About 1,000 Americans a month are being injured in golf cart accidents, with many mishaps occurring at places other than golf courses. The small low-cost vehicles are being increasingly used for general transportation, according to a UAB study released last month. The study is the first to estimate the number of golf cart injuries in the United States. The study – published in the Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection and Critical Care – was conducted after doctors at UAB treated a number of serious injuries suffered in golf cart accidents. It found that golf carts are routinely involved in collisions and rollovers as well as in other accidents in which people are ejected from the cart.
The researchers analyzed a national database of emergency room records from 2002 through 2005. They conservatively estimated there were about 48,000 golf cart accidents nationwide during that four-year period, or about 1,000 a month. Roughly half the accidents occurred on golf courses, with the other half taking place at homes, on streets and on other public property. Gerald McGwin, associate director for research at the Center for Injury Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, observed:
A lot of people perceive golf carts as little more than toys, but our findings suggest they can be quite dangerous, especially when used on public roads. There is little federal regulation, and most states do not require operators to be of a certain age, use any sort of safety equipment or obtain an operator’s license.
According to a story on the study appearing in the Birmingham News, fractures and head trauma were the most common injuries found in the study. The highest injury rates were found in 10- to 19-year-old boys and men older than 80. The study noted that golf carts are designed specifically for use off public roads, with speeds not to exceed 15 mph, although they can be easily modified to travel faster. They lack many of the safety features required for vehicles traveling public streets, such as windshields, signal lights and mirrors.
There are a hodgepodge of state and local regulations governing golf carts. For example, it is illegal to operate an unlicensed vehicle, including a golf cart, on public streets in Alabama. In Florida, golf carts can be used on streets, but only if they have been modified to run at a top speed of 20 to 25 mph. Florida counties and cities can still ban them, too. Lots of folks have golf carts at home and for use at business locations. Golf carts are increasingly being used for short trips in affluent subdivisions and senior citizen communities because they are relatively inexpensive, quiet and usually have low emissions.
It should be noted that the rate of accidents for all-terrain vehicles is ten times higher than that for golf carts. Also, there are more than 6 million auto-accident injuries a year, including more than 40,000 deaths. The researchers made some safety recommendations, especially for people who use golf carts on public roadways:
Parents should carefully monitor children operating golf carts.
Seat belts should become mandatory in golf carts.
Drivers and passengers should wear helmets while in golf carts operating on public roads.
While golf carts are relatively safe – when compared on a statistical basis with ATVs and motor vehicles – they can still be dangerous. The UAB study can be most helpful if folks will read it and put the recommendations to good use.
Source: Birmingham News and Reuters
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