Golf carts are oddly popular — and street legal — in this Lake Michigan beach town

LUDINGTON, MI — They’re not fast. They are not allowed on all roads. They cannot be driven at night. But golf carts offer something to residents of a northern Michigan beach town that makes them hugely popular.

The town of Ludington, with a population of approximately 7,700, has approximately 350 registered golf carts.

“When you want to go to the beach or downtown or visit a friend, it’s much easier and cheaper to have a golf cart,” City Manager Mitch Foster said.

The little runners are ideal as a second or third vehicle in Ludington because they can reach just about any destination within the city limits, he said.

Foster, an avid cyclist, is using a borrowed golf cart to commute to work this summer while recovering from surgery.

“I love riding my bike year-round to work, but the golf cart is really nice,” Foster said. “I have two kids and being able to take them in the golf cart is a lot easier.”

In 2015, Ludington was one of the first to allow golf carts to travel around town. A 2014 law allows local municipalities with a population of 30,000 or less to decide whether to allow golf carts on local roads. More than two dozen Michigan communities voted to allow it.

MLive checked in with some popular Lake Michigan resort towns that have large retirement-age populations to get their opinion on golf carts. Of those who responded, Ludington is the only one with a golf cart ordinance. City managers in Traverse City and Saugatuck said they hadn’t garnered interest from residents.

However, about an hour north of Ludington on scenic M-22, Frankfort is considering allowing golf carts. City Council voted 3 to 2 on Tuesday August 16 to move forward with drafting an ordinance.

The vote was a preliminary measure to see if the council would be in favor before spending money on a lawyer, said Mayor JoAnn Holwerda, who voted in favor. Golf carts will not be allowed on the roads until the end of September at the earliest, provided the council approves the ordinance, she said.

Council began looking into the matter at the request of a resident, but it’s not the first time it’s come up, Holerda said. However, it had never been voted on before.

Concerns include road safety and parking during Frankfurt’s busy summer tourist season, she said.

In Ludington, Police Captain Steve Wietrzykowski remembers only one golf cart accident in seven years. It was a reversal involving teenagers.

“Other than that, it’s been pretty harmless,” he said. He described golf carts as “low impact” on law enforcement. One of the most recent issues has been complaints about shopping carts driving around the municipal marina lawn, he added. No one was caught.

Under state law, the driver of a golf cart must be at least 16 years old and have a driver’s license, follow traffic lights, drive only during the day, drive sideways straight of the road, do not exceed 15 mph and drive on roads with speed limits of 30 mph or less except when crossing the street. Golf carts are exempt from the insurance code; insurance, like a car, is not required under state law.

Using a national highway – such as US 10 in Ludington and M-22 in Frankfort – in a golf cart is illegal, except where the local government obtains approval from the Michigan Department of Transportation . Operating on main lines was completely prohibited before a 2018 law.

Michigan State Police did not respond to a request for the type of citation that would be issued for illegally driving a golf cart on mainlines in the state.

More than two dozen communities have passed a golf cart ordinance. However, it can be difficult to track because cities that do so aren’t required to report it to a statewide watchdog group. The Michigan Municipal League has compiled the following list, but there are almost certainly more:

  • Albion
  • Algonac
  • birmingham
  • Burton
  • Coloma
  • Elsie
  • Gibraltar
  • Harrisson
  • Homer
  • Lake Isabella
  • Ludington
  • marine city
  • Memphis
  • Milford
  • Millington
  • Morenci
  • New Baltimore
  • North Muskegon
  • Lake Orchard
  • owosso
  • Pear
  • pewamo
  • richmond
  • Sebewaing
  • Sturgis
  • Swartz Creek
  • Watervliet

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