Golf cart drivers now must be at least 18 years old. | Will Brown, Jacksonville TodayGolf cart drivers now must be at least 18 years old. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today
Golf cart drivers now must be at least 18 years old. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

St. Johns County adopts state law for youths driving golf carts

Published on January 18, 2024 at 12:29 pm

Driving a golf cart on designated roads in St. Johns County now requires the driver to have a driver’s license or permit if they are under 18.

The new requirements were already law in Florida, after a bill sponsored by Rep. Cyndi Stevenson of St. Johns County (HB 949) took effect July 1. But in a unanimous vote this week, the St. Johns County Commission added the law to its own ordinances.

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Golf carts are defined in state statutes as a motor vehicle “designed and manufactured for operation on a golf course for sporting or recreational purposes,” and unable to go faster than 20 mph, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Golf carts may be operated on roads that specifically allow them and have a posted speed limit of 30 mph or less. Golf carts also can cross a portion of a county road that intersects their roadway, a golf course or mobile home park.

But golf carts do not have to be titled or registered. And before Stevenson’s bill, golf cart operators were not required to have a driver license, although they had to be 14 or older.

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For Stevenson, the bill was born out of recent golf cart accidents that left young drivers with serious injuries, some of them in her district.

“We wanted to raise the standards so we could avoid some of these costly, and sometimes very detrimental injuries,” Stevenson told WJCT News 89.9. “There is a lot of golf cart traffic and people really need to know the rules of the road before they are using them — driving a vehicle and taking responsibility for other people’s lives and their own.”

After Tuesday’s vote, Commissioner Sarah Arnold said the ordinance will increase safety for everyone.

“As many are aware, golf carts are a popular form of transportation in our community due to their convenience and accessibility, which is wonderful,” she said. “However, we have to maintain a standard of safety for everyone — including pedestrians, the drivers of golf carts, and drivers of traditional vehicles.”

State mandates for LSVs (Low Speed vehicles), which are different from golf carts, are required to have automobile-like safety equipment as seen in this diagram. | Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles

Golf carts differ from so-called low-speed vehicles under state law. Stevenson’s bill does not apply to those.

Low-speed vehicles are required to have automobile-like safety equipment like headlights, turn signals, stoplights and seatbelts, and a license plate. They cannot have a top speed greater than 25 mph.

Unlike golf carts, low-speed vehicles can be driven on any public street where the posted speed limit is 35 mph or less. Driver’s must have a driver’s license in their possession, and they must have personal injury protection and property damage liability insurance.

Hardwick lobbied to have Stevenson’s bill passed because of an increase in accidents resulting in serious injuries. Those include a 15-year-old in St. Johns County who fractured his skull Oct. 19, 2021, after falling out of a golf cart and hitting his head on the pavement.

In July 2019, another teen fell out of a golf cart on North Durbin Parkway and had to be hospitalized after a firework went off inside the cart, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

“By requiring golf cart drivers under the age of 18 to possess a learner’s permit or driver’s license, we are ensuring the driver has basic knowledge of the rules of the road,” Hardwick said in a news release.

A Baptist Health news release posted in June said that patients admitted to Wolfson Children’s Hospital for injuries from golf cart crashes had increased by more than 50% since 2020. Those cases can range from traumatic brain injuries to broken bones, said John Draus, chief of pediatric surgery at Nemours Children’s Health.

“Compared to adults, who tend to keep golf carts on the course and pay attention to traffic laws, children involved in golf cart accidents are more likely to be injured. Adolescents are also more likely to be ejected from the golf cart when hit by a car,” he said. “Unfortunately, we see a range of injuries in kids of all ages. … Young children are more likely to sustain traumatic brain injuries and fractures of the skull, face and/or neck. Older kids and teens are more likely to have arm or leg fractures.”

The county ordinance makes violations a noncriminal traffic infraction, punishable as a moving violation. But Stevenson said the Sheriff’s Office is more interested in safety versus writing tickets, and she is hopeful that her state bill and her county’s adoption of it will save lives.

“I hope it will make our roadways safer and we will have less emergency calls for kids with head injuries,” Stevenson said. “It doesn’t seem like in a low speed vehicle that you can get a serious head injury, but you really can. We wear helmets when we ride bikes for a reason, and in the golf carts, there is risk of injury. So hopefully it brings a higher level of safety.”

Lead image: Golf cart drivers now need a license or permit if they are under 18 years old. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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