ST. PETE BEACH — Golf carts may soon be puttering down most city streets as residents visit neighbors, go to the beach or head to the local store.
"It is going to be a new element for the entire city," said Commissioner Melinda Pletcher, who initially pushed for allowing golf carts only in Pass-a-Grille.
She was one of four commissioners who approved a new ordinance Tuesday that permits golf carts to be driven on city-owned streets with speed limits of 25 mph or less.
Only Commissioner Jim Parent voted against the measure.
"If an accident happens, I just think they (golf carts) are going to lose," he said. "I have trouble with this."
There are about 14,000 golf cart-related injuries nationwide that require emergency room treatment each year, according to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.
A final vote is scheduled for Sept. 18.
If approved, residents would be allowed to drive their carts on city-owned streets only during daylight hours and would be restricted from all county- or state-regulated streets.
Golf carts would be specifically barred from traveling on or even crossing Blind Pass Road from Treasure Island south to 75th Avenue, 75th Avenue from Sunset Way to the bridges to South Pasadena, on Gulf Boulevard south to the Pinellas Bayway, and on the Bayway itself.
City Manager Mike Bonfield stressed that anyone living on the east side of Gulf Boulevard or Blind Pass Road would not be able to drive a golf cart to the beach.
Residents in Pass-a-Grille, which has only city-owned roads, would be able to drive throughout the neighborhood to go to stores or the beach.
At the commission's direction, Bonfield will be seeking state approval for a number of crossings on Gulf Boulevard.
"There is no guarantee the state would approve this," he warned. "Dunedin applied for six crossings and only got one approved."
Each golf cart owner-operator must hold a valid driver's license and pay a $10 licensing fee, provide proof of liability insurance and show that the cart is equipped with reliable brakes, steering, a horn, and tires as well as a rearview mirror and red reflectors at the front and rear of the vehicle.
However, golf carts qualifying under state law as street legal "low speed vehicles" would be allowed to operate at night and on state and county roads with posted speed limits at or below 35 mph.
Such vehicles must have a state license plate and be equipped with additional safety equipment such as brake and tail lights, turn signals, headlights, parking brakes, windshields and seat belts.
Street-legal golf carts can cost twice as much as a conventional golf cart.
Mayor Steve McFarlin said he voted for the proposal largely because of what he described as a positive track record reported by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
"Dunedin has been very successful with golf carts," Pinellas sheriff's Sgt. Jim Campbell said. "I did some research and they haven't had any problems."
At least two other Pinellas County cities — Indian Rocks Beach and Pinellas Park — also allow golf carts on city streets.
In Indian Rocks Beach, golf carts have been allowed since 2009. Although they are banned from crossing the state-regulated portion of Gulf Boulevard south of Walsingham Road, golf carts can cross over the county-regulated portion to the north.
In Pinellas Park, golf carts have been puttering down city streets for about a year and a half and can travel on any city road with a speed limit of 35 mph or less.
They are barred, however, from state and county roads, but are allowed to cross some of those roads at about a dozen intersections.