COVINGTON - Residents could soon be allowed to drive golf carts on city streets if a new ordinance is approved.
The City Council approved Monday night the first reading of an ordinance to allow motorized carts on certain streets.
Motorized carts are defined as "an electric or gas-powered motor vehicle, having no less than three wheels and an unladen weight of 1,300 pounds or less, commonly called a golf cart, which is not designed for speeds in excess of 20 mph."
Councilman Keith Dalton suggested several months ago that the city look into developing a golf cart ordinance. The idea was first broached by Councilman Mike Whatley several years ago, but nothing ever came of it.
"I think it's one of the best improvements just to the quality of life that I've seen in Covington for a long time," Dalton said. "Everybody drives by in their cars with the windows up and the radio blaring ... this will slow the pace down so neighbors will go back to speaking to one another."
Dalton predicts giving motorists another travel option will save on gas costs and help with traffic congestion and pollution. But mainly, it's a quality of life issue, he said, adding that he knows of two elderly men who have purchased golf carts in anticipation of the ordinance passing.
"Elderly people that live in Newton County and the Covington city limits love to go to something on the Square like singing, and this is another opportunity for them to get around. Somebody that might not could afford a car could afford a golf cart," Dalton said.
Dalton's family owns a golf cart, which he said they use on a golf course.
"We love ours and would love to be able to drive to the town Square," he said.
The carts will be prohibited on sidewalks and certain heavily-traveled streets, including state roadways.
Carts will be allowed to cross state roadways at spots designated by the Georgia Department of Transportation, Dalton said.
Only people with valid driver's licenses or instruction permits can operate the vehicles.
Maps and lists of allowed and prohibited streets will be provided to registered cart owners,
All golf cart owners must register their vehicles with the Covington Police Department within 10 days after it is purchased. The Police Department will issue two numerical identification decals to the owner, which must be affixed to the sides of the cart and be fully visible during operation.
The department will also maintain records of the ID number and name and address of the owner.
A state-mandated $15 registration fee will be charged.
The exhaust system of every registered cart must be inspected by an approved inspector from a list maintained by the Police Department.
Dalton said all carts will be required to have windshields, lights, a working horn and turn signals.
The expectation is that cart drivers will remain to the side to let regular traffic pass, Dalton said.
"I would think that common sense would prevail and they wouldn't be running in the middle of the lane," he said.
The carts can only be operated on streets with signage authorizing operation as required by state law.
Signs will be erected on a case-by-case basis when requested by a resident and approved by the City Council, said City Manager Steve Horton.
If the final reading of the ordinance is approved, "That doesn't mean that everyone goes out on their streets. We're not going to put posted signs on every street," he said. "We will vote on specific streets and put up signs at that time."
Horton said each sign will cost approximately $56 "plus change."
"You can multiply that by as many as it takes," he said.
"I couldn't tell you if we're going to need 100, or 1,000 or 10,000," he said.
Councilman John Howard was the only council member to oppose the motion to approve the first reading, due to the unknown cost of signage.
"I think the cost to put in those signs, even later on, could be prohibitive," he said. "It could cost the city $100,000 just to put signs up. That is taxpayer money, and I think they want to know how much it's going to be."
The final reading of the ordinance is set for the council's next meeting, at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 3 at City Hall on 2194 Emory St.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.