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Do golf carts need tags? What to know after Tampa police chief’s stop.

After Chief Mary O’Connor’s stop surfaced recently, we explore whether golf carts need license plates.
Golf carts cruise the streets at The Villages, Florida, on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. Golf carts must abide by certain rules depending on where they're operated.
Golf carts cruise the streets at The Villages, Florida, on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022. Golf carts must abide by certain rules depending on where they're operated. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Dec. 2, 2022|Updated Dec. 2, 2022

You see them puttering around the golf course, in neighborhoods. The ultimate in Florida transportation.

When the news surfaced Thursday that a sheriff’s deputy stopped Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor and her husband on their golf cart last month, it raised the question: Does a golf cart need a license plate?

We looked at the laws for these low-speed, zippy rides.

Related: Tampa police Chief Mary O’Connor placed on leave amid investigation into traffic stop

When do you need a license plate for a golf cart?

A golf cart doesn’t need to be titled or registered if it’s operated on a golf course and can’t top speeds of 20 mph, according to Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. These can be driven on roads that are specifically designated for golf carts with a posted speed limit of 30 mph or less.

However, any golf carts that go between 20 and 25 mph and are driven on streets where the speed limit is 35 mph or less must be registered, titled, insured and operated by a licensed driver, according to the agency, which defines them as low-speed vehicles (LSV).

Additionally, under Florida state law, if one is driven outside of these approved areas, it must have all of the same appropriate registrations as a regular car.

That includes working headlights and brake lights and yes — a license plate, said Dennis Lopez, a Tampa attorney who specializes in traffic law.

It’s partially about safety: If a golf cart is going 20 mph and the driver suddenly needs to turn onto a side street, a car traveling 40 mph behind it needs to be alerted by the brake lights so it has time to slow down.

If a golf cart driver violates a rule, a license plate can help law enforcement identify the vehicle.

Related: Tampa police chief pulls out badge, asks deputy to ‘let us go’ during traffic stop

How common are traffic tickets for these kinds of violations?

Not very, Lopez said.

“I probably handle 1,000 tickets a year,” he said. “Maybe one of those involves a golf cart.”

Do most people know about these rules?

Most of Lopez’s clients who have been ticketed while driving a golf cart are miffed — they often note they were only breaking the rules for a brief moment, such as crossing a public street near their golf cart-sanctioned neighborhood.

But the violations rarely come from a lack of awareness, he said.