A new state law regarding golf carts will force some municipalities in West Orange to update codes.
The new bill, House Bill 949, was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May.
HB 949 will require minors to have a learner’s permit or driver’s license to operate golf carts.
Although Florida law has previously allowed anyone age 14 and older to drive a golf cart, the new bill states golf cart drivers under age 18 must be at least 15 with a learner’s permit or 16 with a driver’s license.
In addition, anyone who is age 18 or older must have a valid government-issued ID to drive a golf cart.
The new law is set to go into effect July 1.
The city of Winter Garden authorizes the operation of golf carts within and between golf-cart communities and on specified roadways by resolution.
The city code states “it shall be unlawful for an unlicensed driver, defined as a driver who does not hold and possess a valid state-issued driver’s license, to operate a golf cart upon city streets unless such driver complies with the following requirements.”
The requirements provide the driver must be 18 years of age or older and must complete a city-approved safety course in the operation of golf carts on public roads. Proof of completion of such a course is required to be carried at all times by an unlicensed driver when such driver is operating a golf cart on city streets.
“Municipal code already dictates that only licensed drivers under 18 can drive a golf cart,” Winter Garden City Manager Jon C. Williams said. “We will need to look into whether the code needs to be altered to include 15-year-olds with a learner’s permit.”
The city of Ocoee also has an ordinance in place authorizing the use of golf carts within certain communities and streets.
“It shall be unlawful to operate a golf cart on any street within the corporate limits of the city except for a golf cart which may subject to the provisions of this article be operated on golf cart-permitted streets and municipal streets within a golf-cart community,” the ordinance reads.
In Ocoee, any unlicensed driver operating a golf cart within a golf-cart community or on a golf cart-permitted street must be at least 18 years old. As provided in Section 316 22 7 Florida Statutes, a golf cart may not be operated on public roads or streets by any person under age 14. Bill Wagner, sergeant in the traffic division at the Ocoee Police Department, said the city will need to update the language in its ordinance regarding the new law language.
“It will enhance safety,” Wagner said. “The new law change requires that at least you have a learner’s permit, and that means that the juveniles have read at least the traffic law manual, and they’ve got a basic understanding of the traffic laws, so they’re more apt to follow them. I think that’s going to be the big key on increasing safety. Not that we’ve had golf-cart incidents to speak of, but sometimes, you get those complaints of the reckless drivers, and it’s generally the juveniles on a golf cart (who) are the ones (who) are going to drive a bit wild. … This gives us some guidelines, and I think having them go through that testing process first can only help.”
In Oakland, Mayor Kathy Stark said the town is preparing to take an extensive analysis of the golf-cart ordinances.
“We will be addressing golf-cart ordinances in the very near future,” she said. “We will take this new law into consideration when reconstructing our rules to make sure all of the citizens in the area remain as safe as possible.”
The town of Windermere also has an ordinance relating to golf carts.
“It shall be unlawful to operate a golf cart on any street or sidewalk within the corporate limits of the town unless expressly authorized by this article or Florida law,” the ordinance reads. “Golf carts may be operated on town streets depicted in the official town ‘golf cart district map.’ The map shall be adopted by resolution and may be amended by resolution from time-to-time at the discretion of the Town Council.”
However, the current code only states “a golf cart may not be operated on town streets or sidewalks by any person under the age of 14.”
Windermere Police Chief Dave Ogden said the new law has been sent to the town’s legal team to review, provide comments for enforcement and prepare updates needed in the town ordinances.
“Windermere is a strong golf-cart community, and this will bring a significant change from the current regulations and practices,” Ogden said. “Education is always the first rule of gaining compliance, so we will be sure to engage in an educational campaign for our community prior to the law taking effect.”
Winter Garden Commissioner Ron Mueller said he is continuing to lead the way in advocating for the expansion of golf cart usage in the city.
Alongside successfully sponsoring and obtaining approval for the recent expansion bill, he is collaborating with Orange County District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson to establish connections between Winter Garden and the town of Oakland by incorporating more roadways into the city.
“While I consider the state regulation as an encroachment on local and county governments, Winter Garden has consistently enforced a minimum age requirement of 18 for operating golf carts,” Mueller said. “However, this enforcement has been lenient when the carts are operated safely and respectfully in the presence of adults. Consequently, I don’t believe that state laws will hinder the efforts of the Winter Garden Police Department in ensuring public safety.”
Mueller said he believes it’s important to remind citizens all vehicles, including golf carts, must be operated safely.
“They can serve as a means to teach children how to drive, alleviate traffic, parking issues and reduce pollution,” he said. “Nevertheless, it is crucial to never operate a golf cart under the influence, allow young children to drive, or, as I have witnessed far too often, drive while holding an infant or small child. Please enjoy your golf cart responsibly, prioritizing safety above all, so that we can all continue to appreciate the special privilege of golf cart usage in Winter Garden.”
Winter Garden resident Zach Waxler said he supports the change in the law.
“There is no need for young kids to be driving around our streets without some sort of driver’s permit,” he said. “We are new parents now and love to cruise around Winter Garden with our daughter. This will just make the roads safer for us and everyone else, including cars.”
Waxler believes the new law will open the door for the city of Winter Garden to consider expanding its local golf cart district.
“I know of many neighborhoods right on the outside edge of the golf cart district that would love to connect to the district,” he said. “Golf carts bring so much value and revenue into downtown, and I think the vast majority of downtown residents would support it.”
Jack Oakes, Horizon West resident and leader of the area’s golf cart club, said he also fully supports the new law.
“There’s a stigma surrounding golf carts, and it’s usually due to young drivers operating the carts recklessly,” he said. “The less people see of the reckless kids driving golf carts, the more cordial drivers will be to adults riding safely.”