|Council members decided more input is needed on the question of whether to lower the age limit for golf carts on city streets.|
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by Robin Gee, city council beat editor
Fort Thomas City Council’s Law, Labor and License Committee decided to take a measured approach to a proposal to amend the current golf cart rules to reduce the age limit from 19 years old to 16 years old. The committee has tabled the issue so they can have more time to gather information and speak with residents.
The committee, chaired by council member Connie Grubbs, includes council members Ben Pendery and Ken Bowman. A proposal by council member Jeff Bezold would lower the age restriction on the current city golf cart ordinance to 16.
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"I would like to see the local ordinance line up more consistently with the state statute,” said Bezold, who owns a cart himself. “Sixteen-year-olds who are of age, taken the test, passed and earned their right to drive a vehicle — those same people should earn the right to drive a golf cart."
Council passed a golf cart ordinance in 2019. Language was based on the state statute permitting golf carts, but it was adjusted to tailor the situation in Fort Thomas, which has hilly topography and multiple state routes. One of the changes was not allowing the golf carts on city streets where the speed limit is more than 30 miles per hour. The state law allows them on roads up to 35 mph.
Bezold does not disagree with that departure from the state law. "The reason for that is two of our roads that are 35 mph are US 27 and Memorial Parkway. Those just don’t make a lot of sense to have golf carts on them."
The previous Law, Labor and License committee spent several meetings exploring and discussing the golf cart ordinance. At the time, they recommended the age limit be 19, because, they said, it would be a good safe starting point for those new drivers to get used to navigating the city in motorized vehicles.
Time to revisit?
Bezold said he feels the city has had enough time to determine if a change is needed. "When we first put this ordinance out there to make golf carts legal, two years ago in the fall of 2019, we said let’s give it some time and see if there were any issues," he said.
Timing and data is the issue for council member Adam Blau. "We really haven’t had the golf carts for that long. You can say two years but in reality we had 10 golf carts the first year and 35 the next year so we’re just now starting to study the effects...I just want a little more time for that reason," he said.
Blau said his primary concern is safety. He noted that he has witnessed adult drivers not using seat belts and other safety measures, and if adults don’t follow all the rules, we cannot expect teenagers will. He said he does not feel drivers have not had enough experience driving golf carts as transportation vehicles.
"My concern this whole time has been that nobody’s ever driven these anywhere but the golf course so they are not considered vehicles. We have to change our whole mindset in order to get adjusted to driving with other vehicles on the road," he said.
"No one can convince me these are as safe as a car. You rear end a golf cart going 20 miles per hour, whoever is in back is seriously injured, not the same as in a car. There are a lot of factors to consider."
Yet, he said, "I’m not 100 percent against this, I’d just like a little more time with adults driving before I put someone who has never been behind the wheel behind something like that, that’s all."
The committee’s decision
The request to consider the proposal was added to the committee’s agenda on the Friday before their meeting the following Monday. The expectation was the committee could make a recommendation for a first reading at council that night.
Committee members said they did not feel this provided enough time for them to research and fully discuss such an important change.
Pendery said his first reaction to Bezold’s request was it made sense. "If you are old enough to get a driver’s license it seemed you certainly should be old enough to drive a golf cart in our town. My gut reaction at first was I’m not opposed to it," he said.
"But I will say I want to hear from the community how they feel about it. Obviously, from those who own the carts themselves. And, it’s important we don’t burden our police officers so I want to hear where they stand on it. And anybody else in the community with concerns."
Grubbs agreed. "I have very little experience with driving golf carts around town. We don’t have one...so, I want to listen and hear what others have to say about it. To me, 16 is old enough to drive a car but I’d like to reach out to the schools and hear what they say about their kids driving to school in golf carts. And, I have safety concerns. I have questions about seat belts, child restraints."
Bowman also weighed in, noting that was leaning toward opposing the idea of a change over concerns about safety and whether policing the issue might place too much burden on the police department.
Fort Thomas Police Chief Casey Kilgore added, that any comment on whether there would or would not be problems in the future would be pure speculation.
The committee asks for more time
Pendery added, "I’d just like to gather input. I’d like anyone who has a strong feeling one way or the other to weigh in. As a council member, I’m a mouthpiece for the community, and I want to make sure we reflect that... I think it can be done right and 16-year-olds could safely operate golf carts in Fort Thomas, but I certainly am not the only one with a seat at the table, and I want to make sure we are all in agreement before making a decision."
Grubbs ruled that the committee would table the item to allow for more time for input and discussion.
Blau praised the committee’s handling of the issue. "I’m very proud of that committee because of the way it was thrown at them...The fact that the committee recognized that they needed to do more research on their own is commendable. That’s why they are there."
On this point, Bezold agreed. "I talked to Connie after the meeting. She’s trying to do her due diligence because she doesn’t have any experience with it. I can understand that...We had a conversation and will continue the conversation. This is not a Jeff Bezold decision. It is a council decision."
"We didn’t have consensus to pass it out of committee this week, and I’m fine with that," said Pendery. "There’s nothing wrong with taking some time and doing some more homework on it. And that’s how we left it at the end of the meeting. We talked as committee members, let’s solicit some feedback and let's get together and see where we are, where our concerns are, and if it’s something we can do, let’s absolutely do it."
Council members urged residents with opinions about the age change or other input on the golf cart ordinance, to reach out to the committee members or to any of the council members.