Golf carts drive debate; Groves’ officials worry whether to allow or not

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, June 29, 2017

GROVES — An increase in complaints about golf cart drivers and the realization that they are at present illegal to operate on city streets has led to talks of a possible ordinance in Groves.

“I’m not promoting this one side or the other,” Groves City Marshal Norman Reynolds Jr. said. “It’s just I think it’s time we make a decision.”

Reynolds brought his concerns regarding golf cart usage to city council earlier this week for discussion. He explained that without an ordinance in place, driving golf carts on city streets is illegal.

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According to Texas code, driving golf carts on public streets is legal in three circumstances: if a driver lives in a master planned community and is traveling to and from a golf course within two miles of where the cart is parked; it’s legal to drive on beaches and it is legal if an ordinance is adopted by a town.

A golf course was once located in Groves but shut down years ago.

“Probably one of the biggest problems is the kids on golf carts. Personally, I’ve seen them myself,” he said. “They’re not designed for the road, never were.”

It’s common to see golf carts traverse the city. During the school year some parents drop off and pick their children up from school or go to local sporting events and some use them to make a quick trip to the grocery store. Then there are the youth who pack a golf cart to, or above, capacity, the adults who drive around with an infant or toddler in their lap and those who drive dangerously.

Reynolds provided council with examples of ordinances from League City, which he said has an informative question-and-answer section, and Port Neches Police Department information.

The city of Nederland adopted a golf cart ordinance in 2010 stating, in part, that golf carts must have headlamps, tail lamps, reflectors, parking brake and mirrors, they are not allowed on any state highway within the corporate boundaries of the city, they must be operated by persons with a valid operator’s permit and/or driver’s license, no person can ride in the lap of the driver or any other occupant and must be equipped with a slow moving vehicle emblem in addition to other rules.

Port Neches’ ordinance, adopted in 2011, is similar.

Reynolds and the councilmembers realize there are some questions that need to addressed. Councilmember Sidney Badon asked who would be fined in the case of an unlicensed driver, such as a teen. By law, police can cite the youngster but the responsibility of taking care of the citation would likely fall to the child’s parents.

Councilmember Jim Rasa wondered if formalizing the issue would create a bigger problem.

“Port Neches had a few of them, then they passed an ordinance and now there’s more of them,” Rasa said. He also asked how many people would benefit from an ordinance.

Reynolds said the ones who want golf carts probably already have them while Mayor Brad Bailey voiced disagreement with Rasa’s comment that there are more golf carts in Port Neches because there is an ordinance in place there.

Reynolds has a few things he would like to see addressed should an ordinance be adopted in the future. They include requiring the operator to have a valid driver’s license and liability insurance and staying off highways. He also worried about the use of golf carts at night and during inclement weather such as during rain or fog.

A golf cart related fatality occurred in December 2013 when a 47-year-old Port Neches man made a turn from Fourth Street onto FM 366/Magnolia Avenue and reportedly failed to yield right-of-way at a stop sign. He was struck on the driver’s side of the golf cart by a vehicle and later died from his injuries. Police believe foggy conditions may have played a role in the crash.

Port Neches Police Chief Paul Lemoine believes the city’s ordinance works fine and is easily enforceable. The problem, he said, is compliance because some don’t recognize golf carts as motor vehicles, even though they are.

Nederland Assistant Police Chief Gary Porter said their ordinance is not difficult to enforce. The only problems are parents letting kids who are unlicensed drivers operate them on the roadway and people holding children in their laps.

Councilmember Kyle Hollier summed the issue and their concerns.

“If we consider an ordinance it will make some people happy and some people not happy,” Hollier said. “I’m worried about the –year-old girl and the fire department out and scraping her off the road.”

After making the comment Hollier looked to a fire department official in the room who confirmed the brute truth of comment.

Reporter: Mary Meaux, 409-721-2429

Twitter: @MaryMeauxPANews