Golf carts get their name from their original purpose: driving golfers from hole to hole on a course if they don't want to walk while playing golf. But in warm, dry climates, like those in much of Arizona, these small vehicles double as a primary means of transportation, especially for "snow birds" who come to Arizona in winter to escape the cold in their home states.
So many people drive golf carts on public roads in Arizona – almost 40,000 at last count – that the state has enacted comprehensive laws regulating them. Anyone thinking of taking a golf cart out for a spin in Arizona should get an overview of the state's golf cart laws.
Golf Carts in Arizona
Golf carts are defined in Arizona law as vehicles with at least three wheels, weighing less than 1,800 pounds and traveling at a maximum speed of 25 mph. They are built to hold no more than four passengers.
Federal law permits state regulations for carts if they cannot travel at a speed of more than 25 mph. To comply with the law, Arizona allows golf carts in the state only if they are manufactured to travel at a speed of 25 mph or less. In addition, Arizona limits the use of golf carts on public streets to those areas with speed limits of under 35 mph. Therefore, these carts are entirely regulated by state laws in Arizona, not by federal law.
While a golf cart that is manufactured to travel over 25 mph fall under federal laws, what about carts that are "souped up" after market to travel at faster speeds? Since the carts were manufactured to go under 25 mph, state laws cover them, and federal law does not apply. Even if the carts are illegally modified to travel at a faster speed, they remain subject to state laws.
Driving a Golf Cart
Does Arizona require a driver to get a license to operate a golf cart? A person is not obligated to obtain a driver’s license to operate a golf cart on private property. As long as they keep the cart on their own property or on a golf course, no license is needed. However, someone hoping to rent a cart from a golf club may find age restrictions, often requiring that the person be at least 14 years old.
Note that it is forbidden to drive a golf cart on the sidewalk. It is also illegal to drive on the side of the road except in certain, age-restricted communities and low-density, unincorporated areas. It is also illegal to operate them on private property without permission. And anyone driving a golf cart under the influence or driving recklessly can be cited regardless of whether they are driving on public roads or on private property.
In every case, golf cart operators on public roads must obey all the same traffic laws as other drivers. This includes stopping at traffic lights and stop signs and obeying the right-of-way laws.
Registering an LSV in Arizona
Cart owners who wish to drive their golf carts on public roads must register them as low speed vehicles (LSV) with the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Registered golf carts must have working headlights, taillights, brakes, brake lights and a horn. However, Arizona law exempts them from the windshield requirement that applies to other vehicles.
In order to drive a low-speed vehicle in Arizona, the person must have a driver's license and abide by all standard driving laws. In addition, the vehicle itself must be street legal. To register a golf cart, an individual must visit the Arizona Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) with the following documentation and items:
- Completed Arizona title application form.
- Valid driver's license.
- Manufacturer’s certificate for the cart.
- Proof of Arizona liability insurance for the cart.
- Payment of the fees for title and registration.
Under Arizona law, golf cart owners and operators must carry liability insurance on their vehicles, just like owners of other types of motor vehicles. The minimum liability insurance requirements in Arizona are $10,000 for property damage, $15,000 per person in bodily injury insurance and $30,000 liability per accident.
Anyone driving a golf cart without insurance risks having their license suspended by the DMV. If they are caught driving without insurance, the DMV may also require them to carry more expensive, SR-22 insurance for three years.
Golf Cart Risks
Even though golf carts can't travel very fast, people driving them can injure themselves, their passengers and others using the roads. In fact, there are significant risks of injury associated with these carts being driven on public roads.
First, the small vehicles have a high risk of rolling over and, if that happens, the driver and/or riders may be ejected. Second, golf cart drivers and passengers have much less protection than those operating or riding in regular motor vehicles like cars and trucks. In this way the carts are similar to motorcycles. Any time there is a collision between a golf cart and a car or truck, the persons riding in the cart are likely to come out worse than those in the larger vehicle.
Tips for Safe Driving
Since the driver and the passengers of a golf cart have a higher risk of serious injury than car drivers and passengers if they are involved in an accident, it is important for cart drivers to follow roadway rules and operate these vehicles safely. To avoid an accident and/or troubles with law enforcement personnel, experts recommend that the driver follow these driving tips:
- Confirm that the golf cart has all the required parts and equipment before driving on a public road.
- Be sure to obtain the required license and endorsements before driving the golf cart.
- Never allow more than three passengers in the golf cart at one time.
- Always wear a seat belt and require all passengers to wear seat belts whenever they are in the golf cart.
- Drive safely and slowly, giving vehicles behind the golf cart plenty of notice when turning.
- Keep a safe distance from other vehicles. Tailgating is a very bad idea when driving a golf cart.
- Give pedestrians the right of way and yield to other vehicles whenever required by law and also whenever it appears prudent.
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.