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Some Florida doctors hope new golf cart law will curb a rise in youth injuries

golf car in the garden at sunset
A state law going into effect on Oct. 1 requires teens driving golf carts to at least have a learner's permit.

Thousands of kids are injured in golf cart accidents each year in the U.S. In Florida, teens can drive carts with minimal oversight, but that's about to change.

Starting Oct. 1, teens in Florida won't be allowed to drive golf carts on public roads without a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit, according to a new state law passed during the legislative session this year.

Doctors like Meghan Martin at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg applaud the move and hope it will improve golf cart safety.

“A couple years ago we'd see golf cart injuries intermittently, but honestly over the last three years they have only been continually increasing," Martin said. "We're seeing them fairly regularly now and some of the injuries are more significant.”

The pediatric emergency medicine physician says All Children’s has treated 16 children and teens for serious golf cart injuries this year, according to the hospital’s trauma registry.

Of those, 12 involved head injuries, including seven brain bleeds, while five patients had fractures.

In some cases, patients fell off the golf carts, while in others the carts flipped over.

“Golf carts are really fun, but I don't think people really think of them as motor vehicles and they can get up to 20-or-higher miles per hour,” Martin said. “The risk of injury if you come out of something at 20 miles per hour is pretty high.”

As of now, Floridians ages 14 and older can drive golf carts with minimal oversight. But the law going into effect in October requires drivers younger than 18 to possess a valid driver’s license or learner’s permit to operate a golf cart on public roads or streets. It will also require adult drivers to have some form of identification on them.

It’s not just teens getting hurt. About half of the more than 6,500 children injured in golf cart accidents each year nationally are younger than 12, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

One problem, Martin said, is that some parents allow their young children to sit on their laps while riding in the carts, which increases the risk of them falling off. She encourages parents to consider using car seats for their little ones.

Copyright 2023 WUSF 89.7

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.