New law allows golf carts on roads

Thursday, July 2, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff

With Shoreline communities filling up with visitors for beach season, golf carts laden with towels and umbrellas could be popping up on local roads.

After a year of uncertainty for owners about whether they could drive their carts on the road, new legislation passed by the General Assembly authorized towns to allow golf carts, with certain restrictions.

This week, the Old Saybrook Police Department started a program for owners to register their vehicles, following recent approval by the Police Commission.

State Rep. Marilyn Giuliano, R-Old Saybrook, said a reinterpretation of existing state regulations about a year ago led to golf carts being banned from public roads.

After hearing from beach communities concerned about the change, Giuliano put forward a bill that would leave it up to the towns whether to permit golf carts.

Under the legislation, local traffic authorities are allowed to set regulations for golf carts on roads with a speed limit of 25 mph or lower. The carts cannot be driven at night, and operators must have a driver’s license.

Old Saybrook, with a population officials estimate quadruples in the summer, is a prime location for people wanting to use their golf carts to drive from their homes to the beach. Resident Andy Natale said that many of the residents of Indian Town, the beach community where he lives, have golf carts for that purpose.

“Really, it was so helpful over here — you can have parking problems if you have to take all your cars down to the beach, (and) most of the golf carts are electric, so it saves on gas and emissions,” Natale said. “The only problem that we have, and hopefully (the law is) going to change it, is that you have these parents who let their kids drive them.”

Natale said the farthest people in his community drive the carts is three or four blocks. He added that the carts can increase mobility for the elderly or others who might have difficulty getting around.

Old Saybrook Deputy Police Chief Michael Spera said the department began receiving complaints several years ago about people operating golf carts unsafely, or about the carts being driven by children.

The town implemented an ordinance to allow the carts with restrictions, but the change in state regulation last year overturned those rules.

Spera estimated that there are about 500 carts in Old Saybrook. The town’s new regulation, under the new state law, requires people to register the carts with the Police Department on an annual basis and follow other safety requirements.

The cost for registering the carts is $25 for the first cart, $20 for a second and $15 for a third.

The penalty for violating the regulations is $35 under state law, Spera said, but that could increase in the future. Drivers also must obey all the traffic regulations that apply to a car.

Clinton Police Chief Joseph Faughnan said the town has not created its own rules for golf cart operation yet, but he expects officials will do so over the summer. Until then, he said, people should not take their golf carts on the roads there.

Faughnan said he was in favor of allowing people to drive the carts on local roads.

“They don’t take up much space, especially with the limited parking in the lots along town beaches, (so) it expands the opportunity for other people to use the beach because the parking lots don’t fill up so quickly,” he said. “They’re quiet, they don’t disturb the neighbors, and they’re fun.”

He noted that with the restriction of the carts to roads with a maximum speed limit of 25 mph, people do not have to worry about them causing traffic problems on Route 1 or other major roads.

“They’re big in beach communities,” he said.

In Guilford, Police Chief Thomas Terribile said he considered driving golf carts on the road unsafe, but added that he does not think it will be an issue since the town has few, if any, roads with a speed limit under 25 mph.

“Luckily, we don’t have any roads that are under 25 (mph), so we shouldn’t have to deal with it,” he said. “There are private roads, but certainly they could already drive on those.”

In Old Saybrook, Spera said he is working with the beach community associations to let drivers know about the change in the law and the need to register their carts.

“We’re hoping that this new process, like our former town ordinance, will curtail (dangerous driving) and make the operation safe,” he said.

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