Who ever heard of a golf cart crash?

Apparently there are enough of them that they have become a concern. In fact, golf carts are becoming a popular means of transportation away from golf courses, and new research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for Injury Sciences says injuries associated with their use may be under-appreciated, suggesting the need for the implementation of new safety measures.

In findings published in the June issue of the Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection and Critical Care, UAB researchers found that there were more than 48,255 golf-cart related injuries between 2002 and 2005, with the highest injury rates observed in males 10-19 years old and those over 80.

"Golf carts are becoming a popular way to get around in some neighborhoods, particularly for adolescents and teenagers who cannot yet drive a car," said Gerald McGwin, Ph.D., associate director for research at the Center for Injury Sciences and professor of epidemiology. "A lot of people perceive golf carts as little more than toys, but our findings suggest they can be quite dangerous, especially when used on public roads."

McGwin says fractures and head trauma are among the most common injuries associated with golf cart-related accidents.

"Some communities encourage golf cart use as a primary means of transportation because of their low emissions, quiet operation and presumed safety," McGwin said. "There is little federal regulation and most states do not require operators to be of a certain age, use any sort of safety equipment, or obtain an operators license."

McGwin suggests that safety standards are needed that manufacturers and sellers of golf carts should be required to include safety education materials at the time of sale.

Due to the high risk of rollover and ejection, the use of helmets and seatbelts is recommended, particularly if the golf cart is driven on public roads. And McGwin suggests that developers should reevaluate the design of golf cart paths, addressing gradient, sharpness of curves and proximity to other hazards.

"Golf carts are an attractive transportation solution due to their low emissions and cost effectiveness when compared to traditional motor vehicles," McGwin said. "But more stringent safety standards should be applied to the design and use of golf carts, particularly those operated on public roads."