La Center City Council split on allowing golf carts, wheeled ATVs on local streets


La Center Mayor Tom Strobehn has seen many wheeled ATVs drive within city limits, despite that being against the law. Strohbehn said, in some circumstances, the law doesn’t make any sense and has posed the pos- sibility of changing city code once and for all to the City Council for consideration.

The City Council considered Strohbehn’s recommendation last week to allow golf carts and wheeled ATVs to access public roads. First, however, members want to evaluate risks to public safety, as well as state laws that would impact their decisions.

Strobehn said before the meet- ing that people commonly ride ATVs in La Center’s slower residential roads, despite not following City law. In previous council meetings, town residents have asked councilors to pass an ordinance allowing both golf cart and ATV access on public roads.

“I just saw another [ATV] go- ing up our hill the other night,” Strobehn said. “It was a [two seat], and he had brake lights, turn signals, the whole works, and he was following [what would be] the law. But unfortunately, the law has not been passed, so what he’s doing is illegal... but does that warrant you going to jail for driving one? No, so we need to look at it.”

Any ordinance expanding golf cart and ATV rights, however, would have to meet certain state laws. Under state law, people are limited to driving golf carts on roads restricted to 25 mph or less, while wheeled ATVs can only be driven on roads set at 35 mph. Both vehicles must have reflectors, seatbelts and mirrors. Drivers of wheeled ATVs must have a valid driver’s license, while golf cart owners must be at least 16 years of age and have completed driver’s education.

ATVs permitted for road access must be side-by-side two-seaters, which are slower than four-seat ATVs meant for dune driving.

Following motorcycle law, the state requires ATV drivers to wear helmets unless a vehicle has closed doors and a seatbelt or if helmets are mandated by the city or county. Golf cart drivers are not required to wear helmets.

The City Council could increase the age requirements should councilors choose, as well as restrict the times of day the vehicles can be driven in La Center.

“There are many benefits to it,” Strobehn said of amending the law prior to the meeting. “A lot of those golf carts are electric, so you use electricity rather than fuel. It’s a fun experience to go [drive] around and see the city of La Center. We’re not a major metropolitan area. We’re a small bedroom community. We don’t have freeways or anything like that, so I don’t see any type of risk that it actually poses to the public.”

During discussions last week, some councilors were concerned about the risks to changing the city code. Councilor Myrna Leija, who recovered from a vehicle accident in La Center six weeks ago, said the damage would have been much worse if she were in a golf cart.

“If another party’s driving distracted, which happened to me, people are going to get hurt really bad, in that [golf cart],” Leija said. “It’s too soon after I just got clobbered to think about allowing this in our streets, where somebody could be potentially killed, or definitely seriously injured.”

Councilor Melissa Fox suggested the age limit for golf cart access should be increased from 16.

Public Works Director Bryan Kast said that Ridgefield has not reported any major incidents since allowing golf carts to drive on 25 mph roads. Ridgefield residents can only drive golf carts a half hour before sunrise to a half hour before sunset to prevent potential accidents.

La Center police commander Phil Sample suggested city staff conduct more research to bring before the council at a future meeting. In the meantime, Srobehn recommends La Center residents with golf carts and ATVs follow the law.

“I’ve encountered several [golf carts and ATVs] in the last two months... it is illegal, and law enforcement will enforce laws on the books, so you will receive tickets if you are caught driving them,” Strobehn said.