Golf carts can be pretty helpful on the golf course, but they can also be a lot of fun for the family out on public roads. The fact that they are so easy to drive and their relative safety compared to typical cars makes them an attractive pursuit for children. But how old should a child be before they are legally permitted to drive one of these things?
The minimum legal age to drive a golf cart in most states is 13 years. There are, however, various conditions that vary from state to state regarding public spaces, driving license requirements, golf courses, and private land.
Let’s take a closer look at the factors you will need to consider before letting any teenagers get behind the wheel. They can be an excellent experience for anyone interested, so read on to discover how the younger generations can get behind the steering wheel safely, legally, and in the most awesome way possible.
Age Restrictions by State
The age restriction laws can get a bit complex if you’re not familiar with them, but it’s always a good idea to know a bit about them for everyone’s legal and physical safety. In states such as California, Georgia, Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, Kentucky, South Carolina, and Vermont, the minimum age is 13 years. In Florida, for example, you see this slightly raised to a minimum of 14 or 15 years, with some states such as Missouri going as high as 16 years.
Should you have any doubts, the best course of action will be to look up your home state’s legislation on the matter or talk to your golf cart dealer or rental service for guidance.
Driving on Public Roads and Public Spaces
The age restrictions on golf cart driving are mainly designed to address who can drive one of these vehicles in places where people are allowed to move freely. This refers to public parks, public roads, some residential areas, and so on. Golf courses are often included here, even though they might be private. The rules here can be a bit tricky. A thirteen-year-old, for example, can drive a cart across a private farm, but it is illegal for them to cross a highway to get to another private property on the other side.
Driver’s License Requirements
The critical point here is that younger drivers will need a valid driver’s license to take a golf cart out onto public roads. A significant number of states will only issue driver’s licenses to people who have attained the age of 16, so public road driving will not be legally possible for teens below this age in all cases. Carts will also need to be appropriately registered before anyone can take them out on the road, just as with any ordinary vehicle.
For public roads, the general rules across most states treat them much the same way as with other typical automobiles. This means that cart drivers will have to obey all the traffic rules and regulations that the drivers of ordinary cars are subjected to or face the risk of legal censure. Stop signs, stop lights, pedestrian crossings, yield signs, proper turn signal usage, and more need to be heeded.
Vehicle Modification Requirements
Most golf carts don’t get to a very high top speed, most of them peaking at somewhere between 15 and 15 miles per hour. Many states do not allow them on any public roadways where the speed limit exceeds 35 miles per hour, owing to the limitation of carts in this area. This is a valuable safety precaution since operating on the same roads with vehicles moving much faster can place the cart driver and other road users at risk.
In many states, you will be required to make certain modifications to a golf cart before it can be considered road-ready. Such changes might include installing windshields, lift kits (to increase their clearance off the ground), motor upgrades (to boost the cart’s top speed and torque), and more, depending on the type of cart in question. There are, however, road-ready golf carts available that need little to no additional modifications.
You might still be required to have a ‘Slow-Moving Vehicle’ sticker on the cart to make sure everyone keeps a safe distance. While the teenager driving the cart might not be held responsible for these tweaks and won’t even have to own the cart to take it out on the road, they will still have the owner’s permission to be driving the vehicle.
Private Property Regulations
This is where the fun begins. One of the exciting things about golf carts, and perhaps the central part of their appeal to young drivers, is their relatively loose regulation while on private land.
The majority of states will not interfere with a person driving a cart on private land, no matter their age. The reason here is that the landowner is responsible for the safety and behavior of the driver and occupants driving on their property.
There are plenty of people who take advantage of this freedom to start teaching their young children how to drive on a golf cart while within the confines of their private property. You should remember that golf courses still require licensed drivers because even though they might be private, courses are still classified as public areas. This is why most golf cart rentals will make sure you understand this before letting you take one of their carts out.
Safety Considerations for Younger Drivers
Whether on public or private property, the foremost consideration for golf cart owners should be the safety of the young driver they allow behind the wheel. A ten-year study by the AJPM (American Journal of Preventative Medicine) found that golf cart crashes resulted in an average of over 10,000 emergency room visits each year.
Some types of carts, such as the six or eight-seater versions, might weigh as much as a small passenger car, and so the slow speeds shouldn’t trick you into thinking there’s no danger. You wouldn’t let a young child out on a bicycle without a helmet, so exercise the same caution when it comes to golf carts. There are plenty of simple safety precautions and guidelines you can put in place to make sure things don’t end up a mess.
Seat belts and hip restraints often come as standard features on recreational golf carts nowadays, and so you should always insist on the importance of putting them on any time they are driving. At a speed of just 19 miles per hour, a golf cart colliding with something will generate enough force to throw an occupant without a seat belt out of the cart. This is the most common cause of golf cart-related injuries.
Tip-overs and rollovers are also highly common mishaps encountered by golf cart drivers, and the restraints and seat belts can help avoid injury under these circumstances. It should be obvious here, but this is a reason to resist the urge to let your young ones ride on your lap while in a golf cart.
For those who intend to have their carts out on the public roads, making the braking system more sensitive or sharper should be one of the modifications they consider. The ability to brake quickly might be the difference between a close shave and complete chaos, especially in public spaces.
This is particularly pertinent for those who wish to let their underage children drive a golf cart on private property, where age or license restrictions generally do not apply. Remember, you are the one to be responsible here, so make sure you are aware of all that’s happening. You don’t want to have to answer questions from the Department of Child Services about why you felt it was an excellent idea to let your ten-year-old joy ride around the place on a half-ton vehicle.
One of the troubles with younger drivers is that they tend to become reckless when in groups, and teenagers will most often be driving a recreational golf cart with friends. One of the significant risks associated with this is their tendency to overload the cart. An overloaded golf cart is much more prone to tipping over or rolling, and the excess people on board are much more likely to be harmed in the commotion.
It is interesting to note that about one-third of all golf cart-related crashes and injuries involve younger drivers, though it shouldn’t be shocking to anyone. Adults with experience driving real cars on real roads understand the risks, but younger drivers are often too immature and inexperienced to be careful while operating these vehicles. Tell them to respect the cart just as they would any other vehicle if they’ve obtained their license.
Try and help younger golf cart drivers understand the potential risks involved and how to enjoy the experience without placing themselves and others in unnecessary danger. Other than that, be sure to tell them to have a blast!