By JOY CRIST
Longtime Hatteras Island visitors and residents have likely noticed the rise in golf carts in recent years.
Once a rare sight just a decade or so ago, today they seem to be everywhere, and especially in locales like Hatteras village where the rules for operating golf carts are more generous and flexible. Golf cart rentals are available throughout Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, and Hatteras village even has an annual 4th of July Golf Cart parade, where dozens of decked-out and patriotic carts cruise around the village in a colorful procession.
And with the rise of golf carts, there are a number of questions on what constitutes legal operation. The rules of the road for golf carts are complicated at best, and every village – and even every street – has its own potential set of guidelines on what’s legal, and what’s not.
So before we get into where golf cart operation may be headed next on Hatteras Island, here’s a quick review of where and how golf carts can currently be operated.
Where Golf Carts are legal
In 2010, the Hatteras Village Civic Association presented a measure to regulate golf carts to the Dare County Board of Commissioners. The ordinance was passed that summer, and since then, golf carts have been allowed on all streets and roads in Hatteras village west of and including Austin Road and Austin Lane, in areas where the speed limit is 35 mph.
Hatteras village is certainly the most golf cart-friendly village on the island, which is also why it easily has the most carts cruising the streets. Rentals are readily available, and the inherent layout of the village, (as well as the low speed limits throughout), makes it easy to cruise from one attraction or destination to the next.
But in addition to Hatteras village, there are other areas of Hatteras Island where golf cart use of any kind is allowed. These areas include the following:
- Golf carts may be operated in the Village of Avon on the followings streets where the speed limit is 35 mph or less:
- Harbor Road west of North End Road and the streets connected to Harbor Road located west of North End Road.
- The streets connected to North End Road, McMullen Road, Reef Drive, Old Main Road and Williams Road. (Adopted 12-2-2013)
- Golf carts may be operated in Waves village in the St. Waves subdivision on Sea Vista Court and Sea Vista Drive, where the speed limit is 35 mph or less. (Adopted 8-1-16)
So the above areas are legally solid for golf carts, but wait, there’s more!
Because throughout Hatteras Island, golf carts of all varieties may also be used on streets which are not state maintained.
According to Sergeant Doug Oberbeck of the Dare County Sheriff's Office, state-maintained roads can be identified by the local street signs.
Essentially, on the street sign, stop sign, or other signage on the end of a street, a state-maintained road will have a four-digit number listed. A private road will have no number visible on the sign, and may even have more decorative signs that indicate they are actually part of a private community.
“If you had a subdivision that was private and not state maintained, then theoretically, a golf cart could operate on that road,” said Sergeant Oberbeck.
And this is where it can get really complicated.
For example, in Avon, the soundside area of Kinnakeet Shores is primarily comprised of private roads, while the oceanside portion of the subdivision – or Ocean View Drive – is a state road. And technically, in communities that have private roads on both the soundside and oceanside, it would be illegal to use N.C. Highway 12 to cross from one portion of the subdivision to another, although arguably it’s an illegal move that’s on par with minor traffic crimes, like jaywalking. It should also be noted that golf carts are not legal on federal property, (aka NPS land), like Lighthouse Road which leads to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Cape Point.
And there’s also one more layer to the complicated web of golf cart regulations, because street legal golf carts, (or golf carts that have been properly licensed, are insured, and have all required safety equipment), can be used pretty much everywhere – including N.C. Highway 12 - so long as they stay in 35 mph zones.
So suffice it to say, with the exception of designated areas which have concrete rules in place, the rules surrounding golf cart use on the island is complicated. It varies from street to street, and from cart to cart, and it can be hard to identify from a glance whether a golf cart is operating within local and state laws, or if it’s skirting the rules.
As a general rule of thumb, if you’re cruising down a state road and your cart isn’t licensed, (and you’re not in Hatteras village), then there’s a pretty good chance you are breaking the law.
But with that being said, this too may change in the coming months, as golf carts may have more leeway in new areas of Hatteras Island.
What’s Next for Golf Cart Operation
In 2011, a resolution was brought to the attention of the Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) on the possibility of allowing golf carts in Buxton along the Back Road and the Hatteras Pines subdivision.
“One behalf of the Hatteras Pines Homeowners Association I am writing to request the board’s consideration to allow the use of golf carts on streets and roads in Buxton Village,” wrote former association president D. Randall Jordan in a 2011 letter to the BOC. “Given the success of similar legislation in the village of Hatteras, we feel that numerous benefits will result should the village of Buxton be granted the same permissions.”
The reasons behind the movement were varied, but appealing. Allowing golf carts in these quieter areas of the village would save money on gas, potentially reduce stop-and-go traffic, increase tourism and potential economic development, and allow residences in Buxton village an easier way to get from point A to point B.
The 2011 resolution quietly faded away with no action taken, but it’s being rekindled and may be up for public comment and discussion in the near future.
Hatteras Island County Commissioner Danny Couch sees the benefits of allowing golf carts in certain areas of Buxton and has reached out to commission chairman Bob Woodard to address golf cart use in the commissioner's business portion during the July 16th Board of Commissioner's (BOC) meeting.
The BOC may elect to evaluate whether to peruse the topic as an agenda item in an upcoming BOC meeting. Once that occurs, a public comment period and / or meeting will likely be scheduled to obtain feedback on the possibility of allowing golf carts in certain areas of Buxton.
"This needs to be in front of the public to weigh the good, the bad, and the ugly. The feedback right now is about 50/50 for and against, with the good maybe outweighing the bad,” said Commissioner Couch. “The speed limits are there [in Buxton] and we have some good layout for golf carts... Golf cart use has tourism appeal, but you’re also talking about potential job opportunities with cart sales and rentals, parts, repair etc. An upside of cart use is that it fits the suggestions from the economic study the county had done in 2016."
"Safety and traffic issues and concerns, in my opinion, cuts both ways. Yes, there's a ton of traffic on Highway 12 in Buxton, but I believe cart use can cut down on people using the back road as a short cut while exceeding the speed limit on Buxton Back Road, and ease congestion and apprehension of the residents along that stretch."
If the extended use of golf carts in Buxton comes to fruition, it will occur in stages.
The current plan is to examine allowing golf carts in areas close to Buxton Back Road in the summer, and conceivably extending this to Highway 12 in the off-season when traffic is noticeably reduced.
“The BOC will insist that we start with baby steps, and I agree” said Couch. “If you open it up carte blanche and year-round, it might be a little too bold of a step. Let’s start with the Back Road [area], see how it goes, and go from there.”
It’s possible that a resolution on golf carts in Buxton may be introduced by late summer, according to Couch, and obviously, public comment will be encouraged along the way.
And while an even greater increase in golf carts may make some residents wary, especially considering how quickly golf carts have seemingly inundated the area to begin with, Couch believes that the potential benefits to Buxton are worth a closer look.
"I'm open to cart use, the proponents are telling me it's good for business, eases congestion, [is] convenient, safe, and is equitable with what's allowed in the other villages. Opponents cite safety from the other optic of Highway 12 with the RV's, boats and trailers, motor coaches and just motorists who don't know to look for them as the prime concern, and some people just don't like them, period. Stress on law enforcement on all levels is a valid point too. The happy medium perhaps is Buxton Back Road, Hatteras Pines and Flower's Ridge, Old Lighthouse Road and Diamond Point Estates, where it makes the most sense."
“It’s time to move forward with taking another look at it” he added. “We’re having a good year, and people will only continue to come here in larger numbers, so the amenities need to be there for them. There’s a lot of complex questions to be answered here, but I’m confident it’s something that can be worked through.”