When she moved to The Villages in 1999, Verdelle ‘Freddie’ Venturoni had a car.
She sold it four years ago to get a different ride – a golf cart. She, like many residents in The Villages, can go to the movie theater, shop or visit the doctor’s office with her golf cart. But a crash in The Villages on Feb. 21 involving a golf cart resulted in two deaths and put a focus on golf cart safety in the community.
Lt. Robert Siemer is The Villages district supervisor for the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. He said, in Sumter County alone, there are about 110,000 residents and 50,000 golf carts, numbers that result in a few “normal” accidents.
Siemer said the accident on Feb 21. was unfortunate and unavoidable.
“There was nothing that could be done,” Siemer said. “The gentleman driving the car had a medical issue happen. They call it a ‘medical episode.'”
According to Siemer, the man’s SUV accelerated after his medical episode, left the roadway and hit a golf cart from behind. He said both people in the golf cart died, making that 18 golf cart-related deaths in the last eight years for The Villages.
“That is a very unusual occurrence,” he said. “That generally never happens.”
Venturoni said there was nothing that could have been done to prevent that accident.
“In that particular event, I can’t imagine any way in the world you’re going to protect yourself,” Venturoni said. “The events just happened. How can you protect yourself from, say, an act of God?”
Venturoni said she stays safe on the roads by paying attention, using her turn signals and not going out past 8 p.m.
Bill Andrews, president of Cart World Golf Cars, said that normal golf carts have two-wheel braking, turn signals, brake lights and handles on the roof but no seat belts.
Andrews said golf cart manufacturers don’t provide seat belts for a reason.
“They aren’t engineered for a rollover,” he said.
A seat belt could trap someone and result in a crushing incident, Andrews said. Seat belts are available as an aftermarket upgrade.
Both Siemer and Andrews suggest that these aftermarket seat belts be installed professionally. If installed improperly, the seat belts might be ineffective.
There are also Low-Speed Vehicles, or LSVs, Andrews said. An LSV is similar to a golf cart but is street legal, faster, and has more safety features.
“Most people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a Low Speed Vehicle and a golf car,” Andrews said.
LSVs go a couple of miles per hour faster than normal golf carts and have electric engines. Andrews said LSV roofs are stronger, and the vehicles have similar requirements to a car, such as seatbelts, four-wheel braking, turn signals, a driver’s license, license plate, and insurance.
“It’s just like having an automobile,” Siemer said.
Andrews said that most people in The Villages buy regular golf carts because the LSVs are more expensive and the buyers can save money by not having their golf carts registered. Siemer said that even though golf carts don’t require insurance, it is smart to get one insured anyway.
In addition to aftermarket seatbelts or LSVs, Siemer said that The Villages Homeowners Association, or VHA, has a golf cart safety clinic on the third Wednesday of every month and a golf cart safety video on its website.
“Slow down, take your time when you’re going somewhere, and be careful,” Siemer said.