ELLENTON — After her recovery from a stroke, Joann Hartman was afraid she might hurt someone while driving her car, so she sold it.
She used a golf cart to get around her Terra Siesta neighborhood off U.S. 301 North in Ellenton, and to go to nearby stores until last summer. That’s when Manatee sheriff’s deputies began issuing warnings to residents for driving the carts on sidewalks outside their neighborhoods, citing state law.
“It’s my only means of transport,” said Hartman, 77. Now she is only able to legally drive the golf cart within her Terra Siesta neighborhood, a manufactured home community.
She would like to again be able to take her golf cart to the grocery store, library and shops at the Prime Outlets mall.
That may be possible soon due to changes OK’d during the 2010 Florida Legislature, according to Florida House Speaker Pro Tempore Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton.
Reagan inserted a clause in House Bill 971 that would allow local municipalities and counties to enact an ordinance or resolution to permit golf cart use on designated sidewalks in any county — with proper signs, Reagan said.
The new provision in the state law takes effect Sept. 1.
“I’m sure they’ll be excited, once it goes into effect,” Reagan said of Ellenton residents who depend on golf carts to get around.
State officials are still trying to determine what changes the new legislation might require, said Cindy Clemmons, public information director for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District 1.
DOT officials have sought clarification from the Federal Highway Administration regarding how federal policy might affect its implementation, she said.
Nick Azzara, Manatee County information outreach coordinator, supplied the text of the new law, which allows counties or municipalities to “enact an ordinance to permit, control or regulate the operation of vehicles, golf carts, mopeds, motorized scooters and electric personal assistive mobility devices on sidewalks or sidewalk areas when such use is permissible under federal law. The ordinance must restrict such vehicles or devices to a maximum speed of 15 mph in such areas.”
The Manatee County Commission supported “flexibility” for golf cart use along certain state or county rights-of-way as part of its 2010 list of legislative priorities, The Herald previously reported.
Azzara said that while local governments now have the authority to create ordinances to regulate golf carts on sidewalks, the new law does not provide blanket approval for golf carts everywhere.
“I expect you’ll see our county commission have a discussion on this topic in the not-too-distant future, defining an ordinance to set parameters for golf cart use on local roads, he said.
“Ultimately, everyone’s top priority here is public safety. We don’t want anyone — pedestrians, bicyclers or golf cart drivers and passengers — to get hurt as a result of the new law.”
In Lakewood Ranch, community development districts in Country Club recently reaffirmed that golf carts on sidewalks would only be legal in one instance, from the Country Club facility itself to the first tee on King’s Dune Golf Course, said Jack Kerber, a resident of Ashland in Country Club and a long-time participant in various Lakewood Ranch governmental groups.
“Right now we have one sidewalk approved for golf carts and it’s because it’s an extra width sidewalk from the facility to the first tee,” Kerber said. “That is the only place in Lakewood Ranch where it is legal to drive a golf cart on the sidewalk.”
When Country Club covenants and homeowners association rules were set up, they allowed golf carts on the roads.
“You can drive a golf cart anywhere on the street in Country Club,” Kerber said.
Kerber didn’t think the new legislation would impact Lakewood Ranch.
“I don’t think it will have much of an impact because Manatee County has a similar rule and publishes places where golf carts are legal on sidewalks,” said Kerber.
— Richard Dymond contributed to this report.