Treat operating golf cart with care it warrants

info@islandpacket.comSeptember 6, 2012 

A Georgia woman's death after falling out of a golf cart, the second such incident in just over a year, is a reminder that these vehicles aren't all fun and games.

The woman died Aug. 17, three days after she fell out of the cart when her husband made a sharp left turn.

The scenario was similar in a June 2011 death in Sun City Hilton Head. A Knoxville, Tenn., woman fell after her boyfriend made a sharp left turn. In 2008, a man died after he fell off a golf cart when his friend turned left onto a Daufuskie Island Road.

Officials on Fripp Island, where the Aug. 17 accident occurred, say they don't think more stringent rules about operating the carts could have prevented the accident.

They're probably right. What's needed is an attitude adjustment from people operating and riding in golf carts. They can be just as dangerous as other types of vehicles, perhaps even more so because they lack structural and safety features that are standard in other vehicles.

The Insurance Journal reported in 2010 that each year about 13,000 golf cart-related accidents require emergency room visits. Of those accidents, about 40 percent involve children younger than 16, and half of those are due to a fall from a moving golf cart.

Passengers and drivers need to pay attention. They need to understand what happens in a turn and to be prepared for it. Centrifugal forces send occupants to the right in a sharp left turn, according to Technology Associates, an engineering firm that studied golf cart ejections. Drivers have the steering wheel to hold onto and can anticipate a turn. Side restraints on the seat don't provide enough leverage to prevent ejections.

Eric Goldstein, manager of Ridgeland-based Lowcountry Golf Cars, warned last year: "If you're not paying attention, you can fall out of a passenger seat pretty easily at 10 or 15 mph. You have to watch where you're going and lean with the turn."

After the Tennessee woman's death last year, requiring seat belts in golf carts came up. Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner suggested lawmakers require them for people who travel in golf carts on public roads.

That's logical. We require drivers and passengers in other vehicles to wear seat belts. Why not golf carts, particularly when you consider how much easier it is to fall off a golf cart than out of a car.

Even if seat belts aren't required in golf carts, there's nothing to prevent a cart owner from installing them and using them. Many have done so.

As much as people rely on golf carts for regular transportation, they should understand the risks involved in operating them and act accordingly.

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