Allowing golf carts to roam: Green solution or road hazard?

A pair of Washington 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.