Street Legal Golf Carts
What Makes a Golf Cart Street Legal?
After seventy years of cruising the grassy slopes of the nation’s golf courses, people who don’t even play golf are now choosing a street legal golf cart as their daily driver. As Americans ushered in the new millennium, there was already a growing public interest focused on how to reduce the environmental footprint of neighborhood transportation. In warmer areas of the country, providing dedicated golf-cart infrastructure has become an important consideration in designing greener communities. So much so, golf-cart specific roadways are often paved before other types of construction even begins.
There’s no doubt that slipping behind the wheel of a nimble, lightweight mode of transportation is more appealing than driving the family car. When used for running daily errands, a street legal golf cart offers significant savings for communities, such as eliminating the need for larger parking areas while reducing some of the frustration caused by traffic congestion. As a day-to-day mode of personal transportation, electric vehicles are quieter, don’t pollute, and provide accessibility for residents who are not as comfortable driving a larger vehicle. In fact, the surge in acceptance of electric golf carts is causing some urban planners to consider repurposing existing pavement for multiuse.
Understanding the Laws of the Road
From early spring to late fall months, Google Trends says a lot of people search online for information about driving a golf cart on the streets. Unfortunately, there is little to no conformity in legal statutes or in the enforcement practices between federal, state, county, or municipal officials. Generally speaking, if you intend to operate your golf cart on a golf course or your private property, there are no applicable federal laws, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) does not consider a conventional golf cart to be a motor vehicle.
In response to an early public interest in using golf carts to make short trips, primarily within retirement or planned communities, the DOT issued a ruling in 1998 that stated:
Under current NHTSA interpretations and regulations, so long as golf cars and other similar vehicles are incapable of exceeding 20 miles per hour, they are subject to only state and local requirements regarding safety equipment. However, if these vehicles are originally manufactured so that they can go faster than 20 miles per hour, they are treated as motor vehicles under Federal law.
The ruling immediately created conflict with state and local regulators because having to enforce compliance with the full range of passenger car standards was simply not feasible. Moreover, it was suggested that federal ruling may unfairly hinder business operations for golf cart manufacturers, distributors, and dealers.
The Birth of Low-Speed Vehicles (LSVs)
To help clarify some of the regulatory conflicts and eliminate the need to be classified as passenger cars, the NHTSA issued a Final Rule. The new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 500 (49 CFR 571.500) permits the manufacture and sale of small four-wheel vehicles with a top speed of up to 25 miles per hour. In addition, the ruling ensures LSVs are equipped with an appropriate level of conventional motor vehicle equipment for the purposes of safety. The new standard required low-speed vehicles to have headlamps, stop lamps, turn signals, taillamps, reflex reflectors, parking brakes, rearview mirrors, windshields, seat belts, and vehicle identification numbers (VIN).
Over the past two decades, as more and more people discovered street legal electric golf carts to be an ideal transportation solution that provides ease of use, a lighter environmental footprint, and better fuel efficiency for short trips, the use of LSVs grew across numerous communities. However, it is important to keep in mind that the laws for street legal golf carts can vary greatly from state to state and even within your local municipality. When it comes to street legality, low speed vehicles and the traditional electric golf cart may be treated differently under state and local laws. So, most of the rules that apply to a normal vehicle may also apply to a street legal LSV.
NOTE: In some cases, golf carts that do not meet the safety requirements of a low-speed vehicle (which may include an operator with a driver’s license, vehicle registration, and liability insurance) will likely not be permitted on a state’s roads.
Federal and State Laws for Low-Speed Vehicles
Under the NHTSA’s current interpretation, as long as a golf cart (or similar vehicle) is not capable of exceeding 20 miles per hour, it is only subject to state or local mandates regarding safety equipment. Depending upon a multitude of options, like lift, motor and tire size, most golf carts delivered from the manufacturer in their original state will not exceed 20 miles per hour. But, if a vehicle was originally manufactured to go faster than 20 mph, it is considered to be a motor vehicle under federal standards and must be appropriately equipped for street use.
Low speed vehicles are somewhat unique in that they are legally required to go at least 20 mph but no faster than 25 mph to be titled an LSV. In most states, to register a low-speed vehicle and obtain a title and/or license plate will require some combination of the following paperwork and payments:
- Certificate of Origin – Manufacturers of LSVs include specific security information about the vehicle, such as the year, make, model, and VIN.
- Owner Identification – To register a vehicle, obtain a tag, or purchase vehicle insurance, you will need to show a driver’s license, passport, or government ID card.
- Title Application for Registration – Similar to other types of motor vehicles, your state may require your LSV to have a title and/or tag for driving the vehicle on the street.
- Proof of Insurance – Every state* (except New Hampshire) requires at least a minimum amount of liability insurance in case you injure others or damage someone else’s property.
- Annual (Renewal) Fees – In most states, you may have to pay for the initial registration (varies by vehicle weight), title fee, and license plate with a recurring annual renewal.
Conventional golf carts in their original state are not considered to be an LSV. However, if an LSV can be legally operated on your public roads and your golf cart meets the statutory federal definition of an LSV, then you are driving a street legal golf cart.
*LSV Insurance Requirements – Bodily injury liability insurance is a given for all states except Florida. As a no-fault state, Florida statutes only mandate a specified amount of personal injury protection (PIP) and property damage liability (PDL) coverage.
Local and County Ordinances for LSVs
Needless to say, there has been much discussion over the past twenty years about what is and what isn’t considered by law to be a street-legal low-speed vehicle. Unfortunately, other than the vague NHTSA definition provided at the federal level for transportation, it remains somewhat unclear. So, always find out what the regulations are wherever and whenever you operate a street legal golf cart or LSV on local roads. Although the DOT mandates a minimum (20 mph) and maximum (25 mph) top speed for a vehicle to qualify legally as a low-speed vehicle, local and county ordinances limit vehicles to roads with specified speed limits.
Although you may operate an LSV as a street legal vehicle in a majority of states rather freely, a few states like New York have more burdensome restrictions. Plus, for anyone who wants to drive a gas-powered street legal golf cart, you may have to pass inspection for a state like California to meet stricter emission standards.
Some states recognize differences between a golf cart, a street legal golf cart, and an LSV. State, county, or municipal ordinances may restrict a conventional golf cart to use only on the golf course, where other areas might allow operation during daylight hours only when driving around a low-speed neighborhood. In states with a larger population of retirees, golf cart designated communities and town centers have become increasingly popular. Many have repurposed their pavement for designated use by traditional traffic on some streets but for golf cart use only on others. Some resort communities and more environmentally fragile neighborhoods clearly prefer that people move about in electric golf carts.
Unfair Advantage of Sunshine and Climate
Where you reside can have a lot to do with where and when you can drive a low speed vehicle or street legal golf cart on local roadways. In recent years, the use of street-legal electric golf carts has exploded in planned and covenanted communities, especially in locations with a warm climate. The everyday use of these quieter, simpler vehicles has prompted many Homeowners Associations (HOA) to include LSVs and street legal electric golf carts as a preferred mode of neighborhood transportation. Due to warmer weather, long coastlines, and numerous outdoor recreational areas, Florida and Texas are leaders in promoting the development of golf cart designated townships.
In some areas of the Sunshine State, persons over the age of fourteen can operate a road ready golf cart in low-speed neighborhoods and can even cross state or county roads with a posted speed limit of 45 mph or less. Where Florida distinguishes between an LSV and golf cart, any vehicle has to be converted to LSV standards to be registered and titled. On the other hand, Texas recognizes the use of LSVs but also allows non-converted golf carts in many slow-speed communities, beaches, and RV parks as long as they prominently display the appropriate orange triangle (slow-moving vehicle) signage. If you own a golf cart that you would like to convert to a street legal LSV, a local DMV will have the most current information about the requirements for registration.
Street Legal Golf Cart May Not Be a Legal Term
As already discussed, street legal golf carts that don’t meet the requirements to be registered as a low-speed vehicle are not permitted on federal highways or most state roadways. But that may not mean you are grounded. Depending on the municipality or township, you may be able to drive an electric golf cart by taking specified routes. A good example of how a designated community’s rules can be applied to street legal golf carts and LSVs can be found in the Central Florida community called The Villages. With master-planned neighborhoods, The Villages has a population of 85,000 (mostly retirees) who are encouraged to use low speed vehicles and instructed to operate golf carts in marked diamond lanes.
Although driving an electric golf cart around a slow speed community may allow you to feel more in touch with nature, your ride may not be considered legal outside designated areas. Peachtree City (Georgia) was one of the nation’s first communities to add cart-specific paths to allow residents to access the town’s first golf course that was constructed in the sixties. Recently, Mayor Kim Learnard announced that Peachtree City has more than 10,000 registered golf carts for the 13,000 households located in the award-winning master planned community. Founded in 1959, the community was not initially developed as a golf cart city, but it certainly grew into one and is often called “A Golf Cart Paradise”.
For the most part, the same rules that regulate the use of LSVs and NEVs (neighborhood electric vehicles) also apply to driving a street legal golf cart on public streets, so you are likely better off purchasing a new road-ready vehicle. Street legal golf carts are intended for use on the road and are usually a little faster than conventional models intended only for the golf course. Plus, most street legal golf carts are already lifted, have larger wheels and tires, and can cruise at 25 mph on roads with a posted speed limit of 35 mph or less. Being able to purchase an electric cart that is fully prepped for road use has prompted many non-golfers to use a street legal golf cart for daily tasks rather than their more expensive gasoline-powered vehicles.
How to Convert a Golf Cart to Street Legal
If you’ve been thinking about converting your existing golf cart for use on the street, you should start by making sure everyone is buckled up. Conventional golf carts are not required to have seatbelts as golfers need to frequently exit and re-enter the vehicle with ease. However, for road use it is essential to install approved seat belts for all drivers and passengers. To be considered road worthy, federal law requires all LSVs to be equipped with seatbelts at every designated seating position. If you intend to operate a traditional golf cart on the streets, check your local ordinances. Some communities that allow conventional golf carts on low-speed streets do require carts to be fully equipped with seat belts.
Windshields are a good safety feature for any golf cart, even those being used only on the golf course. Golfers inevitably end up following behind another cart that is moving at a substantial pace. Windshields provide protection from dust and flying debris as well as keeps passengers dry in a sprinkle. Since you will be operating your golf cart on the street, you need to install either a clear shatter-resistant acrylic windshield or tinted shatter-resistant acrylic windshield. If you live or plan to operate your street golf cart in warmer climates, a windshield adds functionality by keeping the bugs out of your teeth. Again, check local ordinances as some areas may require a more expensive DOT approved windshield for street use.
A basic street legal golf cart light kit will include front headlights, rear brake lights, taillights, and turn signals. If the general area where you drive is prone to fog or has very dark roads, you can opt for an extra-bright LED golf cart light kit. Although it would help to know what’s behind you on the course, it is essential when driving on through the streets of your neighborhood. Check your local laws as some communities require both side-view and rear-view mirrors for street legality. Typically, a horn is required as an audible safety and some local ordinances include a rear-mounted Slow Moving Vehicle sign. These reflective orange triangle signs are inexpensive and alert others that you are traveling at a reduced speed.
For those who are converting a conventional golf cart to an LSV, federal regulations require low-speed vehicles be properly registered and insured. Some states may also require an annual tag renewal exactly like for your car or truck. Golf carts have a unique serial number (VIN) like other motor vehicles. This number is linked to the type, year, and power source of the golf cart or LSV. To apply for a title in most states, you will need the Manufacturer’s Certificate of Origin. Whether you are converting a conventional golf cart for street use or shopping for a brand-new street legal golf cart, all of the forementioned safety features are highly recommended regardless of what is mandated by local laws.
Advantages of Driving a Street Legal Golf Cart
Street legal golf carts leave a much smaller environmental footprint than traditional fossil-fuel burning vehicles. As one of the most neighborhood friendly modes of transportation, electric golf carts provide an affordable option to replace many vehicles that have been traditionally used in low speed communities. Moreover, street legal golf carts, LSVs, and NEVs are available in a broad range of configurations for use in designated communities, low-speed neighborhoods, resorts, amusement parks, school campuses, real estate developments, military bases, industrial facilities, hospitals, churches, and even for playing a round of golf. Regardless of your application, the planet benefits.
As the general population started to focus on creating greener communities, the electric golf cart gained mainstream popularity. Simply put, the role of street-legal electric vehicles quickly became a practical and responsible replacement for low-speed environments. Not only do these nimble vehicles make a taking a trip to the store more fun, but the entire experience also offers a more relaxed outing for the driver and their passengers. People who live in golf cart designated communities often say driving a street legal golf cart allows them to connect with their surroundings and is much cheaper to operate. Popular outdoor states like Florida even allow street legal carts to cross state maintained roads at designated crossings.
Lithium Batteries for Street Legal Golf Carts
The earliest known golf cart was pulled like a rickshaw by caddies to allow a golfer with health issues to play golf without having to traverse a lengthy links course. Once two additional wheels and a battery-powered motor were added, the problem of not having enough juice started to plague golfers in mid-round. For decades, the risk remained that the lead-acid batteries used in golf carts would not get charged long enough and the non-operative vehicle would leave a couple of frustrated golfers finishing the round on foot. An inherent problem comes from the fact that lead acid batteries were originally invented to power lights on trains, since the earliest combustible engines used in vehicles were cranked by hand.
Indeed the road to building a better golf battery took a lot of time. Rechargeable lead-acid batteries dominated for more than 160 years and remain a main-stay in the automotive industry today. Nonetheless, it was the onset of hybrid vehicles that caused the manufacturers to develop a battery that could double the distance travelled and with a shorter charging time. From the very beginning, excessive weight made the lead acid battery a poor choice as the primary power source for an electric road vehicle. Plus, traditional car batteries lose capacity, performance and cycle life, if discharged more than 50% of a full charge. Today’s lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) battery delivers great power density with much less downtime for recharging.
Although more expensive than its lead acid counterpart, lithium batteries offer many advantages including an extended lifespan, significant weight reduction, increased efficiency, reduced carbon footprint, and over the long haul a reduction in total costs. In fact, if you are looking for double the run time for your street legal golf cart, drop-in lithium replacement batteries designed specifically for use in an electric cart or LSV. They are readily available and are a highly recommended option to provide more freedom on and off the golf course. Moreover, lithium golf cart batteries are virtually maintenance free as there is no water filling or cleaning the terminals of power-robbing corrosive acid deposits.
It is super easy to replace the conventional lead-acid batteries in your street legal golf cart as lithium batteries are literally designed to drop-in place, so you avoid having to make major modifications or re-wiring for complicated electric connections. Since golf cart batteries can deliver consistent performance even on low charge, there is no voltage sag when climbing and less battery weight equates to a consistently faster ride. With so much emphasis today on protecting our planet, lithium golf cart batteries use less carbon and emit lesser amounts into the environment than any available power source for street legal golf carts and low-speed electric vehicles.
Why Buy a Lifted Street Legal Golf Cart?
Whether you own a golf cart or not, surely you’ve noticed the lifted street legal golf carts for sale as you travel around town. Without doubt, this newer category of vehicles looks great and performance-wise can meet the transportation needs of families and businesses alike. Fact is the conventional golf cart was designed to traverse a rather smooth, grassy landscape with easy access for golfers to frequently enter or exit the vehicle. Since course management doesn’t allow golfers to drive carts through the rough, waste bunkers, or sand traps, nothing in the golf cart’s original design accounted for off road or on-road hazards. A lifted street legal golf cart has a more accommodating higher center of gravity.
When people found uses for the conventional golf cart that took it off course, heavy duty leaf springs and bigger tires were obvious accessories that would make it easier to tackle rougher terrain without fear of bottoming out whether driving on or off the road. Back then, enthusiastic cart owners turned to installing lift kits for a variety of practical reasons like carrying an extra amount of weight, but others wanted a street legal golf cart that simply looked more appealing. Some mistakenly thought they could cut corners and create a gnarly appearance by simply installing larger rims and knobby tires but think again. In fact, unless you are mechanically inclined and enjoy a challenge, lift kits should only be installed by a professional.
The major difference between installing a kit on a non-lifted golf cart and buying a lifted street legal golf cart is that the latter was manufactured to handle the higher ground clearance and more aggressive tires. Correctly configured, lifting a golf cart provides a wider footprint and bigger contact patch with road or ground. There’s no doubt that purchasing the right lifted street-legal golf cart is a smart choice for transporting people or hauling a larger load. Not only will you get a smoother ride, but you also won’t have to embarrassingly ask a heavier passenger to ride up front. Plus, there is less to worry about with plenty of ground clearance and suspension to handle ground-level stumps, pot holes, and other challenging obstacles.
Consult the Pros at Moto Electric Vehicles
The laws surrounding street legal golf carts are still in their infancy and local ordinances can change on a dime. So, if you’re feeling confused about purchasing a street legal golf cart, LSV, or neighborhood electric vehicle, you are not alone. It’s a big decision and one where you should put safety first. Fortunately, the pros at Moto Electric Vehicles have decades of experience in building a wide range of electric vehicles from the ground up. So, whether you are shopping for a family wagon or need a fully equipped street legal electric shuttle, MotoEV has a proven solution to meet your specific needs. For starters, all vehicles feature a chassis with high-yield strength, welded steel tubing, and protective powder-coat paint.
Since the same regulations that govern low speed vehicles and neighborhood electric vehicles also apply to operating a road-ready electric cart on public roads and community streets, a street legal golf cart from MotoEV is almost twice as fast as the conventional golf cart used on course. You and your passengers can cruise at 25 mph on roads with a posted speed limit of 35 mph or less. The improvements with today’s lifted street legal golf cart has led many people to opt for electric power as their primary means of transportation. MotoEV electric vehicles offer a practical and affordable solution for running your daily errands, or can be equipped as a work horse for the farm, construction site, or service business.
Moto Electric Vehicles maintains a large inventory of street legal vehicles that can be configured, accessorized, or equipped to meet your personal or business needs. Many of our street legal golf carts, low speed vehicles, and electric utility vehicles can be customized with a variety of seating configurations and our electric shuttles can be ADA equipped. MotoEV has a variety of security and emergency low-speed electric vehicles that can be custom-built with special lighting kits, open or closed beds, cargo bodies, and just about any other application you can imagine. As a full service manufacturer, we carry the dealer-approved replacement parts to keep you moving.
Most street legal golf carts and LSVs come in a variety of body colors and can be personalized with your business brand so you take full advantage of driving rolling signage around the town center, beach, park or golf course. Today, there are more and more places that allow road-ready electric carts, but not cars. Now is the perfect time to let the experienced staff at Moto Electric Vehicles help you design a street legal golf cart and start enjoying today’s fun vehicles as your daily mode of transportation. After all your passengers, customers, and guests will prefer joining you for a quieter, environmentally friendly ride.
DISCLAIMER: Before you purchase a new street legal golf cart or low-speed vehicle, it is important to check your state, municipal, and community ordinances. The laws governing the use of golf carts on the street not only vary from state to state, but often differ in various neighborhoods of the same city. For example, states like Florida, Georgia, Texas and California have entire communities that are designated as golf cart neighborhoods where residents are encouraged to travel in an electric golf cart whenever feasible. Even though your golf cart is properly equipped with lighting, mirrors, turn signals, and seatbelts, the rules of the road for street legal golf carts is constantly changing. So, better safe than ticketed.