By Melanie Williamson
The second item on the legislative agenda was a review of Ordinance 2018-48 concerning golf cart usage in Vermilion. The original discussion concerning the golf cart law was to expand it to include other roadworthy vehicles. After several meetings, the council decided to make the change. However, on the night of the third reading, resident Julie Horn addressed the council about the age restriction on golf carts.
Currently, children who are supposed to be in car seats or child restraints as determined by state law are not allowed to ride on golf carts. This applies primarily to children ages 8 and younger. Horn did not feel the age restriction was fair stating that many other communities do not restrict ages, and she felt children should be allowed to ride golf carts. Her concerns led the council to table to third reading until they could look further into the age restriction.
During the legislative committee meeting, chief Hartung was asked to share his perspective on the age restriction. He reminded everyone that the law allowing golf carts passed in 2009, and then in 2011 the law was passed to allow golf carts in zones up to 35 mph. He went on to state that golf carts are required to have seat belts, and they are not impact rated. Although Horn had used Put in Bay and Kelley’s Island as examples of communities that did not restrict age, Hartung stated that was not a good comparison because they do not have state routes. Under the current law, golf carts can travel on portions of Route 6 (Liberty Avenue) and Route 60 (Main Street). Because these are state routes, Hartung stated they are more heavily traveled, and they are used by commercial vehicles making them more dangerous for golf carts.
In reference to the fact that the state does not have a law restricting age, Hartung said that the state left it up to the municipalities to decide, which is why there is no state law. Hartung shared that Vermilion is way ahead of other communities in this area and that approximately 70% of the golf cart inspections the department conducts are for people outside of Vermilion. He closed by saying that the leading cause of death of children in this age group is unintentional actions or accidents.
Council president Steve Herron stated he understands other communities allow young children to ride in golf carts, but he feels it is safer to have age restrictions. He also said that it doesn’t matter how careful the parents are, “safety is all dependent on the lowest common denominator; drunk or distracted drivers.” Councilman John Gabriel agreed with Herron stating, “We don’t make rules for the safe parents; they are for the other parents.” Gabriel provided an example of having to stop a family driving across Romp’s property with their children sitting on the hood of their car and then getting angry at him for telling them it wasn’t safe.
Several council members stated they would be open to eliminating the age restriction if golf carts were still limited to 25 mph zones, but that isn’t the case. Julie Horn, who was in attendance, asked if they would be willing to restrict children in golf carts to the 25 mph zones while still allowing adults to travel in the 35 mph zones. This question was referred to chief Hartung to see if that would even be possible as well as if it would be possible to require child restraints in golf carts. Hartung responded that it would only be feasible if it were made a primary offense; as a secondary offense, they cannot stop people. In regards to adding restraints, he stated, “If you get hit by a car in a golf cart, you are going to die; restraints may not help.”
Council president Herron agreed with chief Hartung adding that the child restraint law is pretty straight forward and if they start making exceptions, it will get too confusing. He then put it to a vote to amend the age restrictions in the ordinance, and all members of council voted against it. The ordinance will go to a third reading at the Monday, October 1, city council meeting with the age restrictions still in place.