Rules on golf cart usage vary in Four Points

Young boys were driving this golf cart on River Place Boulevard on July 19. It is a fairly common sight and some say an issue. The rules governing it vary by community. LYNETTE HAALAND

Restrictions, age of driver, etc.

depend on where the cart is operated

By LESLEE BASSMAN, Four Points News

On a recent Monday afternoon, long-time River Place resident Gary Chapel said he was driving down Treasure Island Drive when he came around a curve to suddenly find a golf cart being operated by a teen boy with two other children on board. The vehicle was driving on the wrong side of the road, he said.

“He clearly wasn’t paying attention,” Chapel said of the golf cart driver he thought was not yet 16 years old. “So I had to brake and then I started flashing my lights. Then, he swerved over to the proper side of the road.”

He said the road is curvy, frequently has cars on both sides of it and has witnessed drivers speeding at 45 miles per hour on its posted 25 mile per hour speed limit.

“I think parents need to be reminded that these are young kids and even though they can steer the thing and they know how to push the accelerator, they’re not good drivers yet,” Chapel said. “They’re just putting themselves in danger. Had we had a collision, we were in a Honda Odyssey and he was in a golf cart.”

He said he thought only licensed drivers were permitted to drive these vehicles on city streets.

Chapel may be surprised to learn the city of Austin, which annexed River Place in December, has no ordinance governing the use of golf carts on its streets, according to John Gabrielson, a senior police officer and district representative for Region 2 of the Austin Police Department.

No Austin ordinance governing golf cart use on public streets

Although Texas Transportation Code section 551.403 allows a city to govern golf cart operations on its public streets that have a posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour, the city of Austin has not adopted such an ordinance, Gabrielson said.

However, the law allows a golf cart to be operated on streets in River Place or Steiner Ranch, under a provision Gabrielson said that permits this usage in master planned communities, under the following conditions:

  • The master planned community has a uniform set of restrictive covenants and the community plat is approved by the county or city it is situated in;
  • The posted speed limit on these streets is 35 miles per hour or below;
  • The vehicles are not driven at night; and
  • The vehicles are not operated more than two miles from a golf course.

There is no law citing a minimum age required to operate a golf cart, Gabrielson said.  

“In my opinion, and I’m not speaking for the department, it looks to me like there is a loophole,” Gabrielson said of the city of Austin’s lack of a golf cart ordinance. “What I would advise anybody in that situation is you’d have to go to City Council and raise it, bring their awareness to it and create your political action committees to try to get this to the legislature somehow or have the City Council give us a city ordinance.”

He said a city ordinance can be passed that is more strict than the state law governing the same issue, golf carts.

“If the city (of Austin) passed an ordinance that you have to be of driver’s license age to operate a golf cart, boom, you have it,” Gabrielson said. “So, this is something the city can fix but you’d have to go through the city.”

However, according to Lieutenant Michael Canales of the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, the city of Austin and Travis County can “regulate, limit or prohibit the operation of golf carts for safety concerns.”

River Place: City of Austin, HOA response

“The (River Place Homeowners Association) is aware of the issue but we have no restrictions against the use of golf carts,” River Place HOA president Scott Crosby said. “We now leave it up to the city of Austin and (Travis) County to enforce laws regarding golf carts.”

River Place is located within the city of Austin and is a master planned community.

Crosby said no policy exists in the subdivision’s covenants, conditions and restrictions, or  CCRs — statements that regulate the use, appearance and maintenance of property within River Place and restrict what homeowners may do. HOAs generally draft and enforce CCRs.

“We looked at this (issue) a couple of years ago as well and, upon advice of the attorney, we really couldn’t adopt a policy that is not supported by a covenant or restriction,” Crosby said.

If a prohibition or restriction about golf cart operation on River Place streets is not specified in the CCRs, he said there’s really nothing the HOA can do to adopt a policy that provides an individual cannot drive a golf cart in the community.

Crosby said a change in the CCRs regarding golf carts is difficult since it requires two-thirds of a majority vote of River Place homeowners and this vote has never been taken.

“Quite frankly, we have trouble getting a quorum which is 25 percent of our homeowners at the annual meeting,” he said. “So, trying to get two-thirds of a majority of the people to vote has been, more or less, a lost cause.”

Crosby said the HOA is aware of reports on Nextdoor social media site about people concerned over reckless driving and golf cart operations by teenagers. He said he met with Gabrielson following Austin’s annexation of River Place to discuss issues the neighborhood was facing including errant golf cart operation.

“(Gabrielson) basically said, ‘when we are patrolling the area, we will look out for those items,’” Crosby said. “But, to our knowledge, nothing has really happened. It’s not like they patrol our neighborhood all that often anyway.”

Gabrielson said there’s not a lot his department can do in River Place “unless it matches up with the Transportation Code.” He said he found no reckless driver citations involving a golf cart were issued since January 2018 in River Place and citywide. Four Points News has a Freedom of Information Act request pending regarding citations issued to errant or reckless golf cart operators during the last couple of years.

“If (an errant golf cart) is operating on a roadway — let’s say it’s operating on (RM) 620 — we can do something about it,” Gabrielson  said. “If it’s operating more than two miles from a golf course, I can do something about it. If it’s violating the Texas Transportation Code as established by the Texas Legislature, I have the legal authority to enforce that. Without that, I’m sure I could find some statute somewhere to say that’s reckless behavior. But to stop them for just operating that golf cart or having more people on it, man, that would be a really tough stop to make because you’re kind of stepping outside of what the law says.”

In the scenario given by Chapel, the department could stop the golf cart for obstructing the highway or driving the wrong way but the action would not constitute an illegal use of a golf cart since there is no golf cart regulation in Austin to cite, Gabrielson said.

“That’s a safety issue, that’s an obstruction of a roadway issue, so you could find other statutes to enforce,” he said. “It would be like a bicycle riding the wrong way. Even though you are operating a golf cart, you still have to operate it with the normal rules and regulations of the road.”

Steiner Ranch: Travis County, HOA response

Steiner Ranch is located in Travis County but not within the borders of the city of Austin and is a master planned community.

Residents in the Steiner Ranch neighborhood have expressed concerns about golf cart usage on streets to Travis County “intermittently for a few years,” TCSO Senior Public Information Officer Kristen Dark said.

“We have worked with the neighborhood on the matter and Lieutenant Michael Canales met with residents to define what state law says about the use of golf carts and to answer questions,” she said.

A document prepared by Canales outlining Travis County’s position on golf cart usage defines a golf cart as a “motor vehicle” for purposes of application of the Texas Transportation Code.

Since Steiner Ranch is a master planned community with a golf course, the provisions of the Texas Transportation Code that apply to master planned communities are applicable to Steiner Ranch regarding operating golf carts on its streets; however, city of Austin regulations do not apply in the subdivision, the Canales document states.

In order to operate a golf cart on a public highway in Steiner Ranch, according to the Canales document, the driver must have a valid driver’s license on him or her (note: this is a departure from city of Austin’s lack of a minimum age to operate a golf cart governing River Place); the speed of a golf cart is limited to 25 miles per hour; the golf cart may not be operated on a public highway that exceeds 35 miles per hour; a golf cart must have a slow moving vehicle emblem affixed to the rear of the vehicle; a golf cart cannot be operated on a sidewalk; and the golf cart must have proper lighting. Traffic laws do not apply to Steiner Ranch’s gated subdivisions since these areas are considered private property but driving while intoxicated laws are applicable, the document states.

Steiner Ranch CCRs as provided by the Steiner Ranch HOA in a May 29 news release to residents, offer other restrictions including golf carts must be registered with the HOA; the number of passengers riding in the golf cart is limited to the number of seats existing in the vehicle; golf carts are only allowed on paved streets in the subdivision; golf carts must be stored in a garage when not in use; and golf cart passengers must be seated when the vehicle is in operation. The provisions also state private golf carts must be properly lighted between the hours of sunset and sunrise.

Golf cart usage in Four Points is not clear cut—regulations governing the operation of the vehicles on neighborhood streets depends on where they are driven. Leslee Bassman