Town seeks state law to putter around in golf carts

Town seeks state law to putter around in golf carts

By Jessica Nolte
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Not everyone is interested in living life in the fast lane. For some residents of the sleepy town of Jarratt in Southside Virginia, a golf cart is just the right speed. At least it was – until other residents complained to the sheriff.

Now, at the town's request, state legislators will settle the matter: The House has passed a bill that would allow golf carts on public roadways in Jarratt. HB 2423, sponsored by Del. Roslyn Tyler, a Democrat from Jarratt, passed the House unanimously on Tuesday.

"It seems like a trivial matter, but it is really neat to see a row of golf carts parked at the ballpark on Friday nights where residents have come over to cheer on the local rec league team, or a group of carts parked near the playgrounds and parks with families enjoying play time," said Kenneth Warf, the mayor of Jarratt.

Whether taking a trip to the playground, visiting a neighbor or running errands, Jarratt residents were using golf carts to cruise around town. At first, that wasn't a problem. But then other people in Jarratt, which straddles Greensville and Sussex counties, started complaining.

They weren't trying to ban golf carts; no one in town actually opposes using them, the mayor said. Instead, the concerned citizens wanted to ensure there are rules to protect the safety of cart owners and the public.

Under state law, Jarratt doesn't have the authority to set such rules. That's because the town (population 638) doesn't have a police department. And Virginia law says a town without a police department may not authorize the use of golf carts on its streets.

For law enforcement, Jarratt depends on the sheriff's offices in Greensville and Sussex counties. The people who complained about golf carts in Jarratt worried about safety when children were driving the vehicles. Others were concerned about golf carts without proper reflective hardware or safety lighting, which made it difficult to see the carts at night, Warf said.

To address the concerns, Greensville County Sheriff Timothy Jarratt (yes, his name is the same as the town's) attended the Jarratt Town Council meeting on Nov. 8. He reminded residents about the importance of safely operating golf carts and all-terrain vehicles, according to the minutes of the meeting.

After investigating the complaints, Sheriff Jarratt warned residents that law enforcement would begin enforcing the Virginia code that prohibits people from driving golf carts or ATVs on public roadways in Jarratt. Violators would receive a warning for a first offense and a ticket on a second offense, the minutes stated.

The law in Virginia is clear – "No town that has not established its own police department ... may authorize the operation of golf carts or utility vehicles" – but it has a loophole: The law exempts six towns from that provision – Claremont, Clifton, Irvington, Saxis, Urbanna and Wachapreague.

So Jarratt's mayor, town council and the sheriff asked state legislators to add Jarratt to the list. Tyler, who has represented the 75th House District for more than a decade, obliged by sponsoring the legislation.

If the Senate passes the bill, the state will not be responsible for the costs of legalizing golf carts in Jarratt. The town would have to pay for installing and maintaining the required signs. For Jarratt residents, the costs just might be worth it.

"Life in town moves at a pretty slow pace, and a golf cart is just the right speed to keep up," Warf said.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.