It has been six months since state lawmakers passed a measure allowing counties to permit nighttime golf cart usage, but law-abiding Beaufort County cart drivers must still park their rides when the sun goes down.
While municipal leaders in Bluffton, Beaufort and Port Royal have voiced support for legalizing the use of carts at night, safety and traffic concerns were recently raised by Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, sending county staff scrambling to draft an ordinance to address those issues.
The state bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Bill Herbkersman of Bluffton and signed into law in June by Gov. Nikki Haley, allows golf cart drivers to use local roads with speed limits of 35 mph or slower and requires that carts are equipped with front and rear lights to do so.
Besides those stipulations, the law is relatively vague and leaves open the possibility for dangerous driving, critics say.
There needs to be a penalty for violations.
Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner
Many roads that nighttime usage would be allowed on were not designed for golf carts, Tanner said a recent workshop held by the Beaufort County Council’s Public Facilities Committee.
“A golf cart is ... a slow-moving hazard,” and carts on roadways would create traffic congestion, Tanner said.
“Just because a speed limit is 35 mph or less, doesn’t mean that people (in cars) are driving that speed limit,” he said. That would could create a dangerous situation where car and truck drivers may get “aggravated and irritated” and swerve to pass slower-moving carts.
State law also doesn’t specify a cut-off time for cart usage, so theoretically, carts could be operated around the clock, he said.
“The chance of someone driving under the influence in the wee hours of the morning is a lot greater, especially around the time when bars start closing and people start going home,” Tanner said.
He suggested that, if the county were to pass an ordinance allowing nighttime usage, it should limit driving to the hours prior to midnight.
County Council members appear amenable to such restrictions.
Councilman Tabor Vaux said, “I see this going forward, so the question in my mind is about what we can do to make it safer.”
“I’d be in favor of cutting (cart usage) off at midnight,” he said.
Tanner also said the county should consider requiring more safety accessories.
Golf carts traveling at night on the same roads as cars “need to function identically to an automobile,” he said.
“Seat belts, lighting, turn signals — all those things should apply” to golf carts, Tanner said. “That’s what we require on your personal vehicles that travel on these same roads.”
Any ordinance passed by the county must also have teeth, he added.
“There needs to be a penalty for violations,” Tanner said.
Speaking on behalf of municipal leaders who have been supportive of nighttime cart driving, Bluffton deputy town manager Scott Marshall said people are already driving carts at night, and it would “be naive” to think otherwise.
“An ordinance passed by the county would provide a great opportunity to introduce some safety measures that we don’t have now,” he said. “... This is an opportunity to do something good.”
County attorney Tom Keaveny said his staff will work in the coming weeks to draft an ordinance that allows nighttime cart driving but also include time restrictions, enhanced safety features and penalties for violations. That ordinance will then be introduced to the Public Facilities Committee before consideration from the full council.