Golf carts now must have headlights, taillights, turn signals and other state-mandated safety features in order to be legally driven on Upper Arlington streets, but exceptions will be granted for five days on and around Independence Day.

Upper Arlington City Council on June 10 unanimously approved new rules for operating golf carts on city streets. It was a move to enhance safety, council members said.

But exceptions were made for July 4, as well as two days before and two days after the holiday.

Under the new law, which was approved by emergency and went into effect immediately, any golf cart driven on Upper Arlington streets must be registered and titled with the state and pass a safety inspection.

In accordance with state standards, the carts also must have windshields, rear-view mirrors, roadworthy tires, braking systems, headlights, brake lights, turn signals and taillights.

Additionally, council members took the city's rules further than the state by requiring that carts must have seat belts for each designated seat in the "under-speed vehicles."

Council also added a provision dictating that golf carts may be driven only on streets with posted speed limits of 25 mph or less.

Council members said they were excusing the registration, title and safety obligations for those five days, in part, because the Upper Arlington Civic Association uses golf carts when setting up and tearing down stages of the holiday celebration. The carts also have become popular rentals during that week. Rentals typically don't come equipped with the necessary safety features.

"We are not relaxing safety during that (exemption) time," city attorney Jeanine Hummer said. "I think your actions here today are going to make a safer environment for the community during the Fourth of July because your law-enforcement entity has a road map for what to do."

Hummer said during the exemption period, drivers of golf carts still will be subject to the city's traffic laws.

“We believe under our home-rule authority, the city is permitted to have an exception to their own ordinance,” she said.

Dominic A. Binckley, public-information officer for the Ohio Attorney General's Office, said he couldn't answer ThisWeek's questions regarding a municipality’s authority without knowing specifics.

"Our expert on the subject tells me there are a lot of variables at play when it comes to home rule, so it’s hard to make a general statement about how the ORC applies without knowing all the facts of a situation and the local laws involved," he said.

When asked about Upper Arlington's new rules specifically, he replied, "That would require a legal interpretation regarding a situation that our office could potentially get involved in. The best I can do is suggest you reach out to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles through the Department of Public Safety to see if they can offer any guidance. "

Lindsey Bohrer, assistant director of communications for the Ohio Department of Public Safety, said she would prefer to not "get into what is compliant vs. noncompliant" but referred to state law.

"I know that, per (Ohio Revised Code) Section 4511.215, municipalities can pass ordinances and resolutions that would allow the use of under-speed vehicles," Bohrer said. "The municipality would have to meet the requirements set forth in Section 4511.215, however."

Under ORC Section 4511.215, titled "Local authorization for operation of low-speed, under-speed, or utility vehicle, or a mini-truck," a local authority that authorizes the operation of such vehicles "shall do all of the following:"

* Limit the operation of those vehicles to streets and highways having an established speed limit of 35 mph

* Require the vehicle owner who wants to operate such a vehicle on public streets or highways to submit the vehicle to an inspection conducted by a local law-enforcement agency that complies with inspection requirements established by the department of public safety under Section 4513.02 of the Ohio Revised Code

* Permit the operation on public streets or highways of only those vehicles that successfully pass the required vehicle inspection, are registered in accordance with Chapter 4503 of the Ohio Revised Code and are titled in accordance with Chapter 4505

* Notify the director of public safety, in a manner the director determines, of the authorization for the operation of such vehicles

Under this law, a local authority "may establish additional requirements" for the operation of such vehicles on its streets and highways.

City officials said in recent years, the city and police force largely have turned a blind eye to the use and regulation of golf carts during the July 4 week because of their popularity and that previous councils failed to reach a consensus on how to deal with them.

Police Chief Steve Farmer said council's action provides clarity for officers.

"We do want clear guidance from council," Farmer said before the ordinance was approved. "Our goal is to provide a safe environment every day of the year.

"We're going to enforce moving violations, absolutely. We will make sure people are operating them safely whether the equipment is there or not."

Council Vice President Brendan King had sought to reduce the exemption period from five days to three, a proposal that was supported by members Michele Hoyle and Sue Ralph.

However, Council President Kip Greenhill and members Carolyn Casper, Brian Close and Jim Lynch voted for the five-day exemption.

ThisWeek assistant managing editor Scott Hummel contributed to this story.

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