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New year brings new rules
Golf cart drivers face changes
cart WEB
Andy Jordan and Jennifer Cupit use a golf cart during a recent chamber of commerce event. Because of a new law that went into effect Jan. 1, drivers who use the vehicles on public roads, including subdivision streets, must meet new safety requirements. - photo by Jim Dean


Brett Cragin is glad he decided on a golf cart with lights and seat belts in the back for his children.

If he didn’t have those accessories, he could be breaking a new law, which took effect Sunday.

The law created a separate classification of personal transportation vehicles for golf carts, requiring them to have braking systems, a reverse warning device, tail lamps, horn and hip restraints.

The carts must weigh less than 1,375 pounds and not top speeds of 20 mph. They must also be registered with the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles.

The new requirements take effect once golf cart drivers hit public roads, including subdivision streets.

“I would ignore the law,” Cragin said. “I know that sounds terrible, but I think our country and our state tend to over-legislate and it’s not going to change the behavior.

“It’s not going to influence me one bit … it’s kind of like the no cell phones while driving.”

Cragin lives in Vickery Village, where he said the majority of residents have golf carts.

“So if they don’t have all that equipment on there, I’m sure it’s going to be [a problem],” he said. “I suppose if they can afford a golf cart, then they can afford to put all that stuff on there, but it does seem a little ridiculous.

“A golf cart, to me, isn’t any more dangerous than a bicycle on the street.”

But just as motorists and bicyclists must obey laws while riding on public roads, so too must golf cart users, said District 23 state Rep. Mark Hamilton.

“All we’re saying is if you’re going to drive those on a public street, there are just certain basic safety requirements you have to meet,” said Hamilton, a Republican from Cumming. “The new safety requirements are really not much more than what most golf carts have anyway.

“Most logical people would say if you’re going to drive a vehicle on public roads … it makes sense they be able to perform the minimum safety standards.”

The bill was signed into law by Gov. Nathan Deal last year after his predecessor, Gov. Sonny Perdue, vetoed a similar measure in 2010. It had backing from one of Georgia’s key industries, golf cart manufacturing.

The Georgia-based International Light Transportation Vehicle Association, formerly known as the National Golf Cars Manufacturers Association — which prefers the term “car” to “cart” — estimates that 90 percent of the golf carts used in the U.S. are made in Georgia.

“Safety is what we’re concerned about,” said Fred L. Somers Jr., secretary of the association. “Unless you put in some safety equipment accessories, you’re just asking for trouble.”

And, he added, golf carts are a cheaper form of transportation for people who live in cities where they don’t need to travel far to go to the grocery store.

The new law also sets standards for towns and counties wanting to create ordinances allowing drivers to use the carts on residential streets and multi-purpose pathways.

Twenty-three Georgia cities have golf cart ordinances, with some places such as Peachtree City near Atlanta and Hahira in south Georgia creating golf cart lanes along local roads, according to the Georgia Municipal Association.

The golf cart rule isn’t the only law that took effect this week. Key parts of Georgia’s new law targeting illegal immigration have kicked in.

Part of House Bill 87, or the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act, adds proofing methods to Georgia businesses and government services meant to reduce the number of illegal immigrants who work in the state or receive its benefits.

Employers with 500 or more employees must use a federal database called E-Verify to check the employment eligibility of all new hires.

The mandate is being phased in with smaller businesses that have 100 or more employees starting July 1, and companies with more than 10 employees starting to use E-Verify by July 2013.

Employers with 10 or fewer employees are exempt.

The law’s sponsor and supporters said they wanted to deter illegal immigrants from coming to Georgia by making it tougher for them to work in the state.

Any company with a federal contract is currently required to use E-Verify, and Georgia has required state and local government agencies and their contractors to use the database since 2007.

District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, authored a similar Senate bill, which was eventually folded into the House version.

While several portions of the bill are being contested in court, Murphy said he’s pleased to see the E-Verify provision begin.

“I don’t know how much of an effect that it will have. I think people are prepared for it,” he said.

“We need to give the bill enough time to see what the repercussions are going to be and what the effects of the bill are going to be on the business. I think it’s going to take a little time to determine that.”

Also taking effect Jan. 1 is a provision that any agency administering public benefit, including business licenses, must require each applicant to provide at least one “secure and verifiable document.”

A list of acceptable documents was provided by the attorney general’s office over the summer.

Ashley Fielding and Jeff Gill of the FCN regional staff contributed to this report.