Golf carts have become much faster and more powerful – some can reach 25 mph and travel over 40 miles on a single battery charge. Golf carts are now routinely used for transportation purposes at sporting events, hospitals, airports, national parks, college campuses, businesses and military bases. In many gated and retirement communities, golf carts have become the primary means of transportation.
According to a study published in the July 2008 issue of The American Journal of Preventive Medicine, from 1990 until 2006, nearly 150,000 people, as young as 2 months and as old as 96 years, were injured in golf cart-related accidents. The number of golf cart related injuries increased more than 130 percent over that period, from an estimated 5772 cases in 1990 to an estimated 13,411 cases in 2006.
According to the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), there are approximately 10,000 golf car related injuries requiring emergency room treatment in the US each year. Being ejected, falling or jumping from a golf cart was the most common cause of injury for both adults and children (38.3%). Children were at greater risk than adults for falls from a golf cart.
Injuries caused by falls were more than twice as likely to result in injury to the head or neck, and more than six times more likely to result in concussion than injuries due to other causes. The risk of ejection is heightened inasmuch as golf carts are typically not equipped with seat belts because of their need to allow passengers to enter and exit the vehicle frequently with ease. The ANSI (American National Standards Institute) golf car safety standard, Z130.1, does not require seatbelts for golf cars.
To keep occupants from sliding out of the cart, golf carts are typically designed with rectangular or semicircular bars that rise up from each side of the cars bench seat and are designed to serve as both handholds and hip restraints.
This design is deficient because the location of the handhold (i.e. at the outboard edge of the seat) is also the fulcrum about which an ejected passenger will tend to rotate. Therefore, this type of handhold, even when used, does not provide the passenger sufficient leverage to prevent ejection. Often the side restraint may not be large enough to prevent ejections, a further deficiency.
In addition to ejection accidents, at least 10% of golf car accidents involve a rollover. Statistics indicate that such accidents are roughly twice as likely to lead to injuries requiring a hospital stay as non-rollover accidents. Rollovers often occur as a result of a driver losing control of the cart while traveling downhill on a cart path. Current industry practice is to manufacture golf cars with brakes on only the rear axle wheels which will reduce braking effectiveness (when compared to four wheel braking), and can easily lead to fishtailing.
Furthermore, the reduced braking effectiveness on downhill slopes can lead the driver to falsely perceive a brake failure, causing him to press harder on the brake pedal, which in turn leads to a locking of the braked wheels and an out-of-control skid. Equipping the carts with front brakes would significantly alleviate this problem.
Of golf cart related injuries with a reported location, 70.3% occurred at sports facilities, 15.2% occurred on streets or public property, and 14.5% occurred around a home or farm. Injuries that occurred on the street more often resulted in concussions and were more likely to require hospitalization than injuries that occurred in other locations.
Most golf carts are not subject to federal regulation, and state and local regulations for golf carts vary widely by region. This is compounded by the fact that industry standards for the design of golf carts contain minimal braking requirements that do not include tests for downhill braking, whereas many golf cart paths may be sloped and windy, causing golf carts to be routinely driven on potentially dangerous terrain that is not addressed by the ANSI golf car standard.
Further, while the ANSI standard requires that a golf cars maximum speed not exceed 15 mph on level ground, that speed can easily be exceeded when traveling downhill.
The American Journal of Preventive Medicine researchers suggest children under the age of 16 not be permitted to drive golf carts and children 6 years or younger should not be permitted in golf carts at all. In addition, they recommend private and public facilities, where golf carts are allowed, should require driver’s licenses and safety-operations training, as well as implement safety policies and perhaps consider golf cart safety in the design of pathways and landscapes.