Bluffton state lawmaker fighting to allow golf-cart driving at night

Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton
Rep. Bill Herbkersman, R-Bluffton

A local legislator's plan to allow golf-cart drivers to ride at night has hit a roadblock.

A state Senate committee last week approved state Rep. Bill Herbkersman's bill to ease restrictions on golf-cart drivers but eliminated language that would permit them to be driven on roads at night, provided the carts have proper headlights and rear lights.

"There's already a danger driving these things on the road during the day," state Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown, said Monday.

Herbkersman, R-Bluffton, disagreed and said he plans to try to put the language back into the bill, which passed the House intact.

"If I'm driving down (U.S.) 278, then sure, I could see the problem," he said. "But there should be no problem taking a golf cart into downtown Bluffton to get something to eat."

State law limits golf carts to secondary roads with speed limits of 35 mph or less during daylight hours.

Herbkersman added that his bill could help ease congestion in Old Town Bluffton, which has seen a recent spike in traffic and a lack of parking.

The lawmaker also said the bill would require local governments to adopt it before it could be enacted in their respective jurisdictions.

Because of this, cities such as Myrtle Beach -- where Cleary said teenagers and young adults recklessly drive golf carts -- would not have to opt-in, Herbkersman said.

"If they don't want it, they don't have to have it," he said.

Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said he has no problem with golf carts being driven at night inside private gated communities, especially those accustomed to golf-cart traffic.

But he doesn't like the idea of them cruising at night on county roads with speed limits of more than 25 mph.

"Someone traveling behind it could see it in the distance, assume it's moving at the same rate of speed, and then be on top of it," he said. "That could cause real problems."

Herbkersman drafted the bill two years ago to accommodate communities where golf carts are prevalent, such as Daufuskie Island and Sun City Hilton Head. On Daufuskie, residents who drive golf carts at night on county roads do so illegally.

"People here like to go out to dinner," resident and former Daufuskie Island Council chairman Aaron Curry said. "If that dinner means they have to drive at night, then they'll drive at night.

"The idea is we want to do so legally."

About nine out of 10 vehicles on Daufuskie are golf carts, the only means of motorized travel on the island for many residents, island resident Bill Greenwood has said. In some of the gated communities on the island, electric golf carts are the only vehicles allowed, Curry said.

The bill is Herbkersman's second attempt to expand the rights of golf-cart drivers.

In 2012, a bill he sponsored to double the distance golf-cart drivers could venture from homes or gated communities was signed into law.

His new bill would also allow vacationers to drive their golf carts at a temporary address. For example, if a Columbia couple came to Hilton Head Island, they would be permitted to drive their registered golf cart. Under the current law, you can only drive within four miles of your permanent residence.

The temporary driving rights remain in the Senate bill, which is scheduled for floor debate this week.

If the Senate approves the bill without allowing night driving, Herbkersman said, he'll ask the House to reject the Senate's version and send the proposal to a conference committee of senators and representatives to work out the details.

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