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    August 2017

    Don't Underestimate the Risk of Golf Carts

    golf cart

    Educational institutions nationwide frequently use golf carts as utility vehicles to transport students and visitors, patrol the campus grounds, and perform campus maintenance activities—and it’s easy to see why. Golf carts are easier to maneuver than cars, they are often silent, and some are electric, making the golf cart far less costly to own and operate than a regular car.

    However, institutions should understand the risks golf carts can pose and strategies for managing them. Golf carts are not required to have lights, rear view mirrors, slow-moving vehicle placards, or other safety mechanisms designed to help protect the driver, passenger, and others nearby. Golf carts also have a lower center of gravity than other vehicles, which makes them more susceptible to turnovers. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that between 2009 and 2013, nearly 15,000 golf cart-related injuries per year required an emergency room visit.

    A forthcoming United Educators (UE) study found that golf cart accidents on campuses cost UE and its members more than $1.6 million from 2012 to 2016. Most (85 percent) golf cart accidents resulted from reckless, negligent, or distracted driving. Implementing a few key practices can help educational institutions avoid or reduce such costly claims.


    Strategies for Managing Golf Cart Risks

    1. Implement specific golf cart policies. Several institutions with claims relating to golf carts required only general driver training programs before driving any vehicle in the institution’s fleet. Authorized drivers must understand the particular risks and idiosyncrasies of operating a golf cart. Policies should include: 
        a) Specific qualifications, training requirements, and standards individuals must meet to become authorized golf cart drivers 
        b) Safety guidelines for properly operating golf carts
        c) Requirement of a driver’s license, motor vehicle records check, and successful completion of an annual safety certification program
        d) Completion of written and practical driver’s tests
      Example: A faculty member operating a golf cart lost control after driving over an exposed tree root. The driver collided with multiple pedestrians, who later filed suit against the school. The faculty member had received training from the golf cart manufacturer three years earlier. The school settled the case for $110,000.

    2. Prohibit dangerous driving behavior. Most UE claims were caused by a reckless or negligent driver. Institutions should train drivers to avoid sharp turns, speeding up and down slopes, and other dangerous behavior.

      Example: A university employee operating a golf cart at a high speed was attempting to make a U-turn when the cart struck the median, causing it to shudder and eject the passenger onto the road, resulting in personal injuries. Total losses exceeded $50,000.

    3. Create a list of authorized routes. Golf cart-pedestrian accidents resulted in losses exceeding $1.3 million. The majority of institutions that filed claims did not have a list of approved routes on campus for golf carts. While on campus, golf carts should be restricted to specific pre-approved routes, preferably in areas not heavily used by pedestrians. Using unauthorized routes could result in a serious accident, especially in a pedestrian-dense area.

      Example: A student operating a golf cart headed up a ramp to the school gym. Another student suddenly walked in front of the moving golf cart and was hit. The accident resulted in head and leg injuries.


    By implementing these suggested risk-management practices, institutions can help protect golf cart operators, passengers, pedestrians, and the facilities where golf carts are used.


    Resources

    Oregon State University Golf Cart/Utility Vehicle Policy

    University of California-Irvine Guidelines for Vehicles Other Than Automobiles

    University of California-Irvine Map of Approved Cart Routes

    University of South Carolina-Beaufort Golf Cart & Utility Vehicle Safety Program

    EduRisk: Golf Carts on Campus

    EduRisk: Injuries From Golf Carts on Campus


    By Jared Costanzo, litigation prevention at educational institutions intern

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