The Carmel City Council voted unanimously to table an ordinance regulating golf cart usage on city streets. Golf carts are not legal on city streets, but the proposed law would legalize their use by adding safety requirements.
The city held off on a decision because city attorneys said adding certain safety requirements, such as mandating seat belts or headlights, could conflict with state law and be subject to legal questioning. Many Indiana communities have laws that legalize golf carts on city streets, but city legal staff told the council that those other laws might not hold up to scrutiny.
Mike Nelson, owner of golf cart shop ProCartz, has attended city discussions and spoke at the Sept. 19 council meeting. He accused the council of “passing the buck” to the state legislature and noted that several Indiana communities already have such laws. He said people will use golf carts, regardless, and so the council should act.
City Council President Ron Carter strongly disagreed with Nelson, saying he trusts the advice of the city’s attorneys and that he’s concerned about public safety. He told a story about a friend in North Carolina who fell out of a golf cart, hit her head and died.
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard noted there was a recent vehicular fatality in the Indianapolis area involving a scooter, which is similar to a golf cart in some respects. He said Carmel is one of the safest communities in the country, and he wants to be careful when this law is written, otherwise he said he couldn’t sign a law that doesn’t ensure the public’s safety.
Councilor Sue Finkam said the council isn’t “passing the buck,” and that it’s important to make sure Carmel’s laws are solid and can’t be easily challenged.
“We are trying to do right by our community and create a safe ordinance with a lower likelihood to be challenged,” she said.
Councilor Jeff Worrell said the city can’t pass a law, “just because someone else does it.” He added that he wouldn’t vote for any golf cart law if it didn’t include headlights, because he said motorists don’t want to share the roads with moving vehicles they can’t easily see.
“To me, this is also about the motorists,” he said.
Carter pointed out that there are approximately 1,000 households with golf carts in Carmel, but there are more than 36,000 households in total, so he said the entire city has to be considered. He said Carmel is a busy city with lots of cars on the road, so safety is a top concern.
“Frankly, a golf cart might be appropriate in Fairmont, Indiana. But we have a huge community here,” he said.
Councilor Carol Schleif said she’s gotten a lot of response about the ordinance in her southwest Clay district, since many residents in the Village of West Clay would like to use golf carts. She said something should be done but there’s no need to rush. She said she’s been talking to State Rep. Donna Schaibley to try to craft the best law possible.
“I’d love to have more time to process this and fix this, because this issue isn’t going away,” she said.