Ask anyone who uses a golf cart to get around Old Town if they think golf carts should stay and you will get a resounding “yes.”
The growing trend of using golf carts in this compact beach town and entertainment district could lead to a local and private bill that sets up a registration and inspection process and draws the line on where they’re permitted.
Edmond Meyer, who lives a block from the Beach Boulevard and Main Street intersection, is one of those who enjoys driving his golf cart along the beach.
“It puts you at ease,” Meyer said.
“It’s a big part of what this town is all about. It would just kill me if I could not take my golf cart every time I wanted to come into Old Town.”
“Keep our carts,” Meyer said when asked about recent political controversy.
“We should get bumper stickers.”
The public’s safety
It’s been an on-again, off-again source of contention among some who feel as though police don’t do enough to enforce public safety regarding golf carts and those who do.
Outgoing Councilman Lonnie Falgout, who lost his bid for re-election, recently took potshots at police by alleging they’ve turned a blind eye to golf cart safety and have even allowed children to be designated drivers for their drinking parents.
Police Chief Darin Freeman, who has been in office since January, said the Bay St. Louis Police Department has received only one complaint of a child driving a golf cart since then, “and it was unfounded.”
“Our officers are doing a great job of addressing any unsafe issues they see,” Freeman said. “If we see anything unsafe, we handle it appropriately.”
Freeman is working with state Sen. Philip Moran, R-Kiln, on a local and private bill that could lead to a registration and inspection program for golf carts and designate areas where they are allowed.
It’s working well in Diamondhead, which has 865 registered golf carts, according to Diamondhead Deputy City Clerk Tammy Garber. What started as a planned golf club community is now a city whose residents enjoy the use of low-speed vehicles in most areas of town.
Diamondhead requires drivers to be licensed and have proof of financial responsibility. Drivers also have to follow all rules of the road.
Mississippi is one of only four states that does not have a golf cart law. That’s why Mississippi cities such as Diamondhead and Tunica have approached the Legislature for a local and private bill to regulate the use of golf carts and inspection procedures.
Posted speed limit must be 35 mph or less
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has set up a limited amount of safety standards for the use of golf carts in golf, retirement and tourist communities, but leaves it to states to set up their own laws.
In short, NHTA says low-speed vehicles must have four tires, a roof and a top speed of 20 to 25 mph, must have safety equipment, including seat belts, and should not be allowed on roads with a speed limit above 35 mph.
“If people have the right safety equipment, insurance and a driver’s license, and the speed limit is low, it’s legal — and they have to follow laws just like other vehicles,” Freeman said.
“Passing a local and private bill would help us regulate golf carts, make sure they meet safety inspections and the drivers have insurance.”
Freeman, who lives downtown, said the golf carts he sees being driven around the tourist areas are being driven safely.
“I haven’t heard of any accidents,” he said. “Golf carts share the road with bicycles and cars. It hasn’t been a problem.”
The golf cart trend is nothing new in other areas of the nation. Peachtree City, Georgia, now has 100 miles of multi-use paths that not only include golfing spots but also shopping centers, schools and parks.
A stroll in Old Town
Meyer slowly drove his golf cart through Old Town one recent evening before sunset and a friend who called himself Wild Bill hopped in his cart. People walking down the street hollered out at them and waved.
“Second Saturday, you can forget about a car,” Meyer said, referring to the Second Saturday Artwalk, a monthly event in which the city’s artists show off their work. People from miles around come to browse through antique shops, art galleries, gift shops, boutiques and to enjoy the coastal charm, restaurants and live entertainment.
People who don’t own golf carts rent them for Second Saturday, his friend Wild Bill said.
“You can park more golf carts down here than you can cars,” Wild Bill said.
“If anybody on the council in Bay St. Louis wants to get rid of the golf carts, we’ll get rid of them next time.”