Despite safety concerns, more golf carts hitting the road to save owners some green

They may be called golf carts, but these rides aren’t spending as much time on the greens as they used to.

“These will probably never see a golf course,” says Bob Miller, a salesman at Graham Golf Carts in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina about a few of the carts in his showroom.

And who could blame someone for choosing a fun, fuel efficient vehicle to get around town over a gas-guzzling, traffic inducing car?

Owners in South Carolina are especially pleased because in May, Governor Nikki Haley approved a bill that allows golf carts to be driven up to four miles from their homes, starting in October – instead of the two miles that had previously been the law.

“The new golf cart law helps our community because it gets them around the community a little better than the old law did,” says Kenny Lancaster, Director of Safety and Standards at Sun City, a retirement community in Hilton Head where almost every resident owns a golf cart.

“Four miles seems great and just perfect,” says Sun City resident and golf cart owner Mike Zipes.

And South Carolina isn’t the only state to welcome golf carts onto public roads, it’s a growing trend. Market research firm IBIS World forecasts that by 2016, 76,685 golf carts will be sold annually. Rising gas prices are a major factor in that growth.

“We recently sold one of our cars and now just have one car and a golf cart,” says Zipes. “It’s cheap.”

According to the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS,) all but four states have laws that allow golf carts or other low speed vehicles to be driven on public roads. Alaska and Texas even let them be driven on roads with speed limits up to 45 mph.

The new law in South Carolina, however, doesn’t allow golf carts to be driven on any major roads or anywhere where the speed limit is more than 35 mph. But most owners have no problem finding ways to get around in their golf carts.

“Folks down here will find side streets and backstreets and alleys to get to wherever they want to go,” says Miller.

“I think four miles is sufficient,” says Lancaster. “It gives them the opportunity to go wherever they need to go and get there in a safe manner.”

But it’s the “safe manner” that has some concerned.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 13,000 golf cart related accidents require emergency room visits each year, many of them fatal.

“These laws that allow them to be driven on more and more roads is a cause of concern because it could lead to more and more people driving them in situations where they might get in crashes,” says IIHS Chief Research Officer, David Zuby,

An IIHS report released in 2010 determined that, “these vehicles are fuel-efficient and cheap to own but aren’t built to protect people in crashes and don’t meet all federal motor vehicle safety standards.”

But for many satisfied owners in South Carolina, it seems that the convenience outweighs the possible dangers.

“As long as people are careful on the road, it’s OK,” says golf cart owner Rich White.