Galveston officials to address golf cart safety following fatal collision – Houston Public Media

AP Photo/David Goldman

In this Dec. 20, 2011, photo, a golf cart enters an intersection from a designated path to cross a street in Peachtree City, Georgia. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Tiffany Gibson and her husband, Jesse, started a golf cart rental business in 2020, amid what she called a golf cart “explosion” in Galveston. Beachin’ Rides has rented more than 10,000, she said, and it’s one of many such businesses operating on the island.

There are about a dozen such businesses in total, according to Galveston Mayor Craig Brown, who said about 1,750 motorized carts are registered with the city for use by residents or businesses that rent to visitors. . Golf carts have become increasingly popular among tourists over the past two years, Brown said, because they provide convenient transportation, a sense of freedom and an outdoor environment in a scenic seaside community.

Gibson said the proliferation of golf carts, made possible by city ordinances that allow them to be used on public roads, has also become a hot topic in Galveston. That’s in part because of what she described as a lack of enforcement by the city regarding safe driving practices, seat belt wearing and drunk driving.

The issue was thrown into the spotlight late Saturday night, when four people from the Houston suburb of Rosenberg – including two children – were killed while riding in a rented golf cart, according to multiple reports. They were struck in a collision with an SUV driven by a suspected drunk driver, which also struck another vehicle in an accident a few blocks north of Seawall Boulevard.

“It’s a big mess that’s been going on for a while, a big fight,” Gibson said. “Here we are. I hate to say it, but it was almost inevitable.”

The golf cart tragedy was the second in about a year in Galveston. Brown said a teenage girl died last summer after falling from a golf cart that made a sharp turn in the island’s West End. That same month, the Galveston City Council amended its decade-old golf cart ordinance, increasing registration fees for rental companies while expanding some of the regulations aimed at educating golf cart operators on safety and the rules of the road.

City Council will discuss golf cart safety again at this Thursday’s meeting, according to Brown, who called Saturday’s fatal collision a “sad thing” for Galveston as well as a “wake-up call.” He said the city council will review its enforcement of golf cart driving and drunk driving, while looking at potential traffic improvements at certain intersections.

Brown said last weekend’s tragedy also resonates beyond the island, as golf carts have become increasingly popular in Houston-area neighborhoods and elsewhere. Electric bikes and scooters have also become more common modes of transportation, including in Galveston, Brown said.

“I think what’s happening is technology is moving faster to provide alternative methods of travel than the laws are really following,” Brown said. “It’s something we’re struggling with here and trying to get a handle on.”

A Galveston ordinance that went into effect in 2010 codified the use of golf carts on most public streets with a speed limit of 35 mph or less, as well as outlining related traffic rules, procedures for vehicle registration and required safety equipment such as headlights, taillights, horns, parking brakes, mirrors and seat belts. The law states that golf carts “reduce overall emissions and that their use is an environmentally friendly or ‘green’ alternative to traditional passenger vehicles.”

A few years later, Gibson said, the city lowered the speed limit on the seawall from 40 to 35 mph, making golf carts legal on the island’s iconic thoroughfare and creating a market for rental businesses. like his.

The ordinance changes in June 2021 were in response to the proliferation of golf cart rental businesses, Brown said, and added some specific regulations such as the requirement to drive in the right lane on a street with at least two traffic lanes in each direction. The 2021 law also increased the entry fee for rental carts — from $25, which is still the fee for residential golf carts, to $150.

At the time the law was passed, Gibson said Galveston golf cart rental companies were told by city officials that the additional revenue created by the increased fees would be used to strengthen enforcement. golf cart traffic laws. She said she hasn’t seen evidence of this happening, however, and would rather Galveston officials recommit to tougher enforcement before expanding the regulations.

“I see people with no seatbelts all the time, and they don’t do anything about it,” Gibson said. “I think the first step we need to take is to enforce the rules we have.”

Brown agreed that increased enforcement could help, especially when it comes to monitoring golf carts at night. He said it was illegal under Texas law to operate a golf cart on a public street after dark, although Galveston’s ordinance did not include such a provision.

Gibson and the manager of another golf cart rental company in Galveston, who asked to remain anonymous, both said they were under the impression it was legal to drive one at night, they therefore do not inform their customers of the aforementioned state law.

But a day after the fatal collision involving a golf cart, which happened after 11 p.m., Gibson said she and her husband decided to implement a 10 p.m. curfew for their golf carts to move forward. They are also raising the minimum rental age from 21 to 25, she said.

Gibson said she considers seat belt use a critical factor in safely operating a golf cart, adding that she has avoided serious injuries in accidents involving her carts. Brown said he thinks restricting golf carts at night would be “one of the biggest leaps in my mind.”

“There’s probably a middle ground that we need to come up with to allow the regulations to maintain safety as much as possible,” Brown said, “but also to make golf carts available to our visitors.”

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