A pair of state legislators is looking to move golf carts from fairways to roadways.
A bill by Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, would let people drive golf carts in bike lanes and on sidewalks throughout the state.
Meanwhile, a bill by Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, would let local jurisdictions create golf cart zones on low-speed streets.
Right now, state law allows police to ticket people who drive golf carts on roads.
The bills come four months after the City of Orting enacted a policy allowing golf carts on most of its city streets, and more than three years after the City of Liberty Lake in Eastern Washington did the same. But law enforcement agencies worry about whether it’s safe to allow golf carts to drive alongside multi-ton sedans and SUVs – especially since the carts wouldn’t need to have standard safety features such as seat belts.
“When you put a slow-moving golf cart, even with traffic going 25 miles per hour downtown, it can lead to some safety concerns,” said Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “It’s just not necessarily a good mix.”
Haugen said she thinks legalized golf cart travel could be useful for elderly people who no longer wish to drive cars.
“We’re having more and more people get older, and they aren’t able to drive as much,” Haugen said. “We really are trying to be sensitive to the whole idea of providing alternative transportation.”
Haugen’s bill would allow carts to travel only on streets with speed limits of 25 miles per hour or below. Green’s bill would allow them to go anywhere that bicycles or pedestrians can go, and classify them as “local electric carts.”
Neither proposal would require the golf carts to have seat belts. Green’s bill also doesn’t establish an age or licensing requirement for people driving golf carts.
Those are big concerns for law enforcement officials, said Melissa Van Gorkom, equipment and standards manager for the Washington State Patrol.
“Technically, you could have a 12-year-old operating one of these on the street or the sidewalk who doesn’t have the training to operate a motor vehicle,” Van Gorkom said.
Haugen’s bill passed out of the Senate Transportation Committee, which Haugen leads, last week after being amended to require that a golf cart operator possess a valid driver’s license.
Green’s bill, House Bill 2588, hadn’t been scheduled for a hearing as of Friday.
Orting Councilman David Inge is one of three residents who have taken advantage of the city’s new golf cart law since it went into effect in October.
Inge said he likes using his golf cart for short trips because it doesn’t consume gas and is more fun than driving a car.
“If there’s an errand I need to run in town, I’d much rather do it in my golf cart,” Inge said. “You’ll pull over and talk to people, get comments. It’s just a friendly way to travel.”
Environmental advocates strongly support Green’s bill to allow carts on bike paths and sidewalks, said Richard Burris, who serves on the transportation committee for the Sierra Club’s Cascade chapter.
“It basically treats an electric golf cart just like a bicycle,” Burris said. “It’s much cheaper for cities than creating added lanes to accommodate traffic.”
Van Gorkom said Green’s bill could open up sidewalks to more than just golf carts, since “local electric carts” could include anything that has four wheels, runs on electricity and goes less than 20 miles per hour.
“There are a lot of things people can make in their garage that wouldn’t necessarily be safe,” Van Gorkom said.
“You may not want those on the sidewalk with a pedestrian.”
Melissa Santos: 253-552-7058