Better buckle up -- or maybe install seat belts -- if you drive a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle or your vehicle can seat more than two. Or make your Plaza runs in the car until this is sorted out.
[Expanded June 20] Progress marched down Highway 16 in the last decade, turning the golf cart into the bigger, speedier electric vehicle, but no one cautioned us that progress needs a warning sticker. This week, the California Highway Patrol ticketed several Murietans for driving carts across Highway 16 and not using seat belts.
People in Rancho Murieta believe 35 years of history, not to mention state law, guarantee the right to drive a cart to the supermarket.
But, progress and all, it’s more complicated than that. It appears the complications stem from the community’s adoption of the larger, multi-passenger carts, called Neighborhood Electric Vehicles or low-speed vehicles. These vehicles carry equipment requirements, including seat belts, and the requirement that the seat belts be used at all times, including inside the community. Standard golf carts apparently aren't impacted.
One Murietan was ticketed Wednesday as she drove her four-seat vehicle from the Village to the North Gate. The vehicle has seat belts in the back but not the front, she said.
“The officer told me they were going to do ‘Click it or ticket’ enforcement all week on Highway 16,” said the woman, who asked that her name be withheld.
The state Office of Traffic Safety says the fine and fees for a first-time seat-belt violation total $132. If children are without seat belts, the first-time cost is $435.
While the Murietan ticketed Wednesday accepts responsibility for the infraction, she said her family moved to the community in the last year and wasn’t told about the seat belt requirement.
“I received a two-inch-thick stack of documentation with all the rules I’m supposed to follow,” she said Friday of her move here. “I went through the whole thing today and there’s nothing (about seat belts) in there.”
The Community Services District distributed the rules in late 2006, in advance of cart equipment requirements that allow Murietans to cross 16 in golf carts. This week, after the CHP tickets, Security Chief Greg Remson distributed a version of the flyer and contacted the CHP for clarification.
On Friday, after talking with the CHP, Remson said standard golf carts are fine, but carts with rear seats may need seat belts to cross Highway 16 legally. That’s because they’re NEVs, or close enough to it to make a CHP officer reach for his ticket book.
Pointing to a gray area, Remson mentioned that some carts have seats where the golf bags normally go. Most of these seats can be tilted up to allow golf bags, he noted, so which side of the line does that vehicle fall on?
The CHP is doing more research, both Remson and CSD President Bobbi Belton said Friday.
The California Vehicle Code defines golf carts and low-speed vehicles in terms of weight and driving speed, which will be used to unsnarl this tangle, but for your immediate needs, Remson defined the vehicle equipment requirements for crossing Highway 16 this way:
Must be used as a golf cart, with a designated place for golf bags, driven by a licensed driver, with one person per seat.
Daylight hours require a brake light, one rear reflector and a horn.
After dusk requires a brake light, one rear reflector, horn, head lamp and tail lamp.
Seat belts are not required.
NEV (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle) or Low Speed Vehicle
Must be driven by a licensed driver, have (and use) seat belts, with one person per seat.
Also required at all times are headlights, taillights, turn signals, stop lamps, reflectors, mirror, parking brake and windshield.
The Country Club sent a flyer to members Friday, warning about the tickets and echoing Remson’s instructions.
George Amaral, who handles cart repairs for the Country Club, said Friday that the recent flap hasn’t caused anyone to come in wanting seat belts installed, though one customer did ask about turn signals.
Adding seat belts is relatively inexpensive -- $40 or $50 installed, he said.
Amaral said adding turn signals to older carts can be challenging, as there may not be an installation kit for the model. Newer carts are pre-wired for turn signals, he said.
Paul Gumbinger, then Rancho Murieta Association president, served on the group that worked with the CHP and sheriff to develop the cart/NEV plan that took effect in 2007. It was required by the state law that allowed Murietans to use carts to cross 16.
"We spent a lot of time on it," Gumbinger said Saturday. "But finally, blessed by the Highway Patrol and the sheriff, the policy that became effective Jan. 1, 2007, was that during daylight you needed a brake light, a reflector and a horn. And at night you needed a brake light, reflector, a horn, a headlight and a tail lamp. There was nothing about seat belts....
"But you know, they approved it. It was for not only golf carts but Neighborhood Electric Vehicles. For both.
"We were trying to make it as easy as possible. The traffic consultants had some onerous things in there to begin with -- you know, windshield wipers, and they had seat belts in there. We eliminated all that stuff."
That plan -- see a 1.7MB PDF file here -- leverages the existing rules of the RMA and CSD governing vehicle use on the community's streets.
RMA rules require seatbelts to be used if they’re available.
Here’s what the RMA rule about vehicle passengers, adopted in 2002, says:
“All operators of and passengers in motor vehicles operated in Rancho Murieta shall be properly restrained by seat belts, and in the case of children under age of six (6) or weighing under sixty (60) pounds, shall be secured in a child passenger restraint that complies with California Vehicle Code Section 27360 (and the federal motor vehicle safety standards referred to in Section 27360). All operators of and passengers in low speed vehicles, modified or altered to exceed twenty five (25) miles per hour and therefore equipped with seat belts as part of their motor vehicle safety equipment, shall be properly restrained as set forth herein above. Golf carts and low speed vehicles operated as a golf cart as set forth in California Vehicle Code Sections 385 5 and 21115, that are not equipped with seat belts, shall transport no more persons than there are seats provided for carrying persons. It is a violation of this rule to carry a passenger on a golf cart or low speed vehicle operated as a golf cart, who stands on any part of the vehicle and is not properly seated in a single designated passenger seat. Three (3) passengers in or on a golf cart equipped with two (2) seats is a violation of this rule. The operator of a golf cart or low speed vehicle operated as a golf cart, that transports children does so at his/her own risk and peril.”
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