Is a Golf Cart a Motor Vehicle?

Golf carts used to be solely for making it easier to get around the greens when playing a round of golf. Today, these models can vary in size and style and are often modified to exhibit the driver’s sense of style. They have become a commonly accepted mode of transportation, no longer restricted to the confines of a country club.

Drive through any campground or senior living residential neighborhood, and you will be sure to see plenty of golf carts. It may get you wondering whether golf carts are considered motor vehicles that must follow the state’s rules of the road. Let’s take a look.

John Daly in a golf cart during the 2022 PGA Championship at the Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma
John Daly driving a golf cart | David Cannon/Getty Images

According to US Legal, a motor vehicle is defined as a “self-propelled device designed for transporting persons or property on a public highway.” Cornell Law School states several criteria must exist for a transportation device to be considered a motor vehicle.

First, it must have the ability to go faster than 25 mph on paved-level surfaces. It must not exhibit “features which render its use on a street or highway unsafe, impractical, or highly unlikely.” If it is not ordinary in size or contains features associated with military combat, it is not considered a motor vehicle.

Additionally, a motor vehicle must have safety features, as required by local, state, or federal laws, to drive on public roadways. 

State laws vary regarding golf cart use

According to Driving Laws, a golf cart is specifically designed for operation on a golf course and is meant for recreational purposes and to carry golf equipment. Most golf carts can only transport two people and have a maximum empty weight of 1,300 pounds.

Common restrictions include not exceeding 20 mph with at least three wheels staying in contact with the ground. Some states fluctuate on the speed limit ranging from 15 to 35 mph with a maximum occupancy of six passengers and an empty weight limit of no more than 1,800 pounds.

Driving Laws claims most states that allow golf carts to drive on public roadways require vehicle registration, a valid driver’s license, and proof of liability insurance. Although restrictions vary from state to state, the most common rules include limiting usage to roads with a posted speed limit of 25 to 45 mph. Most states restrict operation to drivers younger than 14 years of age and often limit use to daylight hours.

According to Driving Laws, “anyone operating a golf cart must also abide by the rules of the road that apply to all motor vehicles – including laws that prohibit driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”

The website GolfCarts states, “Just about every single golf cart that is used legally on the streets has been customized in some way to make them street legal. Every jurisdiction is going to have different rules and regulations, but at their core, they still look like the same golf carts found at the local country club.”

Golf cart accidents are on the rise

As golf cart use gains in popularity, they are becoming more dangerous. Many people do not obey traffic signals, wear seatbelts, or adhere to speed limits. Some drivers also do not understand the ramifications of driving while under the influence, sometimes ending with catastrophic results.

People magazine reported, “A Texas man has been charged by Florida authorities with DUI manslaughter following the death of a former college baseball player who died after falling from a golf cart the suspect was driving.”

The men were involved in the deadly accident at the Floridian National Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Police reports indicate the driver hit a “raised manhole cover,” and the man standing on the back of the golf cart fell off the vehicle, hitting the pavement. He was declared dead at the local hospital.

RELATED: What States Allow Golf Carts on the Road?