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Street Legal Golf Carts

Are golf carts street legal in California? The answer to that question is complicated since there are many versions of what some describe as a “golf cart” including Low-Speed Vehicles, Neighborhood Electric Vehicles, and “luxury golf carts”.

The short answer is that a golf cart can be considered street-legal if it has been built or modified to comply with both federal law and state law. Some of these vehicles can never qualify, or can’t qualify without being modified.

Street Legal Golf Carts

Operating a street-legal golf cart in California may require you to register the cart, carry insurance, and obey all traffic laws as per any other driver on the road, but there are some extra considerations for these vehicle types you should consider before hitting the road.

Traditional Golf Cart Rules In California

A “traditional” golf cart is defined under state law as, “a motor vehicle designed to carry golf equipment and not more than two persons, including the driver” and must have at least three wheels. These vehicles typically must operate at 15mph or slower and they are exempt from State of California registration requirements according to the California DMV official site at press time.

Such vehicles are not street legal without being extensively modified to include safety equipment, lights, mirrors, etc. These modifications must include, but are not limited to:

  • A horn
  • One headlight minimum
  • One tail light minimum
  • Front and rear turn signals
  • Front and side reflectors
  • Rear reflector
  • A rear-view mirror that shows 200 feet to the rear
  • Fenders
  • A windshield made of safety glass and windshield wipers

Any traditional golf cart that exceeds or is modified to exceed the specs above may be a registration-required vehicle. If you modify the features of the golf cart to exceed speeds of 15mph, for example, you would be required to register the vehicle at the DMV. A street-legal, street-ready golf cart would need to be registered.

California Neighborhood Electric Vehicle Rules

Some California cities and counties define Neighborhood Electric Vehicles and Low-Speed Electric Vehicles in the same way. California Vehicle Code Section 21250-21266 states this:

“…a low-speed vehicle means a vehicle as defined in Section 385.5. A ‘low-speed vehicle’ is also known as a ‘neighborhood electric vehicle.’”

In the same section we learn that a low-speed vehicle is essentially subject to all the same requirements of any other motor vehicle operating on California highways. Retailers selling these vehicles are required to provide disclosures to consumers explaining how the vehicle is in compliance with current law.

In general, these vehicles are restricted by law from operating on a roadway at speeds above 35mph. Many of these vehicles are sold with maximum speeds below this, but such vehicles may be modifiable using after-market kits to enhance their speed, hence the 35mph rule.

California Low-Speed Electric Vehicle Rules

All Low-Speed Electric Vehicles in California must comply with street-legal requirements. Those are not limited to safety gear, turn signals, fenders, and a proper windshield. These vehicles also require a VIN number, a parking brake and other features.

You are required to register the vehicle and carry driver’s license/insurance information the same as with any other street-legal vehicle.

Some of these vehicles look far less like golf carts in some cases, and more like minivans or delivery vans instead. Others are far closer to the golf cart you might use on the back nine at your favorite golf course, but are fully equipped to be driven on the street.

Some Low-Speed Electric Vehicles have higher maximum speeds and longer ranges. Some models can travel between 30 and 50 miles on a single charge.

What To Know About Street Legal Golf Carts In California

California state law is clear; a golf cart or similar vehicle that meets state requirements may be operated as a street legal vehicle. But that permission, under state law, does not automatically mean you can operate a street-legal Low-Speed Electric Vehicle anywhere in the state you choose. Some cities and counties have their own requirements which meet or exceed California DMV regulations.

This is possible due to state law which informs drivers, “…local authorities, by ordinance or resolution, may restrict or prohibit the use of low-speed vehicles.”

California Vehicle Code has also included provisions stating local law enforcement may “prohibit the operation of a low-speed vehicle on any roadway under that agency’s or department’s jurisdiction when the agency or the department deems the prohibition to be in the best interest of public safety.”

Do California cities and counties bother to pass laws that have higher requirements than the state? Yes. The City of Long Beach, for example, has a list of local roadways that are forbidden to golf cart/NEV/LSVs.

Some restrictions are based on the upper speed limit of the roadway while others may limit specific streets or intersections where you can travel if there are unregulated four-way stops or similar configurations in the area.

Many parts of California are now including formal electric vehicle plans in their agendas, and those agendas govern everything from charging stations to speed limits.

NSV/LSV California Minimum Age

There are age requirements for street-legal golf carts, LSVs, and NEVs. Any vehicle that is deemed street-legal can only be operated by licensed drivers and must be insured and registered with the DMV. Therefore in California the minimum age for operation of Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEV) or Low-Speed Vehicle (LSV) is 16 years old.

 California Vehicle Code Penalties for Violations:

  • An unlicensed juvenile could be cited and can result in the DMV postponing issuing them a valid license until the age of 18 (12500(a) CVC)
  • Parents can be cited for a misdemeanor for allowing their unlicensed child to drive a on a public roadway, Knowingly Allowing Unlicensed Driver to Drive Vehicle (14604(a) CVC)

Buying A Street-Legal Golf Cart In California

Why the surge in interest in electric vehicles like golf carts and LSVs? Because the State of California has pledged to move away from fossil-fuel vehicles in favor of zero-emission alternatives like NEVs. The state plans to eliminate sales of new fossil-fuel-powered vehicles by 2035. All new vehicle sales in 2035 must be zero-emission and meet state requirements.

If you aren’t sure about the specs, features, or range of an electric vehicle you are thinking of purchasing, it is a smart idea to compare local LSV and NEV dealers to see who is the most transparent, who offers the best terms, and who can answer your questions about the future of local travel within the state.

California Street Legal Golf Cart/LSV/NSV Manufacturers

Note: Not all models of these manufacturers are street legal.

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Joe Wallace
Joe Wallace has been covering real estate, mortgage and financial topics since 1995. His work has appeared on ABC, USA Today, The Pentagon Channel, plus a variety of print and online publications. He is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News.