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Golf carts: Pawleys permit plan raises question of fines

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A plan to require people who drive golf carts on Pawleys Island to register the vehicles with the town is under review by the town attorney. It’s unclear whether the town has the authority to fine people who don’t get permits, David DuRant said. “We’d have to research that,” he told Town Council this week.

The town used to ban golf carts, but a change in state law in 2012 removed the ability of local government to restrict the vehicles. “The legislature has crafted a state law that puts municipalities in an impossible position,” Mayor Bill Otis said.

The state law allows golf carts to travel during daylight hours within 4 miles of the owner’s home on roads where the speed limit is 35 mph or under. Towns can limit the travel distance to 2 miles, which Pawleys Island has done.

The proposed ordinance would allow police to ticket any golf cart without a town permit that is parked on the right-of-way or any other public area. To get a permit, valid for one year, owners would have to show proof of registration and insurance and show that their address is within 2 miles of the town limits. They would also have to certify that they have read and that they understand the state law on operating golf carts.

But the state law also says, local government “may not reduce or otherwise amend the other restrictions placed on the operation of a permitted golf cart.”

Council Member Sarah Zimmerman questioned whether the town can fine golf carts for not having a permit. “It sounds a little like over-stepping,” she said.

Town Administrator Ryan Fabbri said the town isn’t placing more restrictions on the carts, it only wants to verify that the carts are properly registered with the state. Police can’t get registration information on golf carts from the state the way they can for other vehicles. If a cart is parked illegally, Pawleys police clamp a boot on one wheel and leave a note for the owner to call them. With a town permit, registration information would be available and a ticket would be written, Otis said.

“The only thing we are trying to do is put the town’s law enforcement in the same position with golf carts that they are with motor vehicles,” Otis said. “DMV is not anywhere near to being able to provide that information.”

He was out of town this week and didn’t attend the council meeting. Reached afterward, Otis said he wasn’t sure what DuRant could research. The council began discussing the permit plan in June. “The ordinance that was proposed was basically an ordinance already enforced by at least one other municipality on the coast,” he said.

The courts have not ruled on any issues arising from the golf cart law, said Tiggeron Wells, an attorney who is the government affairs liaison for the S.C. Municipal Association. Whether the 2-mile limit that the town adopted can be applied to golf carts traveling from outside the town limits is “an interesting scenario,” he said. “It could be argued that it’s 2 miles within the municipality.”

Wells also noted that the town’s ability to issue tickets is limited under the state’s uniform traffic act.

The limit is important to the town, Otis said. “If you go to 4 miles, you allow a substantially larger geographical area” and more golf carts, he said. “Council’s goal was to limit the numbers.”

“I recommend you let us do some research,” DuRant said. The council agreed.

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