Regardless of how much we want it to be different, and think it should be different, the fact is that South Carolina’s streets and roads are not very safe places for people who aren’t encased in multiton cars and trucks.
Actually, they aren’t that safe for people who are in cars in trucks, but they’re even less safe for people on motorcycles, and mopeds, and bicycles — which with two wheels lack the stability of an automobile and without roofs or hoods or trunks or doors offer nothing to protect riders when they crash. They’re also small enough that people driving the cars and trucks often don’t see them until it’s too late to avoid a crash.
Because golf carts are so much larger and, in South Carolina, aren’t allowed on roads with speed limits of more than 35 mph, we don’t often hear about them getting into crashes with automobiles.
But that doesn’t mean it’s safe to drive them off the golf course. They’re extremely unstable on turns, and they lack such standard safety devices as seat belts … or doors to keep the passengers inside … or even, outside the driver’s seat, anything particularly stable for passengers to hold onto.
And something about them makes people assume they’re incredibly safe — which is obvious whenever you see teenagers piled in too tightly, children bobbing along in ways parents would never dream of letting them ride in a (much safer) car, and adults paying too little attention to their surroundings as they dart around their neighborhoods and even onto commercial streets.
Yet our Legislature has allowed them on streets, with only the most modest of restrictions: Drivers must have regular driver’s licenses, buy insurance, stay off high-speed roads and within four miles of their home, business or gated community, and park them before dark.
Unfortunately, the combination of dangerous design and liberal laws can result in tragedy. As The Post and Courier’s Shamira McCray reports, Melanie Popjes of Rock Hill was killed last month after she and her infant daughter fell from the golf cart her husband was driving on the main road on Fripp Island.
Mrs. Popjes’ tragic death was hardly the first. Eight years ago, another woman was killed when she fell from a golf cart on the same road. A woman in Greenville County had a heart attack and died after crashing her golf cart last year. In 2017, a man died when he crashed his golf cart during a water balloon fight with friends on Folly Beach. In 2012, an eighth-grader died from head trauma after a golf cart crash in Bowman. The year before, a Tennessee woman was riding in a golf cart in Sun City Hilton Head, a beer in her hand and her feet propped up on the dash, when she fell off and died.
There probably have been more deaths in South Carolina, but we haven’t been able to find anyone who tracks golf cart deaths, at the state or national level; those are the ones we came across in news reports. The American Academy of Pediatrics, which does track injuries, says more than 1,000 people are injured every month in golf cart accidents, the majority of them children and teens.
Mrs. Popjey’s family and friends are lobbying for Fripp Island, and eventually the state of South Carolina, to require golf carts to be equipped with seat belts, and for the state’s child safety seat requirement to apply to children in golf carts — at least to the smallest children.
As long as we’re going to allow these off-road vehicles on our streets, those are reasonable requests. What the owners of the private gated community of Fripp Island decides to require is up to its members, but the Legislature certainly should adopt those requirements statewide — just as it requires people in cars and trucks to wear safety belts and should require people to wear helmets when they ride motorcycles, mopeds and bicycles.
Simply put, we shouldn’t allow vehicles on our roads that aren’t safe, or that can’t be made safe with adaptations.