Typically used as a way to transport folks across sprawling golf courses, golf carts are becoming more and more widely used off the green. These beloved caddy carriers are increasingly being spotted on the sunny sidewalks and streets of Northeast Florida, especially throughout the Beaches, St. Johns County, and Clay County communities. But alongside their widespread use and rise in popularity comes a surge in golf cart-related injuries, especially in children.
Lisa Nichols, MBA, BSN, RN, manager of the Porter Family Pediatric Trauma Center at Wolfson Children’s Hospital notes that there has definitely been a steep increase in serious golf cart-related injuries over the past few years.
“The Wolfson Children’s Trauma team is trained to provide specialized care to the most critically injured babies, children, and teens in Northeast Florida and far beyond,” she said, adding, “Sadly, our Pediatric Trauma Center has seen over a 300% increase in golf cart crashes and injuries over the past three years.”
Nichols, who is also the president of the Pediatric Trauma Society, credits the growth of golf cart usage with the expansion of neighborhoods and communities where the alternate mode of transportation is becoming increasingly commonplace. Misconceptions surrounding golf cart travel are also aplenty: Namely, that these small motorized vehicles are “safe” and “easy” to maneuver. But the fact is that a golf cart simply isn’t the same as a sedan or SUV, and the reasoning for golf cart-related injuries is this: Many people aren’t fully familiar with the laws and safety regulations surrounding the use of golf carts, and these laws are not always enforced.
The most common golf cart-related injuries
More than 6,500 children are injured every year while driving or riding in golf carts, with the majority being under the age of 12. Data confirms that the Wolfson Children’s Trauma Center has seen a steady increase in golf cart injuries — but this is only the most critically hurt children who are admitted to the hospital. That doesn’t include injuries that don’t get reported.
Nichols said golf cart-related injuries in children most commonly include concussions, skull fractures or more serious traumatic brain injuries (i.e., bleeding in the brain). Other injuries include rib and spinal fractures, broken arms and legs, lung contusions, and liver and spleen lacerations, in addition to bruising and significant cases of “road rash.”
Luckily, many of these injuries can be avoided. Nichols said to use golf carts as they were intended: on the sidewalk, on grass, or on designated golf cart paths, rather than on the road — and especially with no one “hanging off” the side or standing on the back while the golf cart is in motion.
“Many golf carts now come with seat belts,” she said. “Riders should be belted in appropriately, and there should be a seat belt — or at least a proper seat, if there are no seat belts — for every person on the golf cart. And if a car seat is used, it should be belted into the golf cart, just as it would be in a car.”
Golf cart safety tips
For starters, you should always read the owner’s manual carefully for crucial safety information, and check your state’s driver’s license requirements. Here are a few other safety tips when it comes to driving golf carts in your neighborhood or community:
- Only include the number of passengers you have seats or seat belts for, and ONLY operate the cart from the driver’s seat.
- Ensure the parking brake is engaged and remove the key before getting out of the vehicle.
- Follow and obey all traffic rules, including wearing a seat belt.
- Check behind you before shifting into reverse.
- Always yield to pedestrians.
- Keep your feet, legs, hands, and arms inside the vehicle at all times.
- Don’t allow any passengers to stand up while the golf cart is in motion.
- Don’t drive while texting, while intoxicated, or during a lightning storm.
- Make sure the direction selector is in the correct position before you accelerate and bring the vehicle to a complete stop before shifting direction.
- Slow down before and while making a turn, as well as when driving downhill.
- Use additional caution when driving in poor weather conditions or on rough surfaces.
- Avoid rocky terrain and steep slopes.
- Be aware that making sudden stops or quickly changing direction could make you lose control of the golf cart.
If your child needs emergency treatment, Wolfson Children’s Hospital has doctors specially trained in pediatric emergency care and ready to help 24/7. The Porter Family Children’s Trauma and Emergency Center at Wolfson Children’s Hospital is the only state-designated Pediatric Trauma Center in the area and the only American College of Surgeons-verified Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center in the region, caring for the area’s most critically ill and injured children. Wolfson Children’s Hospital has Emergency Centers located throughout Northeast Florida.