Though some teed off, golf carts get a mulligan

Residents of several East Lyme shorefront neighborhoods this summer will be able to leave their cars at home when they head to the beach or to visit nearby friends.

This is because the East Lyme Board of Selectmen did the right thing last week by giving a green light to allow golf carts to operate on many streets in beachfront neighborhoods.

Residents of such communities as Black Point pressed local officials for nearly four years to allow them the option of using the more compact, economical and greener vehicles when driving short distances during daylight hours within their neighborhoods. One oft-repeated contention among golf cart advocates was that these vehicles long have been ubiquitous and safely operated in resort areas and elderly housing complexes throughout the Southeast and other parts of the country. They also are driven in Old Saybrook.

While residents' pleas were unsuccessful in the past, the selectmen now unanimously agree the vehicles could boost mobility for the elderly and physically impaired and ease the parking squeeze in some neighborhoods.

This agreement was an appropriate response to residents' demands and also a nod to the greater community good because the selectmen included regulatory provisions to help ensure general public safety. To make them more visible to motor vehicles, the carts must have a flag, headlights and brake lights. They also must be equipped with a horn, operators must hold a valid Connecticut driver's license and owners must register the vehicles with the town.

Further, the selectmen properly agreed to exclude those beach communities where residents decided they didn't want golf carts zipping along their streets. For this reason, carts will continue to be prohibited in Giants Neck, Attawan and Pine Grove.

Even with these sensible new regulations, however, some residents continue to raise valid concerns that shouldn't be discounted or ignored. On the narrow, twisting and sometimes hilly streets along the shore, golf carts could become a nuisance and a hazard. Adolescents too young to hold a valid driver's license may beg their parents and grandparents to be allowed to operate these small vehicles and owners could easily relent.

Golf cart advocates pooh-poohed these concerns and pointed to the high cost of a brand new golf cart as proof that only those with a need will actually own one.

There is a flaw in this contention, however. Even a cursory online search reveals plenty of opportunities to buy a used golf cart for only a few hundred dollars and such low prices are likely to make the carts more popular than some residents now believe.

The task of enforcing public golf cart safety is the role of the local police, the selectmen noted. The responsibility to assist in ensuring their friends and neighbors follow the new regulations also should be shared by those residents who most vehemently advocated for golf cart use.

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