Aiken fatality highlights golf cart safety

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Erin Hutchison has owned a golf cart for three years and never had an accident, nor has she ever felt unsafe riding near her Columbia Coun­ty home to get outside, see friends and visit neighbors.

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Erin Hutchison, with cousin Brooke Cason in the passenger seat, visit neighbors in their Columbia County subdivision. Hutchison described the vehicles as "relaxing."  DOUG STUTSMAN/STAFF
Erin Hutchison, with cousin Brooke Cason in the passenger seat, visit neighbors in their Columbia County subdivision. Hutchison described the vehicles as "relaxing."

Hutchison, whose mother has driven a golf cart for a decade, described the vehicles as “relaxing,” but the recent death of a young girl in Aiken has raised awareness of the danger they can pose.

Golf carts can go as fast as 20 mph, have no seat belts and few regulations on their use. They can be dangerous to pedestrians who might be hit, or to drivers or passengers who might be thrown from the vehicles if they crash.

In Georgia, you need to be 16 or older and hold a license to drive one. Other states, including Florida, allow underage drivers.

South Carolina issues a special permit that allows people younger than 16 to drive golf carts, but only during daytime, on secondary roads and within four miles of their home or workplace.

“There are a lot of kids in our neighborhood, so people usually do a good job of driving slow,” Hutchison said. “Still, when you’re on a golf cart, you have to always pay close attention. You never know what might happen.”

Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris says golf cart accidents are uncommon, but when they happen, they can be serious.

“The main point I want to stress is people should never stand on a golf cart,” he said. “Not inside the cart and definitely not on the back platform. Last year, a young man was seriously injured when he fell off while standing. He’s OK now, but he got lucky.”

Last Monday, 3-year-old Kirsten Grace Jones, of Gran­ite­ville, was fatally struck by a golf cart in the parking lot at Aiken Regional Medical Centers. Police said a security guard, Donald Eugene Fox, 63, was driving the vehicle. The investigation is ongoing, according to officials.

David Adams, a safety program manager for the state Department of Trans­por­tation, said tracking golf cart accidents can be difficult in Georgia because law enforcement agencies do not have a “golf cart” category on crash reports.

The federal Consumer Pro­duct Safe­ty Commission estimates that 15,193 golf cart injuries occurred in the U.S. last year, with more than 15 percent resulting in hospitalization.

Morris said he’s never experienced a golf-cart-related fatality during his time in Columbia County and that the majority of injuries go undocumented.

“People just need to be smart and safe,” he said. “Keep your limbs in the cart and make sure everyone’s in a seat – these things may sound simple, but they’re very important.”

David Zagoria, a former assistant district attorney in Fulton County who is now a personal-injury trial lawyer in Atlanta, says that golf carts are “inherently safe” but can be costly for those who do not abide by the laws.

He said his firm has never sued a golf cart company but averages five cases a year in which residents are sued in the millions for wrongful-death claims or in the hundreds of thousands for injuries related to people failing to supervise children or being involved in crashes.

“The problem is these vehicles are not viewed as dangerous among youthful drivers,” Zagoria said. “And without parental supervision, children as young as 12 years old can easily flip, skid and go unnoticed on public roadways.”

Texting and driving is illegal in a golf cart, as is driving while impaired.

In April, Georgia Gov. Na­than Deal signed a law allowing local governments to set their own restrictions on “personal transportation vehicles” such as golf carts on public roads.

Columbia County passed an ordinance restricting drivers on roads with a speed limit greater than 35 mph, not including state routes and ones managed by Grovetown and Harlem.

In Richmond County, a similar ordinance is in the works that possibly includes a registration process, along with brake light, headlight, turn signal and horn requirements to make the carts “street legal,” said Barry White, the director of the Augusta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“If someone breaks one of these laws, our officers usually give a warning,” Morris said of Columbia County. “I honestly can’t remember the last time we handed out a golf cart citation.”

He said the sheriff’s office does receive numerous calls regarding golf cart safety.

“The two main complaints we get are for people standing and for carts with too many passengers,” he said. “I can’t stress it enough: Be smart. Be safe.”

  • No standing inside or on the back platform
  • Keep arms and legs inside
  • All passengers must be in a seat
  • Stay off roads with a speed limit greater than 35 mph
  • No texting or drinking while driving
  • Drivers must have a valid license
Comments (10) Add comment
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corgimom 08/30/14 - 03:59 pm
I grew up near a planned

I grew up near a planned retirement community with lots of golf courses. Residential streets are engineered for automobiles, not golf carts, and you can't see them coming on many side streets.

They go just fast enough that by the time you see them, you're on top of them.

And a lot of the people that drive them are too old or impaired to be driving, but they think that they are ok in a golf cart, and the same problems that make them dangerous to drive a car makes them dangerous to drive a golf cart. They have impaired vision, impaired hearing, slow reaction times or cognitive problems. Or they are on medications or have been drinking. They know that they shouldn't be driving a car, but think that a golf cart is "safer" and ok.

In the retirement community that I mentioned, there are road signs alerting drivers to watch for them- and everybody groans when they see them, they know to be very alert.

chaslaw 08/30/14 - 04:17 pm
Inherently safe?

How can anything that weighs nearly half a ton and moves at speeds of 15 mph be considered "inherently safe"? Maybe a golf cart is safe relative to an automobile, but as long as it can move five times faster than a person walks and weighs many times more than a human does, it has "inherent" potential to be very dangerous.

Pops 08/30/14 - 06:55 pm
A three year old child

in a parking lot ( I assume had possibly darted into traffic) is just as prone to getting hit by a car or truck as a golf cart.

AutumnLeaves 08/30/14 - 10:49 pm
I lived in a planned

I lived in a planned retirement community, too, with a golf course and a country club, drove through there recently, still golf carts being used on the roads, but I didn't notice any signs referencing them, then or now.

Young Fred
Young Fred 08/31/14 - 03:46 am
Reality check

If you step onto a roadway or a path, you look first. That's what I was taught.

If this tragedy teaches others to look for more than just auto's, good, because they should.

Least you get me wrong, my heart is broken over this life that was needlessly lost! Sometimes stuff just happens. No matter what we do, stuff happens!!!

If the cart rider was driving willy-billy out of control, or if someone didn't have control over their child for that one split second, that needs to be considered.

Just trying to be real.

corgimom 08/31/14 - 06:08 am
Three year olds don't look,

Three year olds don't look, because they are three.

It was just a tragic accident. I feel so sorry for the driver.

I'm the grandmother of twins, and when they were smaller, that was my biggest fear- that one of them would get away from me in a parking lot while I was tending to the other one.

I agree with you, YF. Sometimes things just happen.

curly123053 08/31/14 - 08:31 am
Sad Event

I had a 4 year old nephew get knocked down by a retired lady in a golf cart at the Lakewood Family Campground in Myrtle Beach years ago. Luckily for him he just sustained bruises. This little girl is the first time I can recall someone dying from getting struck. I understand she snatched her hand out of her mother's hand to go walk with her grandmother who was several feet in front as they were leaving the hospital. Very sad accident as she darted into the crosswalk with little warning to the security guard. I feel sorry for him too and I keep all of them in my prayers.

justthefacts 08/31/14 - 08:44 am
Golf carts

They are used in many communities. They are great for visiting friends, going to the pool, the tennis courts and/or golf course. Accidents will happen, just as they do with 4000 pound cars.

oldredneckman96 08/31/14 - 10:25 am

We have rules that make it possible to use our roads to go to work, have an ambulance come rescue us or a fire truck save our home or just enjoy the world. The ability to maintain a posted speed, have certain equipment to signal and be seen by others is mandated. Liability insurance, tags, taxes and a host of things to pay for the use of the roads is required. Skip any of this and you can be fined or sent to jail, unless you drive a bicycle or golf cart, why? Why do we have some that have to follow the rules and some that do not?

JRC2024 08/31/14 - 12:05 pm
"He said his firm has never

"He said his firm has never sued a golf cart company".
Why would he. The person driving or the person who walked out in front of the cart is the responsible party.

KSL 08/31/14 - 01:19 pm
Because lawyers will often go

Because lawyers will often go after the deep pockets.

oldredneckman96 08/31/14 - 04:06 pm

Lawyers do not sue the cart makers because the cart makers have shielded themselves with the fact they have already stated carts do not belong on a public street. If you are dumb enough to use a cart on the street it is your problem.

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