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If I can’t drive a golf cart without a license, why do I see kids driving them everywhere?

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By PIERCE KELLEY

Ask A Lawyer

C. C. of Cedar Key writes: “I wrote to you last month about being able to drive my golf cart around the city of Cedar Key without a driver’s license even though my license was suspended, and you told me I couldn’t because it was a motor vehicle and I had to have a valid driver’s license. If that’s true, why do I see kids who don’t have licenses driving golf carts all over the place? If they can do it, why can’t I?”

  

Dear C. C.: 

Sorry, C.C., but I’m afraid the answer I gave you last month was the correct one: You can’t drive a golf cart in Cedar Key while your license has been suspended or revoked. However, there is a little twist here: Even though a golf cart is classified as a motor vehicle and no one whose driver’s license has been suspended or revoked can operate a golf cart in Cedar Key, Florida Statute 316.212 (7) provides that a person over the age of fourteen (14) can operate a golf cart in the State of Florida without a driver’s license. It’s  the City of Cedar Key’s ordinance that requires operators to be over the age of sixteen, and it is the City of Cedar Key’s ordinance that says you can’t operate a golf cart in Cedar Key if your driver’s license is suspended.

As is obvious, there is a significant difference between the state statute and the city’s ordinance, but the city’s ordinance specifically addresses the situation of a driver, such as you, whose license has been suspended, and it says you can’t do it. Now, there is a legal argument to be made about that issue (see below), but until a judge rules otherwise, no one whose license has been suspended—anywhere in the U.S.—can operate a golf cart in Cedar Key. If you do, you’ll be arrested, or you could be if they catch you doing it.

Your question from last month generated a good deal of interest from readers of this column, and not just in Cedar Key. Usage of golf carts is increasing all over the county, state and country. In fact, there is a store now in Gainesville which sells ONLY batteries for golf carts, so there are a whole lot of people driving golf carts and your question is of interest to a large number of people.

One of the issues that arose as a result of that article was why there is a difference between operating a golf cart on State Road 24 only if it is properly registered as an SLV (Slow Moving Vehicle), but being able to operate a golf cart on any of the other roads in Cedar Key, even if the golf cart isn’t registered as an SLV. The short answer is that S.R. 24 is maintained by and is under the control of the State of Florida’s Department of Transportation. The municipality of Cedar Key, like other municipalities, controls the side streets. Cedar Key’s City Council adopted Florida Statute 316 as far as motor vehicles are concerned, but Cedar Key has a separate section in its Code, 6.00.03 that deals with golf carts.

Section G of the Cedar Key Code reads as follows:

“All persons operating a golf cart on streets over which the City has primary jurisdiction must possess at all times during such operation either a valid Florida Driver’s License, Florida Identification Card issued pursuant to Section 322.051, Florida Statutes, or other picture identification issued by a state governmental agency providing proof of age.” 

 Section F requires that no driver of a golf cart can be under the age of sixteen and Section H says that no one whose driver’s license has been suspended or revoked can operate a golf cart. 

So the answer to your question this month is that people under the age of sixteen may not operate a golf cart in Cedar Key, but people over the age of sixteen may do so without a license, provided they have a valid, State of Florida issued picture identification card. It poses an interesting legal question, doesn’t it?

Not long after last month’s article was published I received a telephone call from a lawyer who asked whether or not Cedar Key’s ordinance was effective to require a client of his, who was operating a golf cart in Cedar Key, to face a mandatory suspension of a driver’s license by the State of Florida for refusing to submit to a breathalyzer test. It is the lawyer’s position that Section G of the Cedar Key Code is ambiguous as far as its application to his client and he should not lose his driver’s license for failing to submit to the breathalyzer test, since he could have produced a Concealed Weapons Permit or other form of identification, as permitted by Section G. The argument is that the Cedar Key ordinance does not seem to require the operator to have a driver’s license to operate a golf cart in Cedar Key, it just prohibits someone whose license has been suspended or revoked from operating one. If that is the case, why then, he argues, should his client be subjected to the implied consent law which requires operators of motor vehicles to submit to breathalyzer tests, if his client had a valid driver’s license or other valid identification? That issue will be decided by a Circuit Court judge at some point in the not too distant future, it appears.

Another person wrote and asked about whether there could be legal liability for the owner of the golf cart or a parent who allows an under-age child to operate a golf cart. If those who own or rent golf carts knowingly allow someone under the age of 16 to operate one of their carts in Cedar Key, and the child is hurt, someone else is hurt by the child, or the child does damage to property by use of the cart, it is my opinion that there is liability against either the owner of the cart, or the parent, just as there would be if it were a car or truck. Remember, outside the city limits of Cedar Key, the operator need only be over the age of fourteen. Each municipality is, of course, free to adopt its own ordinance so readers should check to see how the ordinance is written where they live.

As is evident, there are a few interesting little legal twists to this issue of operating golf carts on the roadways of Cedar Key or elsewhere and I thank you for your questions. They have provided us with an excellent forum for a discussion of some of those issues.

I hope I have answered your question, C.C., even though, again, it might not have been exactly the answer you were looking for.

Any readers with specific legal questions for this “Ask a Lawyer” column are invited to submit those questions to the Editor of this newspaper, who will pass it along to me. If you need assistance with a consumer matter, such as an unfair and deceptive collection practice, or garnishment of wages, a mortgage foreclosure or other such things, and you cannot afford an attorney, call the Legal Services office closest to you, which provides free legal assistance to qualified individuals, or call the Florida Bar Referral service at 1-800-342-8011. I wish you good luck in obtaining access to our legal system, no matter what your income and asset level might be.  

The foregoing was written by attorney Pierce Kelley, who is a member of the Florida Bar Association. The contents reflect his personal opinions and beliefs.