Laws favor smaller wheels

States' golf car bills get mixed reviews
Cheryl Chance and her husband Calvin go for a ride around the neighborhood in their golf cart. The gasoline engine propels the car to more than 50 mph.

Drivers might have to learn to share the roads with increasing numbers of smaller, slower vehicles.

Georgia and South Carolina legislators were considering bills that could put more golf cars on public streets. One Augusta dealer expects a rising demand for clean energy to lead more people to buy electric vehicles to get around the neighborhood.

Tripp Kuhlke, a partner at Transportation Solutions of Augusta, said the business sold 50 Club Car low-speed vehicles priced between $8,000 and $11,000 in the last two months of 2010, largely thanks to a $4,160 tax credit.

Kuhlke said only 15 have been sold this year since the tax credit was reduced, but he is hopeful friendlier laws and high gas prices will attract more customers.

The proliferation of the vehicles is a concern for David Colmans, the executive director of the Georgia Insurance Information Service. Even local law enforcement isn't always confident of the rules and regulations governing golf cars and low-speed vehicles on the roads, which vary from county to county around Augusta.

"It's kind of a complex problem," Colmans said. "You can't just say, 'Oh, sure let's slap a license on it' and then say, 'OK, take your chances.' "

Colmans said several auto insurers have various types of options specific to electric vehicles. The insurance is likely to cost significantly less than regular car insurance, because the vehicles are cheaper and slower.

Georgia and South Carolina laws require drivers to have a license and registration to operate any low-speed vehicle, which is defined as a four-wheeled electric vehicle with a maximum speed between 20 and 25 mph. Neither state counts homemade vehicles or modified golf cars as LSVs.

The laws for golf cars and LSVs vary in Georgia, with stricter regulations in Richmond County than Columbia County. Cpt. Scott Gay, of the Richmond County Sheriff's office, and Cpt. Steve Morris, of Columbia County, both said officers usually give warnings to violators, and Morris stressed the importance of keeping underage drivers off the streets.

"One thing is certain, you have to be a licensed driver," said Morris, adding that complaints of golf cars on roads usually increase in the summer.

Georgia's latest bill, which passed in May, creates a new definition of LSVs that would include golf cars, as long as they have head lamps, tail lamps, horn, rearview mirror, hip restraints, hand holds and other designated safety equipment. .

However, the new law won't affect places with existing ordinances, including Richmond and Columbia counties. Gay said unless the local ordinance changes, he doesn't expect police to have any increased issues with electric cars on the roads.

A bill in the South Carolina House of Representatives proposes increasing the distance from two miles to four that a golf car can be driven from a home address or gated community's entrance.

Colmans said one of the key players in the push for more golf cars and LSVs on the road is Peachtree City, an Atlanta suburb with 90 miles of golf-car accessible trails. City clerk Betsy Tyler said the state's first golf car laws were put into effect in 1974 and they've been a big part of the city's growth from 1,000 to 34,000 people.

Tyler said the local ordinance requires the 10,000 cars to stay on the paths if possible.

Colmans said that kind of system is the best solution, but he acknowledged the infrastructure isn't cheap. Plus, as Tyler noted, "It's just 90 more miles to patrol."

ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF

Cheryl Chance and her husband Calvin go for a ride around the neighborhood in there Ògolf cart.Ó The gasoline engine propels the car to more than 50 MPH.

Puttering around
Know the laws

Each county around Augusta has its own guidelines for the use of golf cars and low-speed vehicles.

GOLF CARs: Limited to roads with speed limit of 35 mph, golf cars may only be used during daylight hours unless local ordinance allows for headlights.

- In South Carolina, drivers must be registered ($5 fee) and licensed.

- In Georgia, no license is required. They're allowed only during daylight hours unless commissioner of public safety equipment regulations are met.

- Richmond County requires a $15 registration fee. They're allowed exclusively during daylight hours on specific streets near Doctors Hospital and Forest Hills Golf Course, and on 10th Street south of Broad on First Friday. A yellow caution light must be mounted on top.

- Columbia County classifies golf cars as "all-terrain vehicles." License is required, but not registration, except for $10 fee plus numerical decal in Harlem.

LOW-SPEED VEHICLES (LSVS): Must meet federal safety standards, which includes seat belts, parking brakes and headlights. Drivers must be licensed and registered but cannot drive on roads with speed limits exceeding 35 mph.

- In South Carolina, vehicles can cross roads with speed limits above 35 mph.

- In Georgia, an amber strobe light is required on the roof to warn approaching vehicles. Crossing roads with speed limits above 35 mph is allowed at designated areas.

- Columbia County classifies LSVs as "all-terrain vehicles." A license is required, but not tags or seat belts.

Sources: Richmond, Columbia, Aiken County sheriff's offices; South Carolina, Georgia, Richmond County, Columbia County, Aiken County, Harlem codes of law