La PORTE — After several months of work, La Porte County's golf cart ordinance is nearly ready to hit the streets.

During its meeting last week, the La Porte County Board of Commissioners held its first reading for a new set of rules and regulations for the operation of golf carts and other low-speed vehicles on certain county roads. If approved, the ordinance will only affect unincorporated communities such as Union Mills, Rolling Prairie and Hanna — city and town governments are responsible for such regulations in their jurisdictions.

Among the provisions of the proposed ordinance are:

• Golf carts can only operate on county roads with speed limits under 30 mph.

• The county can restrict golf carts on these types of roads that experience heavy traffic flows.

• Drivers cannot operate the vehicles on county roads before sunrise or after sunset.

• Operators must have a valid driver's license to use golf carts on county roads.

These regulations will also extend to other low-speed vehicles, like personal mobility devices or small off-road vehicles, said county attorney Shaw Friedman.

"We tried to make it as inclusive as we could," he told commissioners.

The ordinance also puts all the liability and risk on drivers and their passengers, and stipulates the county does not warranty its roadways as fit or appropriate for low-speed vehicles, Friedman said.

"We're then not in the position or business of having to provide inspections, providing stickers or verifying suitability of any kind of equipment," he said. "That liability is strictly on the owner." 

The ordinance also calls for strict fines on those who violate its provisions, the attorney noted.

Friedman and Commissioner Rich Mrozinski have spent the past several months drafting the proposed regulations, with input from residents of local incorporated communities as well as other county governments, Mrozinski said. Officials are modeling the ordinance after a Delaware County ordinance passed two years ago, Friedman said.

The county is creating the regulations in response to ongoing issues due to golf cart usage, particularly in the south county, where residents routinely use the vehicles. 

"We had to do something," Mrozinski said. "We had a lot of complaints last year about people totally abusing the whole thing, letting their kids ride them, riding through town, riding through people's yards, knocking things over."

Rather than ban them outright, the county instead decided to come up with a set of rules and restrictions for the device's operation in incorporated portions of the county. Presently, Wanatah is the only community in southern La Porte County with such an ordinance in place.

While thankful the county is addressing the issue, Allen Stevens, president of the South County Community Coalition, expressed some concerns with the current draft, he told officials.

Among them is the provision that forbids golf carts on roads with speed limits higher than 30 mph. Some south county residents currently use their vehicles to travel between Hanna and Union Mills, which requires them to use roads that would be restricted should the current draft become law, Stevens said.

"I don't want to see golf carts driving down Johnson Road at 5 in the afternoon on a Friday," Stevens said. "That's a recipe for disaster, but, for some of the more rural areas, maybe there's something we can do." 

Stevens is also worried about the impact the ordinance would have on elderly residents who no longer have a driver's license but still use golf carts to carry out errands, he said.

Friedman told Stevens that the proposed ordinance is still open for changes and that commissioners would welcome additional input before adopting it.

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