What do Ludacris, Channing Tatum, Guy Fieri, and most retirees have in common? They all drive golf carts. And since you’re reading this, I suspect you do too. You’re in good company.
We all know how frustrating it is that golf carts aren’t street legal, but have you ever wondered why you can’t drive a golf cart on public roads? What parts are needed to make a golf cart street legal? How do you do it? And should you?
Time to find out.
The Fast and the Fairway
Golf carts aren’t just the vehicle of choice for navigating the local par 70. Caddies are an easy and economical way to get around the neighborhood, to run to the grocery store, or to pursue the downtown area without dragging out the family hauler.
What many people don’t realize is there’s a similar class of vehicle that does the same thing.
Low-Speed Vehicles (LSV) look about the same as a golf kart, but can go much faster. Additionally, they often come with more road-going features. That means most LSVs are already street legal and just need to be registered, whereas golf carts are typically not legal for road use.
So, is it possible to make a golf cart street legal? Yes. It just needs to be converted into an LSV by meeting certain criteria that we will explain later.
Where Can You Drive a Golf Cart or LSV?
For the most part: on a golf course.
A great resource for this information is this page from the gurus at Golf Cart Resource which lists every state’s laws regarding whether golf carts are street legal.
But again, if your golf cart were to be considered an LSV chances are you could drive it legally in way more places than just a golf course.
At the time of this article, 47 states allow LSVs to be driven on public roads. These states are seen in the map below. In addition to that, nearly every state in the Union allows golf carts to be driven in at least some situations.
Why Aren’t Golf Karts Street Legal?
Besides environmental factors like emissions and fuel efficiency, a lack of safety is the main reason golf carts are not street legal.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “You were so caught up in whether you could that you didn’t stop to wonder if you should.” So if you want to drive a golf cart or LSV on public roads, it’s important to consider the safety implications. These vehicles are far more dangerous than a car, and that’s not because the driver is armed with golf clubs.
The most obvious difference between a normal car and a golf cart is collision protection… or the lack thereof. What’s more, a cart can’t maneuver like a full-fledged automobile – turning, stopping, and accelerating are all slower than a car, drastically reducing your ability to evade emergencies.
Because of this, even those states in which golf carts and LSVs are street legal have laws telling you to steer clear of major thoroughfares and to not drive at night. In most states, it’s also the law (and good road etiquette) to hug the shoulder and give right-of-way to more capable vehicles.
Stick to less populated roads and keep a close eye on other drivers. As awesome as your buggy may be, there’s no way it will win a fight against a BMW.
Is it Possible to Make a Golf Cart or LSV Street Legal?
If you’ve made it this far, there’s clearly no talking you out of this. You lunatic.
Yes. It is possible.
Just don’t do anything in your golf cart that you wouldn’t do in your car. That means you shouldn’t hop the curb to get over to the McDonald’s parking lot after accidentally turning into Walmart because “it’s a golf cart, it won’t hurt the grass”.
Why bother? My local law enforcement doesn’t care about golf carts on the road.
Sure, your local Johnny Law might be in the habit of turning a blind eye to golf carts and LSVs. But it’s always best to ensure you’re completely legal when you’re on the road so that you’re protected in a worst-case scenario.
If something were to happen and insurance were to get involved, you would want to be as legal as humanly possible to avoid being sued to the moon and back.
That means getting a title, license plate, and insurance whenever possible and outfitting your cart with those basic bolt-on parts listed above. Unless your neighborhood says otherwise, without these basic things it's not legal to drive a golf cart (and possibly an LSV) on the road where you live.
What Parts Make a Golf Cart Street Legal?
Your local laws may require more, but your golf cart will need at least:
Most of these parts are standard on today’s most popular models. Especially if you have a factory-built LSV you probably have most of those already, but if not you can probably install them quicker than you can play your local back nine.
Taking Things One Step Further
The big-ticket items for legalizing a golf cart or low-speed vehicle are a license plate, registration, and a title. There are certain states where you can obtain these for vehicles that don’t have a VIN, like most golf carts and LSVs.
Unfortunately, those states and laws are always changing. You’ll have to do your own research to determine what’s possible in your state. The good news is, as long as you have the parts listed above (plus any other street legal parts your state requires for road-going vehicles) you will be well-prepared to drive your golf kart or LSV wherever the law allows you to.
And to us, that’s way more fun than a round of golf.