removed golf carts a couple of years ago from a statute that gives local governments the power to regulate the use of off-road four-wheelers on local streets. With that legislative change, he said Carthage and other towns lost the discretion to set their own rules for golf carts.
Of the bills he said had been introduced during the current legislative session dealing with this issue, Zimmerman said most of them would return this discretion to local communities. However, he asked whether his father and others could go ahead and drive their golf carts on town streets until one of those bills is enacted.
"We're not going to tell you (they) can violate state law," Bush said. While he said he thought the Carthage Town Marshal, Dan Murphy, has "more important stuff to worry about," Bush said to simply tell town residents they can ignore the law "would be negligence on our part."
Murphy told the council he has not been enforcing laws that prohibit unlicensed drivers from operating unregistered golf carts on town streets. While he said he had spoken to the golf cart drivers about this issue, he said he had not issued any tickets.
Council Vice President Wanda Henderson said she thought use of golf carts for getting around town was better for the environment than using cars. However, for now, she said she thought the best thing would be for the council to take the issue under advisement, a point on which council member Doris Wyatt said she agreed.
"We don't have a problem with it," Bush told Zimmerman. "... We just need to be able to do this responsibly." He said the council would look into the issue and "try to be as flexible as we possibly can."
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