Carts on the beat

A Missouri police chief, Rickey Jones, recently surprised a drug dealer in the middle of a deal. The really surprising part was how Jones arrived at the scene: rather than screeching to a halt in a squad car, he approached, almost silently, in an electric golf cart.

When the suspect sped away in a car, Jones could not give chase: the cart struggled to go faster than 30kph. Instead, he radioed a colleague in a more traditional police vehicle who intercepted the fleeing car some distance away.

Before long the canvas-covered, open-sided carts may be less of a surprise on the streets. Under pressure from rising fuel prices, towns across the United States are passing bylaws to permit the use of golf carts on their streets as an alternative to cars.

“You can definitely save on fuel — my cart’s electric, but even the ones that run on fuel hardly use any of it,” said Paul Heideman, mayor of Ashkum, a town in rural Illinois.

Numerous other towns in Illinois, Indiana and North Carolina have implemented similar regulations or are considering them.

And in several places where the carts are an increasingly common sight, another benefit is becoming clear: with no windows or doors to separate drivers from one another, or from pedestrians, the texture of daily life is changing.

“It leads to a friendlier atmosphere,” Heideman said.

A few hours away in the small town of Cerro Gordo, golf carts will become lawful street vehicles thanks in part to the campaigning efforts of Shamarie Allen and her husband, who run a golf-cart customisation business.

But golf carts have a serious image problem: many associate them with old age and pensioners. With the help of Allen’s company, LG Custom Carts, however, carts can be kitted out with chrome wheels, leather seats and high-end gadgetry.

Despite the potential for savings on fuel, the carts may not be an ideal solution for those worst hit by the economic downturn: a basic vehicle costs about $2 000 (about R17 700). And the danger of injury or death, especially in the event of a collision with a car or truck, is high.

Despite its limitations, though, Jones said they had transformed the job of policing Pine Lawn.

“Now people can talk to them [officers] more easily,” he said. —

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Oliver Burkeman
Guest Author

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