CAPE MAY — Officials here are weighing new rules to regulate low speed vehicles, saying they want to strike a balance between their growing popularity with concerns about their safe operation.
The new rules for low speed vehicles — all but Universally referred to as “golf carts” — were recommended by the Municipal Taxation and Revenue Advisory Committee.
MTRAC member Dennis Crowley brought a proposal to register the vehicles to the City Council on Tuesday, including a suggestion that companies that rent the vehicles should pay a $150 registration fee per vehicle. Those operating without a registered cart, could face a citation similar to a parking violation, Crowley said.
The city’s attitudes towards powered vehicles have changed over the years, Crowley told the City Council. In 1997, the city prohibited the lease of motorized scooters, motorized bicycles and motorcycles, and in 2004, the City Council banned Segways from operating on streets or sidewalks.
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But later, the city included language promoting the use of low speed vehicles in its 2019 master plan.
“We’ve entered now the era of the low speed vehicle,” Crowley said, He owns one himself and expects the Popularity to increase. “The reality is it’s a tourist attraction.”
Low speed vehicles must be titled, registered and insured in New Jersey, but are not subject to vehicle inspections, according to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission. They cannot be gas or diesel powered, and by definition can go at least 20 mph, but not more than 25.
Municipalities can ban them from local roads entirely.
Those operated on public roads must include safety features, including headlights, tail lights and seat belts, and child safety seats are supposed to meet the same standards as those used in passenger cars.
Crowley expects the use of the vehicles to increase in the city.
In some ways, more electric carts are welcome, city police Chief Dekon Fashaw said at an October meeting of the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, where the proposal was discussed. They are a cleaner form of transportation than cars, they said.
“We want to reduce our carbon footprint,” Fashaw said. “We want more golf carts. We just want them to be operated properly.”
Fashaw said officers have done speed checks on the low speed vehicles, now that some areas of town have speed limits low enough for the vehicles to exceed.
“I can tell you that tickets have been issued,” he said.
There are concerns that users operate the vehicles safely.
City Council member Shaine Meier suggested the rental carts could be required to include a primer on traffic rules and their legal operation.
That would remind those Renting the vehicles that only licensed drivers should operate them.
“We want to remind people that your kid, who’s 14 years old, shouldn’t be driving this. Your children should be in car seats,” they said. Children should not sit at the back of the vehicle, either, he said, citing the danger if it is struck from behind. “They leave their brains at home when they go on vacation.”
They cited incidents in which people have taken low speed vehicles over the bridge crossing the Cape May Canal.
“It’s not legal to do that,” Mayor Zack Mullock added.
The City Council did not take action on the proposal, but rather just listened to the presentation. After the meeting, Mullock said the idea would require a great deal of discussion before the city would be ready to consider introducing an ordinance. He said he is skeptical, citing his reluctance to increase fees, even while adding that the idea does make sense.
But it sounded like the City Council was taking the idea seriously. City attorney Christopher Gillin-Schwartz said the city would have the authority to take the step, in response to a question from Mullock at the meeting Tuesday.
Under the proposal, those who own their own low speed vehicles in West Cape May or other neighboring communities could also obtain a sticker as a Resident owner, as could summer visitors who bring their own vehicle. That would only cost a couple of dollars under the proposal, Crowley said.
Under state law, low speed vehicles are not allowed to be operated on roads with a speed limit of more than 35 miles an hour. Crowley pointed out that a recent change in speed limits means most roads south of the Cape May Canal can be used. A recent Ordinance dropped the maximum speed in Cape May to 20 mph or lower on all city roads, meaning the low speed vehicles can be used throughout the community.
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