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Golf carts: Age-old issue arises in new venue

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Golf carts are still new to the town of Pawleys Island, but an old problem was quick to appear. Actually, it was a young problem.

Last week a couple of residents watched two children drive a golf cart toward the boat landing on Pritchard Street in the island’s Birds Nest section. On their return trip, one of the residents asked if the kids had driver’s licenses. They didn’t.

State law requires golf carts on public streets be operated by licensed drivers. The carts must also be registered and have insurance. Underage driving was the biggest complaint about golf carts in North Litchfield, where the carts are common.

“We got calls all the time,” said Lt. Neil Johnson, spokesman for the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office. “Under age and driving at night have been the biggest things.”

Until this year, the town of Pawleys Island banned golf carts. The legislature changed the state’s golf cart law last year to extend their range from 2 to 4 miles from the owner’s residence and prohibit local government from regulating them. The exception is setting a 2-mile range, which the Pawleys Island Town Council did last week.

Police Chief Mike Fanning didn’t find the kids driving the golf cart, but he did find a couple of kids in the area sitting in a golf cart at a house. He explained the law to them and said if they were caught driving their parents could get a ticket.

“You can’t give somebody under 16 who doesn’t have a license a ticket,” Fanning explained.

The residents who reported the cart later got a note signed by “A Proud Parent.” It said, “The 9 and 10 year olds riding around on the golf cart also drive trucks, tractors and everything else on the hi-way. They run farm machinery at a very skilled level.”

And it concluded, “P.S. Maybe you should’ve ask[ed] them for some common sense.”

The sheriff’s office stepped up patrols at North Litchfield after hearing from residents. “It seems like there are not as many kids driving as there used to be,” said John Thomas, president of the Litchfield Beaches Property Owners Association. “Golf carts are not a big issue here as far as I’m concerned.”

Thomas said he hasn’t heard any complaints about golf carts.

Deputies would warn underage drivers and escort them home, Johnson said.

As for nighttime operation, a bill pending in the legislature would allow carts to be driven at night if they have headlights and rear lights. It passed the House 75-28 and is now in the Senate.

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