The rules for operating golf carts vary among the states. However, most states place restrictions on where, when, and how a golf cart can be operated. This article provides an overview of the requirements and restrictions associated with operating a golf cart on public roads and streets.
Definitions vary, but in many states, a golf cart is specifically defined by statute as a vehicle that is designed to:
State variations include operation speed limits from 15 to 35 miles per hour, maximum occupancies of up to six people, and empty weight limits of up to 1,800 pounds. There are also states that don't specifically define "golf cart." In these states, a golf cart normally falls under a more general definition of a motor vehicle.
There are lots of states that require a driver's license to operate a golf cart and lots where no license is required. However, most states have at least age requirements (see below) and a driver's license typically is required if you're driving a golf car on city streets.
The majority of states have age limits for operating golf carts. However, there's quite a bit of variance among the state. Depending on where you live, the age limit could be anywhere from 12 years old to 18 years old.
Whether you can drive a golf cart on city roads typically depends on state and local laws.
In many states, golf carts aren't allowed on public roads or streets. The upside is that golf carts are usually exempt from registration and insurance requirements in these states.
There are also states that do permit golf carts on city roadways. However, in states that allow golf carts to be operated on public roads and streets, registration and liability insurance are typically required.
Many of the states that allow golf carts on city streets have restrictions associated with how, where, and when a golf cart can be operated. Common restrictions include:
To operate on public streets, most states also require that golf carts be equipped with a horn, adequate brakes, headlights, taillights, reflectors, rear-view mirror, a slow-moving vehicle sign, and a bicycle safety flag.
Some states also impose specific restrictions on where a golf cart can be operated. For example, in California, registration of a golf cart isn't required if it's operated within one mile of a golf course. And in South Carolina, a golf cart must be operated within four miles of the address on the registration.
Generally, to operate a golf cart on a city street, you need to have a driver's license. However, some states allow non-licensed drivers who are of a certain age to operate a golf cart on city streets in limited circumstances (for example, crossing a roadway that intersects a golf course).
In most states, you can be arrested for driving a golf cart while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Many states categorize a golf cart as a motor vehicle and a person who operates a motor vehicle on premises open to the public while under the influence can be charged with a DUI.
A golf course or resort would generally be considered premises open to the public. Therefore, even if an intoxicated person isn't driving a golf cart on a public street, the driver can be charged with a DUI under the laws of many states. (Read more about how DUI is defined.)