IS GOLF CART CRUSIN’ LEGAL?

Well….that depends, but probably not.

I’ve gathered from my ramblings in and around the residential and resort communities of North Carolina that it has become progressively en vogue to own an electric golf cart to be used as an additional form of transportation. These ‘home’ golf carts are used for everything from the obvious like driving to and from the golf course, to joyriding, to maneuvering fishing equipment to and from the favorite fishing hole, to most any conceivable use in between. No doubt, there have been golf cart beer runs. Often these golf carts are used on or across public roads.

Attorneys at Horack Talley recently reviewed applicable laws in North Carolina related to the operation of golf carts on public streets. As a result of this investigation, we conclude that in order to legally operate a golf cart on the public streets in North Carolina, the golf cart must be properly registered with the State of North Carolina.

This means that a golf cart would need to be professionally altered to be more like an electric car than a golf cart in order to be properly registered. In addition, we do not believe golf carts can be legally operated on sidewalks that are part of public street right-of-ways.

There are exceptions or circumstances where these rules may not apply: 1) You are in a county or city that has adopted golf cart rules allowing operation on streets with speed limits no greater than 35 mph; or 2) you are in a private community with private roads not accessible to the general public.

Let’s look a little further at the rules and their implications for your HOA.

Operation of Golf Carts on Public Roads:

The North Carolina General Statutes (N.C.G.S.) defines a golf cart as a vehicle designed and manufactured for operation on a golf course for sporting or recreational purposes that is not capable of exceeding speeds of 20 m.p.h. N.C.G.S. requires that any vehicle intended to be operated upon a public road of the State to be registered with the DMV. The DMV must refuse to issue registration to a vehicle that meets the definition of a golf cart.

Unregistered vehicles including golf carts can ‘cross’ public roadways to get to the other side, but ‘cross’ appears to be limited to the quickest and safest route from one side to the other and would be applicable to where cart paths cross public roads. We do not believe carts can actually ‘use’ the public roads outside of the designated cart path cross points.

According an attorney with the DMV, only golf cart manufacturers are able to convert golf carts into what can actually be registered with the DMV, and then, the vehicle is arguably no longer a ‘golf cart’ within the definition cited above. Presumably the golf cart becomes more like an electric car.

N.C.G.S. does allow counties and cities to adopt their own provisions regulating operation of golf carts on any public street, road or highway where the speed limit is 35 mph or less. Unless the county where you are operating a golf cart has adopted such provisions and you are in compliance with those provisions, golf carts may not be legally operated on the public roads.

There is a model ordinance available for review on the website of the North Carolina General Assembly:

https://connect.ncdot.gov/resources/safety/Teppl/TEPPL%20All%20Documents%20Library/A-5o.pdf

Operation of Golf Carts on Sidewalks:

N.C.G.S. prohibits operation of motor vehicles on sidewalks within the road right of way. ‘Motor vehicle’ is defined as “every vehicle which is self-propelled”. Accordingly a golf cart qualifies as a motor vehicle and may not be legally operated on the sidewalks within the public right of way. This rule would not apply to sidewalks or paved trails outside of the public right of way.

Operation of Golf Carts on Private Roads:

Private communities that own and maintain their own roads wherein the roads are not open to the use of the public would presumably be an exception. Operation of golf carts on these ‘private’ streets would presumably be controlled by the owner of the street or any many cases by an HOA charged with governing the use of the ‘private’ streets.

What Should My HOA Do?:

Typically we advise HOAs to allow an issue like this one to be between the owners and law enforcement as HOAs are not in the business of enforcing public laws. HOAs, however, typically do have provisions in their Declarations that make it a violation of use restrictions to engage in activity that is unlawful. So many HOAs would have the power to use fines and other powers of enforcement to discourage unlawful use of golf carts on public streets or sidewalks within the public rights of way. In deciding whether to take a proactive role in preventing unlawful use of golf carts on public streets or rights of way an HOA should weigh interest of law enforcement in the issue, volume of golf cart use in the HOA, and risks associated with either being inactive or proactive on the issue.

If you live in an HOA or area that allows this type of use either by local ordinance or because you have streets that are not open to the use of the public, then you can grab your sweetheart, jump in your golf cart and head out to find a good place to watch the sunset.

21 thoughts on “IS GOLF CART CRUSIN’ LEGAL?

  1. where can i find the ordinance or law that says i can purchase a golf cart from another state that is “street legal” and have it titled in n.c. does it have to come from a dealer or can it be purchased from an individual or is it set in stone that it must come from the manufacture.

    • North Carolina General Statutes require that any vehicle intended to be operated upon a public road of the State be registered with the DMV (N.C.G.S 20-50). The DMV must refuse to issue registration to a vehicle that meets the definition of a golf cart (N.C.G.S 20-54). Also the cart must be able to pass a safety inspection as outlined N.C.G.S.§20-183.3 which lists a number of mechanical systems that must be in place and working properly. It is my understanding that when properly converted you end up with something more akin to an electric car than a golf cart. I’m not, however, aware of any restriction on who can modify a golf cart to make it street legal. You may want to check with your local DMV registration office for instructions regarding proper registration of a ‘street legal’ golf cart.

  2. Pingback: Indigo Plantation Southport NC - City-Data Forum

  3. Im president of a HOA. We have 5 employees and four golf carts. My question is do those employees have to have a drivers license to operate that cart on private property only?

    • I am not aware of any specific statute that requires a driver’s license to operate a golf cart on private property. You, as owner, certainly may have liability concerns about proper operation of the golf cart, and requiring that your driver’s have valid driver’s licenses may be a way to show that you are taking reasonable steps to make sure those driving have the basic skills and acumen, but I do not believe there is a state law requiring a driver’s license for operation of a golf cart on private property.

  4. You mention private roads and “public roads of the state.” What about roads that are owned and maintained by the TOWN (not state-owned roads)? This is important because this ownership would apply to many subdivisions. Thanks!

    • I should have said public roads ‘in’ the state of NC. It doesn’t matter whether the roads are maintained by the State, county, city or town. The rules apply unless the city, town or county has adopted an exception allowing golf carts ont the roads.

    • Yes that is applicable and an override when a city, town or county ordinance specifically allows golf carts on public roads with speed limits at 35 mph or less within the jurisdiction of the city, town or county.

    • I apologize for not responding to this comment sooner. I would need to review your community use restrictions and rules and regulations and review the Code of Ordinances for the town of Southport to comment on legality of golf cart use in your community. I recommend that you review those materials and contact an attorney in your area for assistance if the answer is not clear from your review of the materials.

  5. North Carolina would serve itself well to follow SC’ s lead…..for $25 you can get a registration sticker and operate your cart on streets that are posted 35 mph……just thinking NC could have another avenue of Revenue if it were so inclined……there are 10’s of thousands golf carts here in NC.

  6. Hello, I have a ‘street legal, manufacture modified “golf cart” that is registered with the NC DMV. My HOA says that “Golf Carts” cannot be used on the roads – I don’t feel its a Golf Cart anymore…..in my situation I am disabled, I have the cart as a mobility device. I don’t want to go throwing around ADA, but can I really be blocked from using a vehicle I own on the streets if its NC registered…I just want to go to the Clubhouse, Pool and my buddies house. Car is not always an option for me and I would rather take my chances driving my Cart into the curb than driving a vehicle into a house or worse.

    • If your golf cart is ‘street legal’ it may be more appropriately called an electric car than a golf cart. That distinction may be relevant to application and enforcement of restrictions or rules and regulations your community is attempting to enforce. Also, if you are disabled, even if your community actually does have an enforceable restriction or rule and regulation against the use of a street legal golf cart on the streets in within the community, it could be a reasonable accommodation ADA issue for them to actually enforce against you. You may want to consult an attorney in your area as those issues.

  7. What is the law regarding children on golf carts? I’ve been told that children under 3 cannot be on a cart and told that children under 3 can ride if held by another ride not driver. There is also question of how this pertains on private vs public areas. Thank you

    • I am unaware of any restrictions on the operation of golf carts that applies specifically to children. Any restrictions related to operation of golf carts by children or related to children riding in golf carts would be the same restrictions that apply to motor vehicles and would likely be limited in application and enforce-ability to operation in public vehicular areas and public streets. Outside of that application, an HOA could have specific restrictions in the CCRs on use that may be applicable to children in golf carts, or an HOA may have the ability to promulgate reasonable rules and regulations relating to such use within the planned community.

  8. Are there any known small communities that allow golf carts on the streets? I live in GA right now but am wanting to move back home to NC (preferably eastern part of the state). We are looking for a community similar to the one we live in now where city residents are allowed to have their golf carts on the road to get around town. We live in a large city with a very tiny downtown area where they are used. Anything like this in NC?

    • I do not have a list of municipalities in NC that have adopted a golf cart ordinance. A quick google search shows that by example Brunswick County appears to have adopted an ordinance permitting golf carts on public streets. I believe you will need to check with the local government for any area where you are interested in house hunting for their rules on golf cart operation on public streets within their boundaries. Of course communities with private roads can make their own rules regarding golf cart usage.

  9. Why the he’ll not a gas golf cart,what’s the big difference ,as long as it has safety everything like a car ,turn signal,brake running lights and head lights ,please reply.oh and of course insurance on it.

    • If the golf cart otherwise satisfies the requisite for DMV registration it is arguably no longer a golf cart. It has become a motor vehicle. Gas or electric, if you can get it properly registered with DMV then it is no longer technically a golf cart and you can drive your properly registered ‘motor vehicle’ on the roads. Otherwise, you can only drive a golf cart on roads with speed limits under 35 mph in communities that have adopted a golf cart ordinance.

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