- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008

It’s golf carts.

Injuries are up by 132 percent among those who favor the diminutive four-wheelers, according to research released Tuesday by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, which tracked 150,000 golf cart-related injuries among infants as young as 2 months to nonagenarians.

Golf carts are no longer the docile little vehicles of yore. Some can hit 25 mph , go 40 miles on a single $1 battery charge and make for a snappy transport at sporting events, hospitals, airports, national parks, college campuses and military bases.

The number of golf cart-related injuries increased “steadily and significantly over the study period,” from an estimated 5,772 cases in 1990 to an estimated 13,411 cases in 2006, the research found.

The situation warrants some treatment - such as golf cart driving licenses and mandatory safety courses, said Lara McKenzie, lead investigator and a safety analyst with the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio.

The number of golf cart jockeys is increasing. As gasoline prices rise, so does the number of communities who are making golf carts “street legal.” Dozens of towns across the nation are considering - or have approved - measures that allow the locals to tool around town in a golf cart.

Officials in Sandusky, Ohio, for example, voted Tuesday to allow carts on local roads, though they must pass a police inspection and have turn signals, brake lights, horns and liability insurance. The Cardwell, Mo. County Council made a similar decision this week, as did communities in Florida, Illinois and Montana.

Some police departments in Ohio, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida and other locales already have abandoned gas-guzzling cruisers in favor of golf carts, which have proved particularly effective on neighborhood patrols.

The trend presents an “unappreciated” hazard, said additional research also released Tuesday by the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“Golf carts are becoming a popular way to get around in some neighborhoods, particularly for adolescents who can’t yet drive a car,” said Gerald McGwin, a researcher at the Center for Injury Sciences and a professor of epidemiology. “A lot of people perceive golf carts as little more than toys, but our findings suggest they can be quite dangerous.”

He recommends helmets and seat belts .

Mr. McGwin tracked more than 48,000 golf-cart injuries between 2002 and 2005, mostly among males 10 to19 years old and those 80 and older.

“Some communities encourage golf cart use as a primary means of transportation because of their low emissions, quiet operation and presumed safety,” he said. “There is little federal regulation and most states do not require operators to be of a certain age, use any sort of safety equipment, or obtain an operator’s license.”

He called for more safety standards and a reevaluation of golf cart design - along with the paths and roads they are driven on. His study was published in the June issue of the Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection and Critical Care.

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