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A Call for Caution in the Use of Golf Carts

No longer are golf carts generic little flat top boxes on four tiny wheels.  They sport luxury marque details including branded hubcaps, more seating, air conditioning, cleverly mounted holders, compartments, pockets, and tie-ons.  And it is a universal truth: ‘kids’ of all ages love to drive and ride in golf carts.

The timing for an article about golf carts may seem odd: ‘tis the pre-season here, after all, for snow tires and snowmobiles.  But, for many Canadians, ‘tis also time for thinking about winter-getaways where golf-cart-riding ranks high on the ‘fun-to-do’ list.

However, early in this pre-season, a news report from Southern California reminds us of the fragility of golf carts, and how, as Sgt. Daniel Hesser with the California Highway Patrol [CHP] puts it, “when you are in a golf cart or on a bicycle or on a motorcycle you have much lower levels of protection, and when you are putting yourself on roadways with regular vehicles there is that enhanced danger.”

The occasion for Sgt. Hesser’s caution was, according to news reports, the crash on Wednesday, November 18, 2015, at 3:22 pm in Thousand Palms, a northern suburb of Palm Springs.  The weather was sunny with maybe, at that time of day, a hint of the approaching dusk. Ronald Little, 76 of Lac La Hache, BC along with his two dogs, Candy and Beans, and his friend Neil Karran, 77 of Kelowna, BC were in a golf cart heading north on Desert Moon Drive approaching the intersection with Colonial Drive—travelling through the Tri-Palm Estates community, speed limit 25 miles per hour—when a Mercedes Benz SUV up from behind struck the left rear of their cart with such force that it was launched into the adjacent brick wall a few feet away.

News reports say, “The occupants of the golf cart were ejected and pronounced dead at the scene. [The] two dogs …also died.”  Quoting CHP Public Information Officer Mike Radford, the crash caused, “moderate damage to the Mercedes and major damage to the golf cart;” quoting TV news, the golf cart was a “mangled mess of destruction”.

The SUV driver, a resident of Palm Desert remained at the scene and was cooperative. Subsequently, she was charged with two counts of second-degree murder, driving under the influence of drugs causing injury, animal cruelty, and driving with a suspended license.  Authorities reportedly said the SUV driver was going over 50 MPH.  They also said there was no indication that the victims “were doing anything wrong.”  Apparently, driving a golf cart on the roadway was permissible under the local law.  Witnesses said speeding on the community roadways was a common problem, though not usually caused by senior drivers.

This tragedy reminds us again of the danger impaired drivers pose to other road users, especially the most vulnerable.  And golf-cart users might consider their vulnerability and non-exemption from risk, despite the virtues of their small size, slow speed, non-emitting vehicles.

Newspaper reports stated that Mr. Karran’s wife had said her husband had been looking forward to his first visit to the desert and the opportunity to help his friend fix up his vacation home before selling it.

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