OKEECHOBEE — Recently, residents of Lazy Seven and other communities around Okeechobee may have noticed a crack down on the use of golf carts and four wheelers on the streets. According to Sheriff Noel E. Stephen, riding on public streets is illegal. This is not something the sheriff’s office concentrates on until they start getting complaints.
The sheriff said, “Living in a rural area has some tremendous advantages. Sadly, with those advantages, there are times when others' actions force stricter enforcement of some regulations that, in most other cases, can be addressed leniently with discretion.
“Our communications center has seen an increase in U.T.V. (utility terrain vehicle, also called side-by-side), golf cart, mini-bike, go-cart, and ATV (all terrain vehicle) complaints regarding driving recklessly through neighborhoods. These complaints, combined with several accidents our community has witnessed involving severe injury or death lately, involving our young people not supervised or not wearing mandated safety gear, have forced us to stop the leniency.”
Beginning in August, all uniformed patrol, even those in unmarked patrol vehicles from the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office, became actively involved in Operation Ride Right.
Operation Ride-Right targets UTV, golf cart, mini-bike, go-cart, and ATV complaints through neighborhoods or on public roadways.
“We hope that through education and strict enforcement, we send a message to the young people and parents to take responsibility and use caution by following the law when operating these vehicles. Civil or criminal infractions, including impounding vehicles, may result from your actions should you violate the laws governing these vehicles and their use.”
The sheriff said he was getting so many complaints; he knew they had to crack down on it. “We’re dealing with kids romping and raring, doing donuts and driving through ditches. When I go out there, I find a half dozen other people, and they are riding good, not causing any trouble. It’s still illegal for them to be riding.” He said he tries to be understanding. “It’s getting the kids outside, going fishing, stuff like that, but just like the Prairie, I can’t continue to get complaints. I cannot identify the ones being complained about because there are so many people riding around. This means I’ve got to stop it all until it gets back under control.”
Of the complaints on Facebook, he said, “When the enforcer must enforce, they end up being the bad guy, so right now, I’m the bad guy. Everybody’s mad at me. They tell me to go deal with speeders, burglars, thieves. Yes, I’ve got real cop work that I need to do, but sadly because of the neighbors' complaints, I can’t do that work because I’m sending an officer every hour out to Lazy Seven, R Bar Estates, Four Seasons because of a reckless golfcart, motorcycle or side by side.”
He said if people want to make it legal to ride in the areas, they can approach the county commission and ask to be made a golfcart community. “Until then, those riding on the road have been getting warning citations. If they are caught again, they will get a regular citation and their golfcart or side by side will be towed.”
The Florida statute regarding golfcarts on roadways reads, “The operation of a golf cart upon the public roads or streets of this state is prohibited except as provided herein:
"1) A golf cart may be operated only upon a county road that has been designated by a county, a municipal street that has been designated by a municipality or a two-lane county road located within the jurisdiction of a municipality designated by that municipality for use by golf carts.
"Prior to making such a designation, the responsible local governmental entity must first determine that golf carts may safely travel on or cross the public road or street considering factors including the speed, volume and character of motor vehicle traffic using the road or street. Upon a determination that golf carts maybe safely operated on a designated road or street, the responsible governmental entity shall post appropriate signs to indicate that such operation is allowed.”
In short, the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office would like to remind Okeechobee residents and visitors that the use of a golf cart, even one that has been certified and licensed as an LSV (low speed vehicle) is not permitted on any public roadways within Okeechobee County as there are no public roadways that have been given this designation.
If you have any questions or concerns please contact community relations Cpl. Jack Nash at 863-763-3117 ext 5018 or visit the Okeechobee County Sheriff's Office at 504 NW 4th street in downtown Okeechobee.