LARGO — Terry Williams says he could have been sneaky about his golf cart use. He could have waited to make sure no police officers were around and zipped along back roads from his home on 139th Street N to the Walmart Neighborhood Market on Walsingham Road. The ride is about a mile, and Williams could save money on gas while picking up groceries.
The 67-year-old retiree wanted to be on the right side of the law, though, so he called Largo police and asked if it was legal to drive golf carts in the city. The desk sergeant said no.
"He said it's too dangerous," said Williams. "They have too many accidents. Well, that's an opinion, not a fact."
Williams is leading the charge for Largo to legalize golf carts on city streets. His charge hasn't gained much momentum, though. Largo police Chief John Carroll told city commissioners last week that he's not a fan of the idea, and commissioners didn't disagree.
"Our heavy traffic volume and high crash rate lead me to oppose such an endeavor," Carroll wrote city commissioners in an email April 4.
Williams' arguments in favor of golf cart use are simple. Gas prices are on the rise. Golf carts are allowed in communities across the state. Nearby Dunedin joined their ranks last year; city commissioners there approved golf carts on designated city streets starting last July. They haven't caused any safety problems there, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
"Our Dunedin patrol advised they have not seen one traffic crash related to a golf cart, nor have they issued any ordinance violations to golf cart operators," Sheriff's Office spokesman Sgt. Tom Nestor wrote in an email.
Williams is puzzled about why golf carts are seen as more dangerous than pedestrians.
"What about people crossing the street? Or handicapped people in mechanized chairs?" he asked. "What makes a golf cart different?"
City Attorney Alan Zimmet explained to commissioners at their April 3 meeting what Largo would need to do to legalize golf carts on city streets. In addition to writing an ordinance, the city would probably have to run an inspection and permitting program, to ensure that golf carts have working brake lights, turn signals, etc.
Zimmet also warned commissioners of liability concerns in a follow-up email.
"Liability could arise if it is claimed that the city failed to maintain the roadways in a manner safe for golf carts," Zimmet wrote.
Those concerns were enough for city commissioners and, without their interest, Williams' hopes for legal grocery runs on his golf cart are dashed. He says he's not done trying to change commissioners' minds, though, and convince them that Chief Carroll's safety concerns are unwarranted.
"It's a quickly formed opinion, with no basis in fact," he said.
Will Hobson can be reached at (727)-445-4167 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.