The majority of golf cart owners are well aware of the safety risks with driving their cart around their property or on the public highways. Street legal golf carts tend to be the smallest vehicles on the road, making them hard to see in traffic, and they also travel at slower speeds than regular cars.
Most owners adopt a sensible and defensive driving style which reduces the chance of an accident occurring. But, according to a safety expert who studies golf cart accidents, deaths and serious injuries happen far more often than people realize.
If you've driven a golf cart you'll know that sharp turns are not handled well by a cart and passengers tend to slide around on the vinyl covered bench seat.
"News media always describe them as freak accidents, but they are not," said Kristopher Seluga, who works for Technology Associates, a Connecticut-based company that reconstructs accidents. "Somebody dies every week in this country from falling out of a golf cart."
The most common accident involves a left turn. The passenger has no place to hold onto, and the rail on the outside of the vehicle acts as a fulcrum that causes the person to fall up and over, onto his or her head. It seems nearly everyday we read about injuries and deaths that follow this scenario, involving passengers of all ages from 7 to 70 years of age.
Drivers are able to anticipate the change of direction and can hold onto the steering wheel to brace themselves for the turn. But passengers don't have anything to hold on to and children are not tall enough to brace their feet on the floor to prevent themselves moving sideways during a turn.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission around 13,000 golf cart-related accidents require emergency room treatment each year. Seluga would like to see all golf carts have seat belts and a hand rail on the inside of the cart.
In fact street legal carts are mandated by most, if not all, municipalities to be fitted with seat belts but they are only effective if they are used by the occupants. It can be difficult to ensure that everyone uses their seat belts and historically there has been some difficultly with ensuring 100% use of automobile seat belts.
As with most preventable accidents, you only have to learn this lesson once! Safe driving, and remember to belt up in your cart.