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C. C. of Cedar Key writes: “I fell behind on my child support payments and the State of Florida’s Department of Revenue suspended my driver’s license. It’s going to take me a month or so before I’ll be able to get it back. I can still drive my Golf Cart around the city of Cedar Key, can’t I?”
Dear C. C.,
Sorry, C.C., I’m afraid the answer to that question is NO, you can’t, even if it’s a “street legal” Golf Cart. You ask an interesting question, though, from several points of view. First, it’s important for you and all readers to know that the State of Florida and the United States Government, as well as most, if not all, of the other states in the country, are coming down hard on parents who are delinquent in child support payments, especially if moneys are owed to the state government, as distinguished from an ex-spouse. That situation occurs when an ex-spouse receives some kind of benefit from the state government, such as food stamps or Medicaid. Then it is the state wanting its money back. The money goes to the State, not the other parent.
The IRS will divert income tax refunds, the Social Security Administration will reduce benefit payments, and many states, including Florida, will suspend driver’s licenses if child support payments are not made. I don’t know what happened to you, but I would strongly suggest to you and other readers that if you ever get another notice telling you that your license will be suspended if child support payments are not made, and giving you an opportunity to appear in court to explain why that should not occur, that you make SURE you attend the hearing, especially if you can’t make the payments.
Courts will usually not find you in contempt if the reason you didn’t make payments was because you didn’t have the ability to pay, due to no fault of yours. So go to court and ask for mercy.
Judges and hearings officers are usually merciful if you have a good explanation as to why you fell behind and you probably won’t lose your license provided you do the best you can to pay. At the very least, the amount due can be reduced, but not eliminated, on a temporary basis.
Next, your question about Golf Carts is interesting because there was a time, not long ago, when Golf Carts were not considered motor vehicles at all. However, the Florida State Legislature acted and declared in Chapter 316.212 that Golf Carts ARE motor vehicles, which is why you can’t operate one without a valid driver’s license.
The next interesting issue concerns the difference between a battery powered Golf Cart, a gas powered Golf Cart and a LSV, which stands for “Low Speed Vehicle.” Virgil Sanderlin, chief of the Cedar Key Police Department, advises that only LSVs are allowed to operate on a public highway such as State Road 24.
An LSV must have a license plate issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles and meet many other safety standards. Either a gas powered Golf Cart or a battery-powered Golf Cart can be registered as an LSV, if properly equipped. Anyone wishing to have a Golf Cart converted to a “street legal” LSV may see Chief Sanderlin for the necessary form.
By definition, a “Low Speed Vehicle” cannot go faster than 25 miles per hour.
So, even if you have a gas powered Golf Cart, which goes faster than a battery powered one, you can’t drive a Golf Cart ON State Road 24 unless it is registered as an LSV, but you can drive ACROSS State Road 24 and around the streets of Cedar Key in a Golf Cart, provided you have a valid driver’s license.
Furthermore, and I did not know this until Chief Sanderlin told me about it, there is not only a State law against driving a golf cart without a valid driver’s license, there is also a City Ordinance, number 6.00.03(h) which prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle by anyone whose license has been suspended in this or any other state in the country.
And finally, keep in mind that since a Golf Cart is a motor vehicle, nobody can drive one on a public road if he or she has had too much to drink.
I hope I have answered your question, C.C., even though it wasn’t the answer you were looking for.
Any readers with specific legal questions for this “Ask a Lawyer” column are invited to submit those questions to the Editor of this newspaper, who will pass it along to me. If you need assistance with a consumer matter, such as an unfair and deceptive collection practice, or garnishment of wages, a mortgage foreclosure or other such things, and you cannot afford an attorney, call the Legal Services office closest to you, which provides free legal assistance to qualified individuals, or call the Florida Bar Referral service at 1-800-342-8011.
I wish you good luck in obtaining access to our legal system, no matter what your income and asset level might be.
The foregoing was written by attorney Pierce Kelley, who is a member of the Florida Bar Association. The contents reflect his personal opinions and beliefs.