KOSCIUSKO COUNTY — Originally designed to carry two golfers and golf clubs around a golf course, golf carts are becoming modes of transportation in towns and communities. It possibly started when gas prices skyrocketed late in 2009.
While this mode of transportation has become common in the area, the lack of knowledge on local ordinances and state guidelines regulating the use of golf carts appears to be evident.
Young drivers, those under the age of 16, are being seen more often operating these carts with and without adult supervision. Additionally golf carts without any type of headlights or taillights are also being observed.
The state enacted a statute in 2009 allowing a city, county or town to adopt by ordinance traffic regulations of golf carts or off-road vehicles (IC 9-21-1-3), as long as it did not conflict with or duplicate another state law or conflict with a driver’s licensing requirement; stipulating how fines assessed for a violation were handled and it not be operated on a highway.
Ordinances regulating the use of golf carts can be found in all towns within the county, except Warsaw and Leesburg, which do not allow the use of such motorized vehicles within the city/town limits. County regulations fall under an off-road vehicle ordinance.
“Some are work related, others are for transportation,” said Craig Allebach, Winona Lake town coordinator. He noted even the town’s street department uses a golf cart for some of its tasks. “It’s nice (to use golf carts) here,” Allebach stated, noting the town has no highways. “Golf carts are used a lot,” he added, noting golf carts are popular on the campus of Grace College as well. “Every once in a while we’ll have kids violate the parameters of the ordinance.”
“It’s economical,” said Tom Miller, Winona Lake Public Works director through Inframark. Miller noted it is used on the town’s greenway, to get the mail and other tasks. “It’s easier to get around.”
Winona Lake was one of the first in the county to pass a golf cart ordinance. “We passed ours right out of the chute,” Allebach said.
While each town’s ordinance varies, there is one clear rule. The golf carts can only be operated by an individual with a valid driver’s license. The ordinances also require the display of a slow moving vehicle emblem or a red or amber flashing lamp. Many also require full working headlights and taillights.
Silver Lake requires golf carts be registered annually with the police department and pay a $20 registration fee as well as the owner carry insurance.
The ordinances require operators to obey the rules of the road, specify where children under certain ages are allowed to ride. Milford and Etna Green’s ordinances do not allow children under the age of 2 to occupy the golf cart.
In all cases the golf carts are not allowed to be operated on state highways.
Chris Francis, sheriff’s office public relations officer, stated the county follows the county’s off road ordinance and the state regulations. While he believes the fad has died out some, the golf carts are used by many for just cruising the area and looking at scenery, along with saving on gas for short distance errands. “They are safer than a moped,” he noted.
Will Wingfield, communications director with the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute, provided statistics regarding golf cart collisions. However he noted golf cart crashes may be under-reported because the state’s crash records database does not have a specific vehicle classification for golf carts and crashes on private roads and paths may not be reported.
Additionally state law does not require police agencies to file motor vehicle crash reports if the property damage totals under $1,000 and there is no injury or death.
What Wingfield found was in 2015 there were 28 golf cart collisions reported in the state, four with incapacitating injuries, 12 with non-incapacitating injures and two involving an operator who was alcohol impaired. That same year, Kosciusko County had four total collisions, with four non-incapacitating injures and one of those collisions had an impaired driver.
The numbers statewide increased to 47 in 2017 with five incapacitating injuries, dropping down to nine total collisions in 2019 with two incapacitating injuries, two non-incapacitating injuries and one alcohol impaired. There were no golf cart collisions found after 2015 for Kosciusko County.
Ordinances can be found at the clerk-treasurer’s office in each community.