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Legal: Hazards of Golf Carts and other Alternative Vehicles

Legal: Hazards of Golf Carts and other Alternative Vehicles

This article is written for information purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice; any legal questions must be addressed to your attorney of choice.

Hazards of Golf Carts and other Alternative Vehicles

As we enter the summer season, with kids out of school, and more time for leisure activities, it’s common to see golf carts and similar utility terrain vehicles (UTV’s) all over the roads of our subdivisions. While these popular means of transport (also sometimes referred to as “Side-by-Side Vehicles”) can certainly be both fun and useful, they are far too often the source of dangerous accidents and tragedies.

Depending on the source, there are anywhere from 15,000-25,000 injuries reported every year from accidents involving golf carts and utility vehicles. Just last month, a Disneyland employee suffered deadly head injuries after falling out of a moving golf cart that happened in a backstage area of the park. The injuries that can occur typically come from individuals being ejected from the vehicles (as was the case in Anaheim) or being struck by such vehicles. I’ve seen adults and children alike severely injured, often critically because there is nothing bracing those from impact, and seat belts (when they are even present) are seldom used.

As such, I would like to provide the following recommendations to the owners of such vehicles and to all those who are going to be riding on such a vehicle.

Age of Use

Almost half of all accidents involving these “alternative vehicles”, and nearly all fatalities, involved children 12 years of age or younger. Children often do not perceive the dangers associated with their actions and can be quite impulsive, so having children in a golf cart/side-by-side vehicle with other children can be a dangerous mix. In a recent instance, a group of teenagers left one home to drive to another home; because there wasn’t room for the 10-year-old brother to ride in the cart with the other teens, the 10-year-old was riding on the roof of the golf cart. Less than 1000 feet from departure, the 10-year-old was thrown from the top of the cart, striking a curb and suffering a severe spinal injury.

While many of us consider these types of vehicles as low-speed vehicles, parents of young children and teenagers must be the decision makers in allowing their child to ride and/or drive these large and powerful vehicles. Just as we provide rules in technology use to keep our children safe on the Internet, we (as parents) must provide rules for the usage of golf carts/UTV’s in order to make our best effort in preventing tragic events for our children.

Training

While golf carts/UTV’s can be considered “easy to drive”, there are courses, both online and in person, for the correct and safe use of these vehicles. Some of these alternative vehicles can travel at high speeds and while many are driven on roads shared with cars and commercial vehicles, most people (especially those under the age of 20) have never had any formal training in what type of vehicle they are driving. With the legal age of driving a golf cart in Texas being 16 years old AND having a valid driver’s license, residents in our local golf communities have frequently spoke to me about the large number of kids (under the age of 16) that drive these carts on a regular basis. While there are similarities between driving a golf cart and driving a car, there are some major differences. Unlike motor vehicles, golf carts are not built to withstand collisions and are much more prone to rollovers. With the surge in popularity of these “alternative” means of transportation, we must raise awareness of the dangers that these vehicles can present. Proper training not only helps a person learn responsible driving for these alternative vehicles, but it also gives peace of mind to the parents of teenagers (who are 16 years of age or older) that may be sending their children out on the public roads.

Unit Manufacturer

Responsible manufacturers spend millions of dollars on testing their equipment, ensuring that it is safe to operate. I have noticed a lot of sellers popping up all over selling “off brand” types of these vehicles, and there are even more available online. However, what testing have these off brands gone through? Are the suspension and safety systems tested and appropriate for the vehicle? If something does go wrong, is the manufacturer going to be there to stand behind its product?

Golf cart fires are becoming much more common and there seems to be a link between the lithium battery of a golf cart and golf cart fires. When looking at buying a golf cart or other alternative vehicle, think about the manufacturer, how long they have been around and do your research on their safety record (especially in regard to fires on the alternative vehicle that you are purchasing).

The Liability Concern

Imagine the following scenario: you have just purchased your dream recreational alternative vehicle – a golf cart, a UTV, a side-by-side vehicle or some type of custom combination of these three and it has all of the bells and whistles that you could dream of so that you and your family can create memorable times. Now, envision that your 16-year-old licensed daughter comes up to you and asks to ride it to a friend’s house and you agree. Your daughter picks up her friend and they go speeding down to the golf course (which is closed) to do some off-roading. Your daughter, who is driving, loses control on the side of a hill and the vehicle rolls; as it rolls, her friend falls out and is crushed under the vehicle and suffers a severe spinal injury.

Once this tragedy has occurred (and this is a variation of a very real scenario), individuals are going to start looking at who to blame and from whom to seek money to cover all of the medical bills (past, present, and future) and for pain and suffering.

If you are the owner of the alternative vehicle, you can rest assured that you are target number one. Did you tell your insurer that you purchased this alternative vehicle?  Many insurers exclude UTVs/golf carts/alternative vehicles unless you buy specific insurance coverage for them. If you have no insurance, you may be in for some very difficult financial issues related to the injuries and most likely – a lawsuit.

Likewise, the driver of the alternative vehicle (your daughter in this scenario) will also be a target.  Because she was a minor does not restrict her liability, or potentially that of her parents.

The golf course owner may also face liability – did they know kids drove golf carts/alternative vehicles on the golf course at night and do nothing to prevent it?

The most important thing to try and do is to prevent any of this from happening, but if it does, be prepared with proper insurance coverage so that your insurance provider can be the navigator in this legal maze.

Conclusion

In conclusion, UTVs and Golf Carts (“alternative vehicles”), are a great way to do more than just transport you through a golf game. Driving around your neighborhood at dusk can be a relaxing and memorable time for your family as you observe the landscaping and lighting of the beautiful homes in your neighborhood. Just remember, that these alternative vehicles lack safety features, and a multitude of mishaps can occur. Your alternative vehicle may collide with any kind of object, another alternative vehicle, a car, commercial vehicle or can even have a rollover due to its major differences from an actual automobile. Don’t let the safety of yourself or your children fall under the radar, take the necessary steps now to ensure that riding in an alternative vehicle, such as a golf cart or UTV, remains fun and does not become the source of a tragedy.

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