Walton County moves to control low-speed vehicles on 30A and Scenic Gulf Drive

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — In the midst of what Walton County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Mark Wendel called a "horrible year" for the dangerous presence of low-speed vehicles and golf carts on two local beach roads — and even U.S. Highway 98 — Walton County commissioners took steps Tuesday to get some control over the issue.

At the request of the Sheriff's Office, commissioners unanimously approved the placing of two types of signage along and near County Road 30A and Scenic Gulf Drive to keep the low-speed vehicles off U.S. Highway 98 and to remind visitors and residents of the laws governing low-speed vehicles on and near the two county roads.

More:Are golf carts allowed on 30A?

Wendel told commissioners that in an effort to gauge the seriousness of problems with low-speed vehicles and golf carts, he recently took two deputies to Seaside on County Road 30A, which has numerous side streets.

This is one of the signs that Walton County commissioners have approved for installation along and near County Road 30A and Scenic Gulf Drive to counter the considerable problems that golf carts and low-speed vehicles are causing along and near the two beachside routes.

“Within one hour, those two deputies pulled over 39 violations, all concentrating on low-speed vehicles," Wendel said. "Out of those violations, what we learned was everybody was saying the same thing: 'I didn't know. I thought this was just a golf cart.' "

Under Florida law, there are differences between golf carts and low-speed vehicles, and part of what the county is trying to do with the signs is to educate residents and visitors about the differences.

Under Florida law, golf carts can be operated only on roads specifically designated for golf carts, and with a posted speed limit of 30 mph or less.

This sign, approved for installation along routes intersecting with U.S. Highway 98 in South Walton County, is designed to keep golf carts and low-speed vehicles off of U.S. Highway 98.

By comparison, low-speed vehicles, which come equipped with seat belts, lights and other safety equipment, require a driver's license to operate, must display a license tag and can be used on any roads where the speed limit is 35 mph or less.

One of the problems with the low-speed vehicles, Wendel told commissioners Tuesday, is that they often are being operated by children.

"We've fielded numerous complaints on kids driving erratically, jumping off the carts, doing just crazy things," he said.

“We also have the problem of people driving down our bike paths and so forth," Wendel added. 

As an interim step to control of the issue, Wendel has been meeting with owners of companies that rent the vehicles and with short-term vacation condominium rental operators who provide the vehicles for guests.

As a result, Wendel said those owners and operators have agreed to place stickers on more than 1,200 low-speed vehicles listing the requirements to operate them.

The two types of signs approved Tuesday are a next step in the process. One type of sign will be placed on roads intersecting U.S. 98, such as Holiday Road and Poinciana Boulevard, to notify low-speed vehicles that they can't travel along the highway. Low-speed vehicles, however, will be allowed to cross U.S. 98 at intersections to get to and from businesses along the highway.

The second type of sign, delineating regulations for operating low-speed vehicles, will be placed at selected intersections with stop signs along County Road 30A and Scenic Gulf Drive to provide operators with time to read the sign's message. The signs will note the need for drivers to be licensed, that occupants be restrained, the prohibition of open containers of alcohol, restrictions on texting while driving, on parking in certain locations and on driving on pathways other than the road.

Installation of the signs did get some criticism from the public, with complaints about the number and size of signs proposed along and near what are supposed to be scenic routes.

One woman who spoke Tuesday suggested that increased enforcement of low-speed vehicle regulations would be just as effective. As word got out about increased enforcement, the woman suggested, people would hear and start complying without the need for installing signs.

Chance Powell, the county's traffic engineer, hinted Tuesday that there might not be a need for the signs to stay up for an interminable period of time. While Powell said the signs are "something we need to do in the interim," he suggested that a longer-term solution might be a special registration requirement for low-speed vehicles requiring stickers outlining regulations for their operation.

There is currently a real demand for the stickers, Powell noted Tuesday, telling commissioners, "I am getting inundated with calls from homeowners' associations right now saying, 'Hey, we would like to have these stickers given to us also.' "

Commissioner Tony Anderson hinted that increased enforcement also might be on the way.

“If people are not going to abide by these rules, I can assure you that the Sheriff’s Office is going to start ticketing them every time they see one of them," Anderson said.

"I’m stunned that people would even try to drive a golf cart on 98," he added. "I think that’s frightening."