Understanding Golf Cart Accidents in Washington

Detailed research from the Consumer Product Safety Commission shows that there are approximately 15,000 golf cart accidents resulting in injuries that require emergency room medical attention in the U.S. on an annual basis. In addition to being used for carrying golf clubs around the course, golf carts are also often viewed as toys, which is probably a contributing factor to the number of accidents in the country each year.

Golf is one of the more popular activities of choice in Washington state, particularly during the warmer summer months. Although the chances of being injured from a golf cart accident are somewhat low, the potential for catastrophic, life changing injuries should be plenty incentive for maintaining caution when driving a golf cart.

Washington State Golf Cart Zone Laws

In some states throughout the U.S., the combination of lots of golf courses and warm weather make it much more reasonable to drive golf carts in neighborhoods and to run errands. But in some of the more urban areas such as Seattle and Tacoma, it is much less practical to attempt to drive a golf cart down roadways packed with much faster and larger vehicles.

According to Washington state RCW 46.08.175, “The legislative authority of a city or county may by ordinance or resolution create a golf cart zone, for the purposes of permitting the incidental operation of golf carts upon a street or highway of this state having a speed limit of twenty-five miles per hour or less.”

The RCW allows city and county legislators the right to designate certain areas “golf cart zones” if the speed limit is not higher than 25 mph. The RCW also says who is allowed to drive a golf cart in these zones:

  • They must be sixteen years old & have completed a driver education course or have adequate experience as a legally licensed driver.
  • Every person operating a golf cart is granted the same rights and is subject to the same duties as a driver of a standard vehicle (i.e. car or truck).
  • Golf carts must be equipped with reflectors, seat belts, and rearview mirrors while being driven on officially designated streets and/or highways.
  • Cities and counties have the legal right to (a) prohibit golf carts from being operated from a half hour after sunset to a half hour before sunrise; (b) require a decal or other identifying device to be displayed on golf carts; and (c) prohibit the operation of golf carts in designated bicycle lanes that are within a golf cart zone.
  • A person who has had their driver’s license revoked may not legally drive a golf cart.

A city or county that designates a golf cart zone is obligated to identify said zone with signs at boundaries. And if someone driving a golf cart gets into an accident, it should be reported and otherwise handled as any regular motor vehicle accident.

Golf Cart Accident and Injury Statistics

There were an estimated 147,700 people treated in emergency rooms for injuries from golf cart accidents between 1990 and 2006 in the United States. Experts say that the number of accidents involving golf carts has been on the rise over the past several years, meaning the frequency and costs of injuries from those accidents are also likely going to be on the rise.

Of the estimated 15,000 injuries from golf cart accidents each year, approximately 69 percent of victims suffered head injuries and 60 percent of those head injuries were to children.

Rollover accidents are among the most frequent types of golf cart accidents, in addition to passengers being ejected or falling out of the vehicle. Collisions with other motor vehicles and stationary objects are also a common type of golf cart accident. The fact that golf carts do not have doors or safety belts to protect passengers from falling out of the vehicle and being injured is one of the main reasons that golf cart accidents occur as frequently as they do.

Dangers of Carelessness on the Course

Many people treat golf carts like toys, which is probably one of the main reasons that there are so many accidents in the country. Golf carts also have limited speed capabilities – most don’t go faster than 20 miles per hour – which can give drivers a false sense of security and make it easier to be reckless. Whether on the road or on the golf course, it is all too easy to underestimate the chances that you could be injured in a golf cart accident.

The presence of alcohol on golf courses is also a major contributing factor to golf cart accidents. As is the case with all vehicles, alcohol impairs drivers’ ability to operate heavy machinery – including golf carts – and increases the chances of injury from an accident.

Unless you are nearby a golf course, you are unlikely to find an established “golf cart zone” anywhere else in King County or other urban areas where pedestrian and vehicle traffic flood the streets. However, if you do find yourself injured in a golf cart accident, it is important to understand what steps to take in order to ensure you don’t suffer financially because of someone else’s negligence.

If your golf cart accident takes place on a paved roadway with another motor vehicle, treat it just like a standard motor vehicle collision and swap insurance and contact information with the other driver. Don’t admit fault, call the police if possible and request any necessary medical attention. After you get a good idea of how much your medical bills and property damage is going to cost, you might benefit from consulting with a personal injury attorney.

If your accident occurs on the property of a golf course, then your case may become a bit more complicated. If the accident was a result of poor design of the course or another form of negligence, take pictures of the hazards and be sure to get as much information about the property owner and any insurance policies that exist. Again, the complexity of these cases may warrant contacting a personal injury attorney to evaluate your legal case.

Chris Davis
Top-rated, award-winning, attorney practicing wrongful death & serious injury law in Seattle.
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