LAKE CHARLES, LA - Around 13,000 golf cart-related accidents require emergency room visits each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Chief Deputy Stitch Guillory said the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office receives a lot of calls about children recklessly driving golf carts in the roads. It's become more frequent, especially in areas like Moss Bluff.
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According to Louisiana state law, Title 32, Section 299, it's illegal to operate a golf cart on a parish or city roadway unless the parish or city has designated that road for the use of golf carts, or if there is a golf course on either side and DOTD has issued a permit for the crossing.
"There's also a parish ordinance that says it is against the law to operate a golf cart on parish roads," said Guillory.
There are two laws in Calcasieu Parish restricting the use of golf carts only to roads that have been designated as golf cart acceptable; however, these ordinances seem to be overlooked.
In order to legally operate a golf cart on a road that has been cleared for golf cart use, you need a valid driver's license. What most people don't realize is you also need liability coverage.
The golf cart also has to be registered with the state through the office motor vehicles, with a decal clearly displayed.
You also need proper safety equipment like:
- A rear view mirror
- Red reflectorized warning devices in both the front and rear of the vehicle
- Front and rear turn signal lamps
- Tail lamps
- Brake lamps.
The biggest problem is underage children operating the carts without supervision.
It is illegal to even let them ride around the neighborhood.
"We see a lot of it quite a bit and it's very unfortunate," said Guillory. "Parents have to understand that they're asking for trouble by letting their kids out there and operate these vehicles unsupervised."
A lot of parents think that a neighborhood would be safe.
"Well, crashes occur in neighborhoods as well," said Sgt. James Anderson with Louisiana State Police Troop D. "You are more likely to get in an accident near your home than anywhere else."
Anderson tries to educate children about the danger in not wearing a seat belt.
"Fifty-eight percent of the people that die in crashes that we investigate aren't properly restrained on a golf cart," said Anderson. "If that golf cart is struck; obviously the number will be a lot higher because that golf cart offers very little protection."
This isn't a far-fetched idea.
"We, unfortunately, have kids that are hurt or killed driving off-road vehicles which a golf cart is considered an off-road vehicle," said Guillory.
Guillory has seen it himself.
"In my neighborhood, we had a kid that was thrown from a golf cart and had to go to a trauma unit," he said.
There are cases, however, that aren't so clear cut.
Helene Massey, who lives in Grand Lake, sees no problem with letting her 13-year-old son, Kade, ride around at night to go frogging.
"We've always grown up in a rural area," said Massey. "A lot of the kids are used to driving tractors at 10 or 11-years-old, so they've been taught from a very young age safety, what to do, what not to do, and to be responsible."
Also, there isn't a lot of traffic where they live, so Massey has full confidence in her son's responsibility.
She does recognize the dangers, though.