Driving a Golf Cart Under the Influence

Low-speed vehicles can lead to high priced traffic violations

Let’s say you were operating a golf cart on a service road near the golf course. You had a few beers, missed a turn and the cart tipped over. Can you be charged with driving while intoxicated – and suffer all of the penalties, fines, and indignities associated with that charge – even though you were only going 15 mph in a golf cart? Is a golf cart even considered a motor vehicle for DUI purposes?

A Little Background

The first motorized golf carts appeared in 1951, a post-war product, powered by batteries that had originally been designed to power wing flaps on B-17 bombers. In seven decades since their debut, those handy self-powered carts have made their ways off the golf course and onto suburban streets, subdivisions, gated communities, freeways and just about any other paved surface. And they’ve also made their way onto police blotters as inebriated golf cart drivers plow these low-speed vehicles into walls, fences, trees and homes.

Is a Golf Cart a Motor Vehicle? 

There are two standards at play here: (1) Is a golf cart is considered a motor vehicle for purposes of registration and insurance, and (2) Is a golf cart is considered a motor vehicle for purposes of a DUI?

Do You Need Insurance and Registration?

In most states golf carts are exempt from insurance and registration requirements. For example, in Delaware, a golf cart that operates only on private property does not have to be insured. In Texas, as in many states, golf carts are considered “low-speed” vehicles (that operate between 15 and 25 miles per hour) and registration is not required for use on a golf course, in master planned communities, to and from a golf course, or to cross intersections. Only if golf carts are modified to go faster than 25 mph, do states typically require registration and insurance. However, note that the federal government has a lower bar and requires that any low-speed vehicle (that operates at speeds higher than 20 mph) must be equipped with certain safety features.

Can You Be Convicted of a DUI on a Golf Cart?

Yes, in most states, you can be convicted of DUI while driving a golf cart. Either the golf cart is categorized as a motor vehicle for DUI purposes or the court stretches the rules because you’re operating the cart in an area open for use by other vehicles – for example on a street, in a parking lot, etc. In other words, even though a golf cart is not considered a motor vehicle for purposes of registration or insurance, it may still be considered as a motor vehicle for purposes of “operating a motor vehicle under the influence.” For example, that was the way a court recently ruled in Missouri (Covert v. DOR).

Do the Police Actually Arrest People for DUIs in Golf Carts?

Yes, below are some recent examples:

  • A 50-year-old Nebraska man was arrested, accused of drunken driving in a golf cart at a lake after one of his passengers fell off the cart injuring his head.
  • A drummer in rock star Ted Nugent’s band was arrested in Bangor, Maine, after security officers stopped him for driving while intoxicated in a golf cart that he had “borrowed” from the concert venue.
  • An Ohio man was arrested for a DUI after stealing a golf cart and attempting to drive to his friend’s wedding. Like many of those arrested for golf cart DUIs, he explained to the arresting office that he was not supposed to be driving because of prior violations.
  • A South Carolina police officer (a county deputy) was arrested for a DUI while operating a golf cart on a county road late one Saturday night.
  • A 46-year old California man was arrested on DUI charges just before midnight Saturday on a path in a gated development in southern Nevada county. The man failed to make a turn properly and the cart flipped, pinning him underneath.
  • And outside the U.S., Actor Bill Murray, who had been attending a golf in Sweden, was arrested after cruising through downtown Stockholm in a golf cart. Murray allegedly refused the breathalyzer test claiming it violated American law.
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