Golf carts: Fun-sized transportation or menace?

Golf carts have been legally allowed to operate on certain streets in South Haven since 2016. But the South Haven Planning Commission is now in discussions regarding whether changes should be made to the ordinance allowing use of the carts.

SOUTH HAVEN — Over the past three years golf carts have become a common site on South Haven city streets during summer months. The people who ride them look like they’re having fun, and finding a spot to park the carts in the crowded downtown area can be much easier than it is for standard-size vehicles.

But some people wonder why golf carts were ever allowed to operate on city streets in the first place.

The issue was front and center last week with the city’s planning commission.

“We’ve all heard our neighbors complain about golf carts and we’re cognizant of the fact that Labor Day has come and gone and Memorial Day will be coming up. So we have a few months to look at this (golf cart ordinance) and maybe tweak it,” said planning commission Chairman Tim Stegeman.

The city council passed the original ordinance to allow golf carts on city streets in 2016, according to Assistant City Manager Kate Hosier, and did so with the intention of revisiting the law to determine its effectiveness.

At Thursday’s meeting she asked planners whether they wanted to review how golf carts operate in the city.

She got an earful of comments – many related to safety.

“The biggest thing I see is the number of people they can fit onto a golf cart. It’s amazing. It’s like a clown cart,” said planner Michael Neiss. “Something’s going to happen. ... We’re not a retirement village, we’re a city. Do we really need golf carts?”

Planner Clark Gruber said he has observed carts driving in bike lanes, while planner Rosalie Plechaty said it’s not unusual for golf cart drivers and passengers to be drinking alcoholic beverages, or driving their vehicles in city parks and public lawns.

According to Hosier, the city’s ordinance directly aligns with the state’s law for the operation of golf carts on city streets. Among other things:

• They can only be driven on city streets from April 15 to Oct. 15;

• Drivers must be at least 16 and have a valid driver’s license;

• Drivers have to signal when turning;

• Drivers have to drive as far to the right of the road as practicable;

• Carts can only be driven on streets with speed limits of 30 miles per hour or less;

• Carts cannot go faster than 15 miles per hour;

• Carts cannot be driven on state trunklines or Blue Star Highway, but can cross them if necessary;

• Carts cannot operate from half an hour before sunset to half an hour before sunrise;

• Cart owners must register their vehicle and display a tag issued by the South Haven Police on their vehicle.

But some planners say rules simply aren’t being followed.

“I don’t mean to be Scrooge, but it (the ordinance allowing golf carts) ain’t working,” Neiss said.

“There are a lot of kids driving the golf carts,” Plechaty said.

“They’re parking wherever one can find a spot,” Gruber said.

Hosier noted that when people register their carts and obtain tags from the police, they also are given a list of rules and maps where they can drive their carts within city limits.

When police do stop golf cart drivers for infractions, they often spend more time educating the drivers about golf cart rules, before automatically issuing tickets.

However, some tickets are given each summer, according to Hosier.

“Police issued three tickets this summer,” Hosier said. One of the tickets was issued for a cart driver operating their cart while intoxicated, she indicated, while others were for cart operators driving in bike lanes.

“They have been doing quite a bit of education,” Hosier said.

But some of the planners think the police should start issuing more tickets.

“Education should be over,” Neiss said. “We need to start enforcement.”

Plechaty agreed. “Maybe the education period is over,” she said.

City planners made no decisions, saying more discussion is needed on the matter, with input from the police department.