Nearly 10 months after state lawmakers from Beaufort County led a successful effort to change the law to allow the use of golf carts at night, the county has yet to establish specific rules to jump-start the after-dark cruising.
A series of speed bumps have slowed the process, the most recent coming from Daufuskie Island residents who are concerned with the expense of upgrading older carts to meet safety standards proposed by the Beaufort County Council.
An ordinance that would have established the island as a proving ground for the new rules was yanked from the agenda at a council meeting earlier this week in order to give county, Daufuskie Island and law enforcement officials more time to consider it.
Because the island has few cars and virtually no traffic, county officials say Daufuskie Island could be a relatively safe test for new nighttime golf cart rules.
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Those rules — as they are currently proposed — require carts be equipped with a host of safety features such as turn signals, strobe lights, seat belts and a horn. Some of those features don’t come standard on many carts.
Particularly for older carts, “there isn’t that standardization (of safety features) that automobiles have with seat belts and lights and turn signals and things like that,” Club Car of Hilton Head owner Ben Andrews told council members earlier this year.
But carts can certainly be upgraded, he said.
Bruce Simmons with Quality Golf Cars agreed.
“There is a ton of (after-market equipment) out there,” he said. “... All of this safety equipment is available — if you want seat belts, if you want a strobe light.”
But Daufuskie Island leaders have expressed concerns about the county requiring some of these features on all carts used at night.
Upgrading older carts to meet the proposed requirements could cost “at least $1,000,” Daufuskie Island Councilwoman Deborah Smith told county leaders at a Public Facilities Committee meeting earlier this week.
“That’s a lot of money for folks,” she said.
New carts with safety features already installed are cost-prohibitive for many islanders, Smith said.
“When we are talking about people in our historic district, we are talking about working people — and nobody buys new carts,” she said.
A letter to county leaders penned by the Daufuskie Island Council also claims that “implementing all of the original ordinance’s safety features would impose a severe cost on the rental companies” that provide carts to island visitors.
County Council members differ on whether the board ought to budge on its current proposal.
Councilman Jerry Stewart said earlier this week the he would be willing to consider “toning down or changing some of the (requirements) as requested by the Daufuskie Island people,” so long as the ordinance is clear that it applies only to the island.
Councilwoman Alice Howard disagreed.
“These additional requirements, I couldn’t see why — even on Daufuskie — you wouldn’t want them,” she said. “... I know there is an expense involved … but it seems that these are things you would want for your own personal safety.”
County attorney Tom Keaveny said it could be possible to draft one set of scaled-back regulations specifically for Daufuskie Island, then a second set for other parts of the county in the future.
But having two separate sets of rules for cart use “could get complicated real fast,” he said.
Keaveny added that if “County Council is going to be criticized for anything, it ought to be criticized for requiring extra safety equipment as opposed to not requiring it.”
Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner has repeatedly warned county leaders about the dangers posed by allowing carts — which he has referred to as “slow-moving hazards” — to be driven at night on the same streets as cars and trucks.
Council members plan to consult with Tanner and island leaders in the coming weeks, and the issue is expected to be taken back up when the council’s Public Facilities Committee meets again next month.