06/29/08 — Mount Olive sets sights on limits for golf carts

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Mount Olive sets sights on limits for golf carts

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 29, 2008 2:01 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Could motorists here some day be sharing more road space with golf carts as travelers look for ways to reduce the economic sting of the gas pumps?

Town officials say they want to be ready -- just in case.

Last week, the town board voted to ask state Rep. Louis Pate Jr. of Mount Olive to help get the town on a state list that would allow it to regulate the golf carts.

"People talk abut the wheels of government turning slow, but the board voted Monday night at 7:30 and Tuesday afternoon it was filed (in the state House)," Town Manager Charles Brown said.

If approved, Mount Olive would join a growing list of municipalities across the state seeking that regulatory authority. Locally, the list already includes Fremont and Faison in Duplin County.

Fremont Town Manager Kerry McDuffie said the issue is expected to be on the town board's July agenda.

"We are still kicking the idea around," he said.

Both Brown and McDuffie said the actions were not taken because of any public complaints, but rather because the golf carts are already on the streets.

McDuffie said a number of board decisions remain to be made about the carts -- should they be registered; should they be inspected; and should the rules apply to just electric- or gas-powered carts, or both.

There is even the possibility that the town will look into buying one or two of the carts for its own use, he said.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly has created a committee to study the risk and liabilities associated with the use of mopeds and golf carts on public roads.

The committee also is charged with determining whether the state should require moped and golf cart owners to maintain liability insurance on, or some other form of financial responsibility for the vehicles.

It will make recommendations regarding whether mopeds and golf carts should be registered with the Division of Motor Vehicles, including the amount of the registration fee, if any, and all procedures related to the registration.

Already, golf carts are a familiar sight on Mount Olive streets, as are motorized wheelchairs. Brown said there are at least two of the golf carts that have all of the necessary safety equipment to be certified by the state Division of Motor Vehicles to operate on public roads.

Brown said that the town has no regulatory authority over the use of the motorized wheelchairs. That is also true of golf carts operated by handicapped persons.

Even if the town is added to the state list, it still will lack authority to regulate the golf carts on the state-maintained roads in town including James, Main and Church streets and Breazeale Avenue.

Mount Olive's Town Board first discussed the issue at its meeting at the first of June.

Pate was contacted about the issue and told Brown that the statute had to be amended to add the town to the list. Pate also told the town that it only had about two weeks left before the deadline to file the amendment.

"We felt like the prudent thing to do was to go ahead and get our name on the list," Brown said. "It does not mean that we intend to do it immediately. I don't know for certain they will do it all. The statute says that a town may, by ordinance, regulate the operation of golf carts. It doesn't say they will or have to.

"It puts us in a position, if we see the necessity to do it, that we are on the list and we can move forward on it."

There have been no complaints about the carts and Brown said he cannot remember who first broached the subject.

"With gas prices doing what they are doing, it would be sort of nice if citizens of Mount Olive had the option to operate a golf cart so as to not have to crank their car just to run an errand here in town," he said. "That was the reason it got mentioned at the board meeting in the first place."

The board has not reached the point where it has talked about how the town would regulate the carts. That probably won't happen until the board says it would like to move forward with it, Brown said.

Regulations could require a registration process and minimum-age requirement, liability insurance and maybe lighting on the golf carts.

"Those are issues we would address down the road should the board decide on regulation," he said. "We are ahead of the game instead of trying to catch up."

Brown has contacted other town managers, including the one in Badin, to see how the issue is being handled in other towns.

The Badin manager said it "works great for us," Brown said. Some people there don't like that are required to have turn signals if they drive at night, he said.

They have had a few problems including the theft of several golf carts, most of which have been recovered.

Brown said that the Badin ordinance notes that the town does not advocate or in any way endorse the use of golf carts, but, by regulating their operation, is merely addressing safety issues.

"I sort of think that is the approach we would take, too," he said. "If people are going to use them we need some way to make sure that they are safe."

Brown said he had a copy of the Badin ordinance that Mount Olive could model its ordinance on.

"Why re-invent the wheel," he said.