Many localities are moving towards accommodating bicycles on public streets. Often this movement is given momentum by bicycle lobbying groups. Bicycles are a great recreational and health promoting activity for the young at heart and body.
Many senior citizens find bicycles awkward to use given their loss of balance and stamina accompanying older age. However, golf cars and personal transportation vehicles, (“PTVs”), have been and continue to be popular for the elderly for around town mobility as they don’t require the balance and stamina of bicycles. Most importantly, interviews with seniors demonstrate they prefer the simplicity of operation and economy of golf cars and PTVs over passenger automobiles. They cost considerably less to purchase, operate and maintain than full sized vehicles.
We are reminded of when we bought our first automobile, a stripped down Chevrolet station wagon for $2200. It came without a radio or back up lights (which I installed as soon as I could afford to). Life was simpler in 1961 and automobiles were simpler to maintain and operate then versus now. Today, automobiles come equipped with a mind boggling array of electronic devices and the vehicle electronically driven mechanics are undecipherable to the average operator. In contrast, the PTV is a welcome return to the simpler operation of yesteryear’s passenger car, simpler to operate and much less expensive.
Today more than 1 million people live in active retirement developments, and at many, the golf car is the symbol of liberation from the strictures of their former lives. But even more seniors continue to live in neighborhoods where dedicated lanes, paths or routes for golf cars and PTVs are either non-existent or scarce. Numerous localities promote bicycle lanes alongside street venues but they are generally not wide enough to accommodate golf cars and PTVs. A minimum width of five feet is recommended for golf car or PTV lanes.
Golf cars and PTVs are most useful for short trips. Older persons are known to travel less distances than younger people. Golf cars and PTVs are ideal for short trips. Discussion about “complete streets” as pertains to the elderly is apt. However, the proponents of “complete streets” seem to ignore the relevance and utility of golf cars and PTVs. For example, take the sentence found in a recent article entitled “Complete streets are streets designed for safe access by all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders.” Did the author intentionally omit golf cars and PTVs? If as the title of Ms. Yoffe’s article exclaims there is an “astonishing rise of golf carts” why do the transportation pundits ignore this phenomenon? It is likely because the federal government doesn’t recognize golf cars and PTVs as motor vehicles.
However, it is estimated by 2035, there will be 77 million Americans aged 65 and over, up from about 48 million in 2015. Nearly two-thirds of boomers in metropolitan areas lived in the suburbs in 2014, and most want to age there, according to national surveys. The question may be posed “how do these senior citizens get around town other than in an automobile or public transit?” What are the options for traveling to a nearby drug store, food market, post office or barber shop?
If the “nearby” facilities destinations are within 2 or 3 miles or so it seems economically or time wasteful to use an automobile and impracticable to use public transit respectively. Why not provide for less expensive mobility such as a PTV? A person cannot load a week’s worth of groceries on a bicycle or carry them if walking. One alternative is for local suburban governments is to create PTV lanes, routes and pathways enabling senior citizens to get about town on their smaller, less expensive, less polluting and more efficient mobile transportation vehicles. The challenge is to plan for the funding and traffic analysis required to get to the desired outcome. That is, mobility enablement for all citizens, regardless of age or physical condition.
Safety concerns have been expressed by several sources respecting the use of golf cars and PTVs on public ways. The same concerns may be said of bicycles, motorcycles, ATVs, skate boards, horseback riding, mopeds and scooters. However, the safety concerns relating to golf cars and PTVs while well intended, are often based upon assumptions that have limited or no validity. Existing NEISS data usually quoted by safety and medical sources are short on the necessary detail required to support the conclusions made by these sources. Extrapolating data respecting injuries resulting from golf cars or PTV incidents from data that doesn’t separate venue of the incident, (e.g., golf course versus on road incident) or distinguish golf cars from PTVs or LSVs, results in questionable conclusions.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission, (“CPSC”), maintains the NEISS to monitor the trends in accidents for various consumer products throughout the United States. The system is designed to collect a relatively small amount of information at designated CPSC reporting hospitals from emergency room admissions. Typically, the information is provided as a part of the history taken by hospital personnel gleaned from the patient. No substantial efforts are undertaken to verify the information. Historically, the NEISS system captures information from less than 2% of hospitals nation-wide. Then, based on hospital demographics, it “scales up” the number of actual reports received to project a national estimate. The estimate does not take into account the variety of venues allowing the use of PTVs or golf cars on public streets. Some localities, e.g., Sun City, AZ, The Villages, FL and Peachtree City, GA, have an abundance of golf cars and PTVs measured per capita. Other localities have a much smaller proportion of these vehicles per capita.
The information collected is generally limited to basic information about the patient (age, gender), activity at the time the injury was sustained in a short narrative, identification of the type of product involved, nature of the injury and treatment. The CPSC publishes a coding manual that outlines the nature of the information to be gathered. This information is then collected/sorted on a national level by CPSC and coded for more than 1000 products and/or activities. Given the limited nature of the information not all of the reported incidents include sufficient information to determine the accident type, age of persons involved and other critical data upon which to base verifiable conclusions.
We have reviewed numerous news stories about the debates which often accompany the initiatives introduced at municipal council meetings to allow for the limited or controlled environmental use of these vehicles. The debates are typically anecdotal and reflect subjective opinions of those involved. The point is that senior citizens desiring the freedom to use their golf cars on public streets are tax payers who might reasonably expect their local government to allow them this freedom within the limits of reasonable rules of the road safety regulations and funding requirements for safety signage, speed controllers, cost of establishing and providing maps of allowable routes for golf cars and PTVs.
Freedom comes with a price. The price is reasonable safety regulation to enhance the ability of the governing body to monitor and prevent preventable serious injury and death on its public roads.
At a minimum, thoughtful municipal and state government should require the operators of golf cars and PTVs to possess a valid motor vehicle operator’s license, maintain their vehicles in good operating condition, obey the rules of the road promulgated for these vehicles and limit the use of their vehicles to only those roads, routes, lanes and paths which are deemed reasonably safe and prescribed for them to operate their vehicles. Careful advance transportation planning is necessary to determine where and how to accommodate golf cars and PTVs, if at all. Further, the vehicles themselves should have the minimum PTV components prescribed by ANSI/ILTVA Z 135. See www.iltva.org/standards and applicable state law. Other requirements, e.g., liability and property damage insurance are reasonable and should be considered.
It is ILTVA’s position golf cars and PTVs should not be operated on public roads where the speed limit exceeds 25 mph. Because PTVs by definition cannot exceed 19 mph they should not be operated in a traffic mix which includes larger vehicles operating above 25 mph. Where practicable, golf car and PTV traffic should be separated from automobile and truck operation. Several localities provide for separate lanes or paths for golf cars and PTVs. A traffic plan describing where golf car and PTV operation is permitted should be published and signage indicating their presence to other motor vehicles posted.
Other considerations for local government legislating golf cars and PTV operation are to be found in ILTVA’s model legislation. See www.iltva.org/personal-transportation-vehicles-legislation/.
Approximately three fourths of the states allow for golf car and PTV operation on public roads usually, however, only if a local government authorizes it. ILTVA has identified approximately 350+ municipalities which have adopted ordinances allowing for their use. There are most likely many more and the number continues to grow annually.
It would seem fair to conclude if a sufficiently representative group of citizens want their local government to institute and maintain allowance for golf cars and PTVs to use public streets and these vehicles may be safely accommodated with reasonable restrictions on who may operate them, where they may be operated and under what conditions, then city fathers, policy planners, traffic engineers and safety officials should be responsive to those who pay their salary.