Golf Cart Driving Laws and Restrictions: Is a Golf Cart a Motor Vehicle?

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.

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.

Definition of a Golf Cart

Definitions vary, but in many states, a golf cart is specifically defined by statute as a vehicle that is designed to:

  • operate on a golf course for recreational purposes
  • carry golf equipment
  • carry no more than two people
  • operate at maximum speeds of 20 miles per hour
  • have at least three wheels in contact with the ground, and
  • have a maximum empty weight of 1,300 pounds.

State variations include operation speed limits from 15 to 35 miles per hour, maximum occupancies up to six people, and empty weight limits 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.

Requirements and Restrictions to Operate a Golf Cart on Public Streets

In most states, golf carts are exempt from registration and insurance requirements. States with these exceptions generally don’t permit golf carts to be operated on public roads or streets.

However, in states that allow golf carts to be operated on public roads and streets, registration and liability insurance are typically required. These states also normally have restrictions associated with how, where, and when a golf cart can be operated. Common restrictions include:

  • limiting golf cart operation to only roadways where the posted speed limit is 25 to 45 miles per hour or less
  • limiting golf cart operation to only during daylight hours or from sunrise to sunset
  • requiring the golf cart driver to have a valid driver’s license, and
  • only allowing drivers who are at least 14 to 16 years of age to operate a golf cart on a public roadway.

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.

Driving a Golf Cart While Under the Influence

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.)

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