Next to the lighthouse motif, the golf cart may be the most enduring icon of Key Biscayne, with the small vehicles getting their own preferred parking spaces and pathways. But child drivers have never been lawful. A new law voted into place Tuesday is aimed at giving police more ways of stopping kids from driving them.
Paradoxically, the ordinance now allows police to be more lenient with offenders as a way to increase compliance, despite misgivings from Village Council members who have complained that a series of crackdowns over the years has not lessened the problem.
“We don’t want to give them the iron fist, we want to give them the opportunity to curb their behavior,” said Police Chief Frank Sousa. The new law gives police the option of using a Village fine instead of the harsher State violation.
The approach may be counterintuitive, but it’s a case of less is more, Sousa said, who worked with Village Attorney Chad Friedman in drafting the ordinance. He said after discussing the issue with officers, he learned there was a reluctance to cite the State law, because failing to pay the fine timely carries an additional penalty: ineligibility for a learner’s permit until age 18.
“There’s also a lot of hesitancy for some of these kids to go home and tell their parents hey, the cop stopped and wrote me a ticket. And then 30 days later, they get issued an ID number and it’s suspended. And they can’t get a driver’s license till they’re 18,” he told the Council.
In the 14 week period from Dec. 23 to March 30, police conducted 98 golf cart stops, of which 20 involved juveniles, Sousa said. Officers wrote 15 citations and 83 warnings.
The new ordinance, which went into effect on passage, carries a $75 dollar fine for a first violation and a $175 penalty for a second, and still leaves officers the option of citing a violation of the stricter State law.
Council Member Allison McCormick was skeptical, saying she has been a proponent of stricter regulation when it comes to golf carts. But she was willing to give Sousa’s approach a try.
“We have had many times the case in this community where the parents are giving them the keys, because it’s more convenient. And I think that’s a really big deal and incredibly unsafe,” she said. “What you’re telling us, is that this is the tool that you and your officers need to handle this situation,” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” the chief replied. “I’m all for the enforcement aspect, but I also want to collaborate with the youth to allow them to understand. I think a lot of it is miseducation,” adding that Village parents are not giving children proper guidance.
Several council members said they weren’t finished making changes to the law, especially rules covering limited use on Crandon Blvd. Council Member Ignacio Segurola predicted that without those additional changes, the new ordinance would not result in real change. He moved to ban nighttime operation of golf carts, but his proposal died for lack of a second.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.