More than five years ago, student enrollment at USF topped 30,000. Even then, golf cart accidents, vandalism and discarded carts were becoming a problem. To ensure safety between students and cart operators, a training program was implemented to make sure cart safety regulations were met.
Five years later, and with more than 40,000 students enrolled at USF, the results of the cart safety policy are evident.
“Since the university has gotten denser, safety (has become) a requirement,” said Cliff Knox, director of the Department of Environmental Health, Safety and Risk. “We’ve had accidents where (carts) have run over staff and students and we’ve also had cart-on-car accidents. Last year, a cart collided with a car on Holly and Magnolia. Luckily, the driver and passenger suffered just a few scratches. The cart was destroyed.”
Knox said he was asked to develop a plan to increase cart safety at USF due to the university’s increased enrollment as well as irreparable carts.
“Old golf carts were (also) part of the problem,” said Frank Granda, operations coordinator for parking services. “The policy has reduced the number of carts on campus.”
The Center for Urban Transportation Research, in conjunction with Knox, formulated a new policy regarding the rules and regulations of golf carts on campus. The policy came into effect in November 1999 and also provided a training video found on the USF Web site.
“It was a joint effort and we couldn’t have done it without them,” Knox said. “Their server hosts the site of the video.”
As of now, there are 400 carts at USF. The cost for each cart is between $3,500 and $4,500 on state contracts.
Knox said each department’s budget pays for the carts. Department personnel ensure drivers have passed all qualifications by making the drivers’ signatures mandatory after viewing the online safety video. And even after potential drivers electronically sign their names, faculty supervisors make sure drivers have met the legal requirements.
The policy states that all faculty and staff who operate a golf cart on USF campus properties are required to view the USF Cart Safety Training Video and, upon completion of the training video, submit their signature to the USF Department of Environmental Health and Safety Office of Risk Management to receive a Cart Safety Training Certification of Participation.
Although low speed vehicles are mentioned in the training program, Knox said there is only one low speed vehicle on campus and it is governed by state and federal policy.
The differences between golf carts and low speed vehicles are speed and equipment. Low speed vehicles for personal travel can reach speeds of up to 25 mph and are allowed on the street as long as its speed does not exceed 35 mph.
“Federal legislation made it legal for low speed vehicles to have turn signals, have a three-point seatbelt and are designed for impact,” Knox said.Personally owned carts are prohibited from operating on university property. However, special considerations are given to Americans with Disabilities Act accommodations.
All cart operators must possess a valid Florida driver’s license and know and adhere to the State of Florida motor vehicle laws.
Also in the policy, all carts must meet the minimum safety features found in National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration and Standard 500 guidelines. All cart operators must be employed by USF and the carts are to be used for business-related purposes such as maintenance and faculty transportation. The carts may operate on university roadways but must adhere to posted speed limits. Carts are prohibited from operating on campus roadways except when crossing from one side of the street to the other or when utilizing a roadway where no sidewalk exists. And in most cases, sidewalks are to be used while right-of-way is to be rendered to all pedestrians.
The speed limits for golf carts off standard roadways is 15 mph and are to be used only for university business purposes.
“Students ask us for rides but we can’t give rides because of insurance purposes,” Granda said. “When we give someone a ride, we’re responsible for their personal safety.”
One exception regarding student rides is the Safe and Free Escort program which began in 1976 as a small group of USF student volunteers. The program is an on-campus escort program that provides students with a safer option than walking alone during night hours. The S.A.F.E. Team operates seven days a week from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. and is run through Student Government. However, SG has other carts it uses.
David Armstrong, SG business manager, said the carts can cut up to 10 minutes from one area of the university to the other three-quarters, such as a trip from the Marshall Center to the Sun Dome. He also said all cart problems are handled by the USF Physical Plant, including gasoline, cart towing and general maintenance.
“(SG) has just two carts and those are used when SG leaders have meetings,” Armstrong said. “We budgeted $14,000 for maintenance on our cart fleet and $5,000 in gasoline.”
And though gas-powered carts are the norm at USF, electric carts are also used.
According to the USF Cart Safety Training Program, the electricity-powered vehicles offer reduction in noise and air pollution, as well as assist faculty and staff travel throughout the university as long as the battery is fully charged.
“A fully-charged electric golf cart in good working order should last about eight hours,” Granda said. “Golf carts that are maintained on a routine basis experience very little down time. It’s been my observation when dealing with electric carts that the [main] problem usually is the last driver to use the cart forgets to plug it in for overnight charging or nobody checks the batteries to maintain the fluid levels for proper charging.”
Since the policy’s inception, cart accidents have declined. On average, there is only one accident reported per month, and one cart is reported stolen or damaged every two months. Cart operators are responsible for locking the carts and they must report any accidents to the University Police (UP) and to the operator’s supervisor.
“Most problems that happen now are minor vandalism (such as) egging and, on a more serious note, [sometimes] air gets poked out of the tire,” Granda said.