State law puts brakes on Whidbey Island golf cart movement

Although it was residents of a rural Island County neighborhood who inspired a state law legalizing golf cart zones two years ago, a legal hurdle prevented the county commissioners from following the town of Coupeville’s lead in adopting a golf cart-related ordinance.

In fact, the county’s top civil attorney suggested that some jurisdictions, including Coupeville, have acted contrary to law in adopting ordinances for golf cart zones that are more restrictive than allowed by state law.

Fortunately, a legislative fix may be coming this summer.

The commissioners held a public hearing last week on a proposed ordinance that would have added golf cart zones to the county code. A state law passed in 2010 allows local governments to create special zones where it’s legal to drive golf carts on public roads.

Tom Cahill, a resident of Beverly Beach in Freeland, got the ball rolling a couple of years ago by asking state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, the Democratic chair of the Transportation Committee, to consider changing the law. She ended up sponsoring the bill.

Cahill addressed the commissioners Monday. He said 70 percent of the residents in his neighborhood were in favor of establishing a golf cart zone. He pointed out that the mode of transportation is easy on the environment, helpful to elderly people with mobility problems and emphasizes the 20 mph speed limit in the neighborhood.

In addition, Cahill said the neighbors had no objections to adding language to the ordinance that would require golf carts on public roads to have brake lights and turn signals.

“We would like this to proceed as expeditiously as possible,” Cahill said.

Sheriff Mark Brown expressed concerns about the safety of golf carts on county roads. He said he would be a lot more comfortable with the ordinance if turn signals, brake lights and headlights are required, but even then, he said he can’t completely endorse the idea.

“I think we are still looking at risk factors,” he said in an interview after the meeting. He said golf carters wouldn’t have any protection if there is an accident.

Likewise, Connie Bowers, assistant county engineer, said the county’s traffic engineers were recommending against the ordinance because of safety concerns about mixing golf carts with regular cars.

On the other hand, Island County Commissioners Helen Price Johnson and Angie Homola made it clear that they support the ordinance if brake lights and signals are required on golf carts operating within the special zones.

But Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Dave Jamieson said the problem is that the state law allowing golf-cart zones doesn’t require them to have brake lights or signals and the law doesn’t allow jurisdictions to make their zones more restrictive.

Sen. Haugen is aware of the concern and has already presented an amendment to the law granting cities and counties the authority to require additional equipment on golf carts, but Jamieson pointed out that it won’t be until the end of June until the amendment, if passed, would go into effect.

In the end, Price Johnson and Homola apologized to the audience members, but said they would have to table the issue until it could be lawfully adopted. Commissioner Kelly Emerson was present and asked a question, but didn’t indicate her opinion.


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