By MELODY JAMESON
KINGS POINT – Resident retirees in this gated condominium community now are driving for legalized use of golf carts at night on private roadways in Hillsborough County.
Not far from the enclosed enclave of seniors, however, others are wondering aloud about applying cautionary brakes to the move.
The subject surfaced publicly last week during a regular meeting of Hillsborough’s Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), raised by Commissioner Ken Hagan. After brief discussion, the board forwarded the concept of a new county ordinance permitting night time use of golf carts in certain venues to county attorneys for review. Use of golf carts at night is prohibited by state statute but latitude is provided the individual counties in connection with their specific jurisdictions.
This week, Hagan told The Observer that Kings Pointers petitioned the BOCC for consideration of a change that would allow them legal use of their golf carts at night within their community. Hagan, currently running for election to the county-wide District 5 seat on the commission, added he met in recent weeks with a group of about 10 residents from the condo community to discuss the matter.
The commissioner said he sees legalized use of golf carts at night as “a quality of life issue” for the retirees, noting that quality of life enhancement for Hillsborough county citizens is part of BOCC responsibility. However, he added he also wants to be sure the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office “is engaged and supportive” of the night time use legalization.
That support is tinged with caution at the local level. Among those voicing concern is Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Girard, Sun City Center’s community resource deputy. Girard pointed out this week that the presently unlicensed use of golf carts allows drivers determined by examination to be too impaired to operate an automobile on roadways, public or private, to get behind the wheels of golf carts, driving them on both public and private property.
In support of his point, the deputy noted a recent incident involving an individual no longer licensed to drive his car because of his substantially impaired eyesight and who then used his golf cart on public thoroughfares for local transportation. The driver, impaired to the extent he no longer could distinguish changing lighted traffic signals, was asked how he knew when to move forward in the golf cart. He replied that he drove the cart ahead when he perceived other carts around him were moving, Girard said.
At the other end of the age spectrum, there’s the matter of the very young piloting golf carts. Visiting grandchildren of retired seniors often regard the small, simply equipped and easily operated carts as age-appropriate vehicles while grandparents sometimes view them as the means to first driving lessons. It is not unusual during daylight hours in the retirement community to see pre-teen youngsters, sometimes without any supervision, at the wheels of their grandparents’ golf carts or to see a younger child seated on a grandparent’s lap at the wheel. A youngster must be 14 to legally operate a golf cart, Girard said.
In summation, the deputy cautioned that it might be a wiser and safer approach to address other aspects of golf cart operation before legalizing their use after dark, even within a theoretically confined area such as Kings Point.
Some of the same sentiment was echoed by Ed Barnes, president of the Sun City Center Community Association. Barnes noted the difference between the Kings Point private internal roadways and SCC’s public internal streets, acknowledging that the difference may make night time golf cart use in KP more feasible. But if use of the small vehicles at night is legalized there and then suggested for SCC also, he said he emphatically would oppose any such move.
And, it’s that potential slippery slope that concerns him most, he indicated. If driving golf carts legally in KP after dark becomes permissible, how long would it be before those residents began running over to the CVS Pharmacy at night, even though illegally, he asked rhetorically. Once that occurs, he added, residents outside KP will want to be able to do the same legally at night in their golf carts, creating serious safety issues.
On the other hand, in KP where illegal night time use of golf carts is not unknown but is without incident to date, the issue is simple. “It’s something our residents need at this time in their lives,” said Eileen Peco, KP Federation board president.
The first need is the freedom for Kings Pointers to visit friends within the community after dark, particularly during the winter months when days are shorter and darkness falls earlier, she said. Using the golf cart to join friends for supper in a private home, for instance, may begin with legal use of the cart before the sun sets but become an illegal use going home after the meal when the night has closed in.
The same type of situation can develop for residents wishing to participate in activities in their clubhouses. For special events and scheduled entertainments, the community tram can transport residents from their front doors to the clubhouses and back, Peco noted. But for routine activities, residents must provide their own transport, their golf carts being the frequent choice.
If darkness falls while residents using their golf carts are at the clubhouses, they return home technically in violation of law even though their internal streets are private, belonging to the community.
It is this conflicting situation which has driven the KP petition for county help, Peco indicated, adding that residents understand using their golf carts at night means equipping them with appropriate safety devices.
Hagan said this week he anticipates an ordinance in draft form from county attorneys at the next BOCC meeting, Wednesday, September 1. On this schedule, a public hearing on the proposed ordinance could be held September 22, he added. Such an ordinance likely would be applicable throughout the county.
Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson