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Editorial: Just don’t let carts block traffic

Golf carts could be a bigger threat to the U.S. auto industry than Tesla, according to one report. The carts are appearing on public roadways more and more often.

It makes sense for Rowan towns to join the trend, as long as the carts stick to slow-speed areas and meet other requirements. Most importantly, car and truck drivers must learn to share the road, and cart drivers must obey traffic laws.

Salisbury does not have an ordinance allowing golf carts on city streets, but Granite Quarry, China Grove and Landis have OK’d cart use in some areas, and Spencer aldermen talked Tuesday about tailoring a similar ordinance for their town.

In China Grove, for example, golf carts are legal on roads as long as they have insurance, tags, signals, are in an area with a speed limit that does not exceed 35 mph and travel at speeds at or below 28 mph. Some towns have gone so far as to reduce the speed limit on some streets to make routes already used by cart drivers legal. State law requires drivers to be 16 or over.

Why the rush on golf carts? It’s more of a steady, 12 mph cruise. Gated communities and resorts have used golf carts for years. More recently, as people looked for alternatives to big, fossil-fueled cars and trucks — to save on gas and protect the environment — the popularity of golf carts and other light electric vehicles has grown. Why start up your gas-guzzler to run to the post office if you can get there just as easily in a cart?

An estimated 70,000 light electric vehicles and golf carts were used on the nation’s roads in 2009, the first year the Federal Highway Administration began tracking the vehicle type. Now there are many more. Typically, people buy them as a second or third car used for grocery shopping, short commutes and running the kids to practice.

The No. 1 concern for golf cart users and others on the road has to be safety. Eyes trained for decades to look out for cars and trucks might overlook a golf cart, just as they sometimes miss seeing motorcycles, often with tragic results. Even when they spot the smaller vehicles, other drivers might not appreciate golf carts’ leisurely pace. Will drivers reluctant to share the road with bicycles feel the same way about golf carts? We’ll see.

Newsman Dan Rather once observed that Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic. If and when golf carts take to the road, their drivers should keep that in mind.

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