Aggressive, Ethical Legal Defense in Tennessee & North Georgia

Where Can I Drive a Golf Cart in Chattanooga, TN?

One important thing to note about TN law is that the legal definition of a “golf cart” is very specific, and refers exclusively to those vehicles that are used on golf courses, for golfing. Although we might still use the term to refer to other vehicles that resemble golf carts, if they are modified to meet federal safety requirements, and used for recreational purposes like moving around a neighborhood or through town, the law defines them as “Low / Medium Speed Vehicles” or “Off-Highway Vehicles”. This distinction is important because “golf carts” are not typically manufactured with the type of safety equipment that’s required to be operated on the road.

Definitions:


TN Code § 55-1-123 (2019) - Golf Cart - Defined

“Golf cart” means a motor vehicle that is designed and manufactured for operation on a golf course for sporting or recreational purposes and equipped with safety belts installed for use in the left front and right front seats and that is not capable of exceeding speeds of twenty miles per hour (20 mph).

TN Code § 55-8-101 (2019) - Low / Medium Speed Vehicles - Defined

(36) “Low-speed vehicle” means any four-wheeled electric vehicle, excluding golf carts, whose top speed is greater than twenty miles per hour (20 mph) but not greater than twenty-five miles per hour (25 mph), including neighborhood vehicles. Low-speed vehicles must comply with the safety standards in 49 CFR 571.500;

(38) “Medium speed vehicle” means any four-wheeled electric or gasoline-powered vehicle, excluding golf carts, whose top speed is greater than thirty miles per hour (30 mph), but whose maximum speed allowed is thirty-five miles per hour (35 mph) only on streets with a forty mile per hour (40 mph) or less posted speed limit pursuant to § 55-8-191(b)(1), and otherwise meets or exceeds the federal safety standards set forth in 49 CFR 571.500, except as otherwise provided in § 55-4-136;


Here you can see that the main difference between a low/medium speed vehicle is, obviously, its top speed. Another notable difference though is its source of power. Low-Speed Vehicles have to be electric and have a top speed of 20-25 mph. Medium Speed Vehicles can be electric or gas-powered, and they have to have a top speed of 30-35 mph.

If your vehicle is similar to a modified “golf cart” it will probably meet one of these definitions. If it doesn’t, you might still be able to register your vehicle as a Class I or II Off-Highway Vehicle, but those definitions typically refer to ATVs, UTVs, Buggies, or other similar offroading vehicles.

What Do I Need to Be Able to Drive?

In order to register your vehicle for road use, it initially has to meet one of the definitions above. Then, you have to make sure that it meets the federally regulated safety requirements. Those can be found here, but they consist of the typical requirements for safety, like headlights and taillights, mirrors, seatbelts, a windshield, etc.

You also have to register your vehicle with your county, like you would a normal car. Information about registering your vehicle in Tennessee can be found here. In order to register your Low / Medium Speed Vehicle in TN, you will also need to submit a low/medium speed affidavit, through which you certify that your vehicle meets the required standards. Applications for registration need to be made through your local county clerk. The Hamilton County Clerk’s Office website can be found here. Once your vehicle is registered and your plate is put on, your vehicle is ready for road use.

Who Can Drive?

Because you’re driving on the road, all the same rules apply to you as if you were in a normal car. The driver of the vehicle needs to have a valid Class D license on them, and the vehicle needs to be insured.

Where Can I Drive?

Because this is a street vehicle, you are pretty much limited to driving on the streets. Low / Medium Speed vehicles are prohibited from driving on sidewalks or other pedestrian paths. Low-Speed Vehicles are required to stay on streets where the speed limit is 35 mph or less. Medium Speed Vehicles are required to stay on streets where the speed limit is 40 mph or less, but Medium Speed Vehicles are not allowed to exceed 35 mph. Even though you are not allowed to travel on roads where the speed limit is above 40 mph, you are still allowed to cross these roads when at an intersection.

It is also important to note that the county or city that you reside in is allowed to prohibit the use of Low / Medium Speed Vehicles on specific roads in the interest of safety, that would otherwise be accessible. Currently, it doesn’t appear that Hamilton County nor Chattanooga has any such restrictions, but you will always want to check on that before you hit the road.

Relevant Law:


TN Code § 55-8-191 (2019) - Operation of Low / Medium Speed Vehicles

(a)

(1) A low-speed vehicle as defined in § 55-8-101 may be operated only on streets where the posted speed limit is thirty-five miles per hour (35 mph) or less. This subdivision (a)(1) does not prohibit a low-speed vehicle from crossing a road or street at an intersection where the road or street has a posted speed limit of more than thirty-five miles per hour (35 mph).

(2) A county or municipality may prohibit the operation of low-speed vehicles on any road under its jurisdiction if the governing body of the county or municipality determines that the prohibition is necessary for the interest of safety.

(3) The department of transportation may prohibit the operation of low-speed vehicles on any road under its jurisdiction if it determines that the prohibition is necessary for the interest of safety.

(b)

(1) A medium-speed vehicle as defined in § 55-8-101 may be operated at a rate not to exceed thirty-five miles per hour (35 mph) only on streets where the posted speed limit is forty miles per hour (40 mph) or less. This subsection (b) does not prohibit a medium-speed vehicle from crossing a road or street at an intersection where the road or street has a posted speed limit of more than forty miles per hour (40 mph).

(2) A county or municipality may prohibit the operation of medium-speed vehicles on any road under its jurisdiction if the governing body of the county or municipality determines that the prohibition is necessary for the interest of safety.

(3) The department of transportation may prohibit the operation of medium-speed vehicles on any road under its jurisdiction if it determines that the prohibition is necessary for the interest of safety.

(c) Any person operating a low-speed vehicle or medium-speed vehicle must have in possession a valid Class D driver's license.

 

Lawyers Note:

“For all intents and purposes, you will be treated the same on a golf cart or low/medium speed vehicle as you would on any other vehicle with a motor. The same rules of the road apply. And yes... We have seen more than one DUI on a golf cart, 4 wheeler, etc...”


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