Golf car accidents can prove devastating — even deadly — and more often than not it is the golf car driver that takes the worst of it.
An 89-year-old Sun City man was killed in September 2014 when he was struck by an SUV as he pulled his golf car off 99th Drive onto Thunderbird Boulevard. It was the second serious accident in as many days involving a vehicle and golf car. A 97-year-old golf car driver was seriously injured in January 2014 when the golf car was struck while crossing 99th Avenue at Cameo Drive. A golf car rolled over on Burns Drive in May 2015 causing life-threatening injuries to its 65-year-old driver. The golf car turned over after the driver swerved to miss a vehicle that turned in front of it.
Some residents are concerned that golf car drivers do not follow the rules of the road, including stopping at stop signs, using directional signals, exceeding the speed limit, not riding on the white lines, not parking against the fire lane and allowing faster traffic to pass. One of the biggest complaints is golf car drivers rarely use turn signals.
“Car drivers do these things too, but it is the golf car that gets hammered,” said Sun City resident Ritchie Miller.
For that reason, he plans to bring golf car safety discussions to the Sun City Home Owners Association Roads and Safety Committee, a group that he leads as chairman. He said it will be an ongoing discussion, not a problem that is solved in the first meeting.
The committee meets the fourth Wednesday of the month — with altered schedules in November and December due to holidays — and the first meeting after the summer recess is set 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28 in the SCHOA meeting room, 10401 W. Coggins Drive.
Mr. Miller is not alone in his concerns, or desire to bring the issue to discussion. Sun City West resident Jimmy Devaney plans to do the same in his community, starting with the Recreation Centers of Sun City West Governing Board meeting conducted Sept. 22.
Mr. Devaney was clipped from behind by a car a few years ago, and even though the damage to the golf car was not extensive, it threw him out, resulting in huge bruises all over his body.
“I don’t want to get killed on Johnson Boulevard or anywhere else in Sun City West,” Mr. Devaney said. “This place is built as a golf community. Golf community means golf cars.”
Mr. Miller, who does not own a golf car, believes people who drive them should understand they are vulnerable and protect themselves with defensive driving.
“Beyond that, the answers are elusive,” said Mr. Miller, a former Sun City Posse commander who now serves on the SCHOA board.
Golf cars are required to be licensed, the same as regular vehicles, to be on the roadways. That means they must follow all the same rules and regulations as a regular vehicle driver, according to Daniel Demara, a Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputy.
“Golf cars are not required to stay to the extreme right unless they are driving slow enough to impede traffic,” he stated in an email. “Golf cars are considered motor vehicles as per ARS 28-101.26 and all traffic laws apply to the driver as well.”
Golf cars and any other vehicles are required by law to move to the right if they are going slow enough to impede traffic, according to Sgt. Polly White, an MCSO deputy.
“There is not a minimum speed limit for traveling on any roadway. All vehicles traveling on any roadway in the state of Arizona must abide by the posted speed limit,” she stated. “If they are driving a rate lower than the speed limit and are impeding traffic they must move to the right of the roadway. Refer to ARS 28-704A for further information.”
A law sponsored by Arizona Dist. 21 Sen. Debbie Lesko and passed by the Arizona Legislature two years ago may be contributing to residents’ confusion, according to Mr. Miller, speaking as a resident and not for SCHOA, on whose board he serves. That law clarified that golf cars are allowed to drive next to the right curb.
“That law was well-intentioned, but created more problems,” Mr. Miller said.
One of those problems was to get more golf cars traveling in the travel lane rather than next to the curb.
“We told golf car drivers they should be in the travel lane and that increased the animosity between them and vehicle drivers,” Mr. Miller said.
He believes friction between golf car and vehicle drivers began to escalate when Maricopa County Department of Transportation painted white shoulder lines on some Sun City roadways, most notably Boswell Boulevard south of Bell Road and 103rd Avenue between 99th Avenue and Thunderbird Boulevard. That created the perception for some golf car drivers the lines designated golf car lanes. However, MCDOT officials claim there are no designated golf car lanes anywhere in unincorporated Maricopa County.
Ms. White reiterated that golf car drivers must follow all the laws governing all vehicular traffic as they are licensed vehicles. That includes one special restriction of golf car drivers — staying off streets with higher speed limits.
“Golf cars cannot be on a roadway with speed limits no greater than 35 mph,” Mr. Demara stated.
There are multiple reasons for this restriction. Golf cars are not designed to travel at high rates of speeds and do not have the proper safety equipment in the case of an accident, he explained. Most golf cars are designed to drive between 20 to 25 mph. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration set federal guidelines for golf cars traveling on the roadway where speed limits exceed 35 mph due to excessive injury accidents involving golf cars, he added. That means golf cars are not allowed to travel on Bell Road, 99th Avenue and Grand Avenue, although they can cross those roadways at intersections.
Mr. Miller is not so sure that is applicable because golf cars are not strictly defined.
“There are at least two kinds, ones that are limited to 25 mph and those that can go at faster speeds,” he said.
Both Mr. Miller and Mr. Devaney believe discussing the issue publically will help provide some solutions.
“Slow them down. If we save one life, we did a lot,” Mr. Devaney said.
Sun City resident Werner Koehler believes driver education is crucial. He suggests Arizona Department of Transportation officials send some kind of safety and rule book to all registered golf car owners.
Editor’s Note: Tina Gamez contributed to this story.