Jul. 2—Like the sea turtles that return to the Golden Isles' shorelines each summer, tourists in golf carts predictably flock to St. Simons Island's roadways in large numbers this time of year.
And for locals who work for a living or have a schedule to keep, it is often difficult to discern which perennial visitor moves slower.
Glynn County commissioners have received an earful this month from residents who have gotten stuck behind golf carting tourists. Many of these vacationing visitors are either unaware or unconcerned about the laws governing these vehicles on public thoroughfares, county officials say.
"The complaints are widespread and numerous," said Glynn County Commissioner and St. Simons Islander Cap Fendig. "We're getting a lot of calls complaining about golf cart traffic. It's the usual complaints, but there seems to be a lot more of them this year."
The most common complaint concerns golf cart operators who do not observe the courtesy of pulling over when a logjam of vehicles is lined up behind them, Fendig said. That and those who drive on roads where the posted speed limit prohibits certain golf carts, such as Frederica Road.
Underaged and unlicensed drivers is another common complaint, he said.
In a posting on the county's Facebook page this week that was tinged with frustration, county commissioners said errant golf cart operators can expect consequences in the weeks ahead.
Earlier this month, the commission posted an updated reminder of the rules governing golf cart uses on Glynn County public roadways. Now, police will be keeping a lookout for violators, commissioners warn.
"To those who have chosen to not receive this education: Thank you in advance for pulling over quickly when summoned, not arguing with, or berating the police officers for doing their jobs and for prompt payment of the citation," Wednesday's Facebook posting reads. "We ask that you please pardon the officer, for they cannot distinguish between an upstanding citizen or deviant when an infraction has been spotted. The officer has been directed to handle both people in the same manner to maintain fairness."
Yes, the situation is that bad, said Glynn County spokeswoman Katie Baasen. Led by new assistant county manager Jason Hagen, the county has mounted a concerted effort to crack down on golf cart violators, she said.
Hagen began working on the effort nearly three weeks ago, she said.
Members of the county staff have delivered updated flyers explaining the rules of the road to all cart rental companies on the island. Such companies were reminded of their responsibility to ensure each customer knows the rules of the road before taking a golf cart for a spin, she said.
The county has even reached out to State Court Solicitor Maria Lugue, the elected attorney who prosecutes traffic violations. Likewise, Baasen said, commissioners have spoken with the police department about increased emphasis on enforcement.
Glynn County Police Chief Jacques Battiste referred The News on Friday to Baasen. As of Thursday, Glynn County police had issued a total of 14 citations to golf cart drivers this year, according to police department records. These included one arrest for DUI in a golf cart.
"We will see officers ticketing violators," Baasen said. "This is not just a ticket for show. They're going to be fined, there's going to be a cost."
Golf cart rental companies on the island and elsewhere in the county routinely remind customers of the laws governing operation. Many post the county regulations on their websites and Facebook pages. It is just good business sense, especially since rental companies can be held liable, according to county officials.
"They all sign a waiver and we put all the rules in place for them," said Yannet Ramirez, an employee at Island Carts on St. Simons Island. "We tell them the rules before they rent. We make sure the driver is licensed. And we remind them that if there's obviously a lot of cars behind you, to pull over and let them pass."
Everyone at the wheel of a golf cart should know the rules before they get on a road, noted Baasen, Fendig and others.
Here is a reminder: All golf cart operators must be licensed to drive. No underaged or unlicensed drivers are permitted. Drivers must obey all rules of the road, including traffic signals and stop signs.
The county ordinance recognizes two kinds of motorized carts: those capable of traveling 25 mph or less (Low Speed Vehicles), and those capable of traveling 20 mph or less (Personal Transportation Vehicles). The slower carts cannot be driven on roadways where the speed limit exceeds 25 mph, such as Frederica Road and Lawrence Road on St. Simons Island.
The majority of rental carts on the island are of the slower variety, Fendig said.
Drivers of golf carts can be cited for impeding traffic as dictated by the posted speed limit.
County officials hope reports of golf cart operators behaving badly will subside, that the rules will be followed.
"We hope to see compliance, by all means," Baasen said. "But they will see tickets if they do not comply."