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Low-speed solution to cart conundrum

A low-speed solution will likely alleviate the concerns of a handful of Jonesborough residents who utilize golf carts to transport both people and equipment throughout the downtown area.
For years, several local business owners and town residents have used golf carts for everything from bringing their guests at a bed-and-breakfast to the theater on Main Street to moving equipment and other items for set up of town events.
But when a vendor at Jonesborough Days used a golf cart to cross Highway 11E earlier this year, town authorities decided stricter regulations were needed on the use of such transportation. As they looked into just what those rules should be, however, town leaders discovered a state law already exists prohibiting golf carts from traveling on public streets.
Owners of such carts were forced to sideline their golf carts as police stepped up enforcement of the law for the first time in Tennessee’s oldest town.
“It’s something we had enjoyed for quite a few years,” said Mayor Kelly Wolfe during the Oct. 8 meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. “When you live right downtown and it’s a compact little community, it makes sense to not get into your big, bulky car to drive into town to get something to eat.”
Now, a few modifications will soon have many of the golf carts back on the street.
“It can be converted into a low-speed vehicle,” Wolfe said. “The vehicle has to have turn signals, headlights, hazard lights, a rearview mirror and seat belts. It has to be able to go over 20 mph and have a VIN number.”
Once the golf cart becomes a low-speed vehicle, it has to be titled as such and given a license plate.
“You can legally drive that low-speed vehicle on any street in Tennessee that is 35 mph or under,” said Wolfe, who went a step beyond just researching the issue. “As of Friday afternoon about 3 o’clock, I become the owner of a low-speed vehicle. I’ll tell you what, it’s pretty darn awesome.”
Wolfe purchased the low-speed vehicle from a company in Bristol. It’s a 2009 golf cart that has since been refurbished to the standards necessary to become a low-speed vehicle.
“I would encourage the bed-and-breakfast owners to explore that as an option,” Wolfe said. “You’re legal then. Just use some good sense.”
By the time of the Oct. 8 meeting, Marcy Hawley, owner of Hawley House Bed & Breakfast, had already traded in her old golf cart for a newer, refurbished one that is street legal.
Hawley said she is happy the town figured out a solution to the problem because the use of such vehicles is vital to both her business and the town.
Dona Lewis, owner of Franklin House Bed & Breakfast, was also at the BMA meeting. While she had not yet made an appointment to either refurbish her own golf cart or trade it in for an already modified one, Lewis said that was her intention.
She thanked Police Chief Matt Hawkins for talking to golf cart owners and “getting us straightened out.”
Hawkins took the brunt of the criticism over the town suddenly enforcing the law regarding golf carts on public streets.
“The chief has to uphold the law and at the same time try to accommodate the needs of others,” Wolfe said. “He’s had a tough time navigating the very disparate interests here. There was a wide gap between what was wanted and what was needed.”