The galloping golf cart that got away

A Particular Golf Course was a unique golf layout for Southern California.   The overall design of the course concentrated on preserving the natural vegetation, dry streams, and boulder outcroppings throughout the property.   Remarkable changes in elevation, majestic views, and a challenging golf course layout designed by a famous architect impressed golfers at any skill level.    An aerial view of the golf course showed a series of dry rocky canyons punctuated by pools of grassy fairways and greens.   On a fine July day, a golfer was operating a golf cart on the golf cart path at that particular golf course

He was descending a portion of the golf cart path near the tees for the ninth hole; and as he did so he lost control of the cart.   The cart went over the left curb of the golf cart path, down into a steep canyon, bouncing over sand and rocks, and ultimately stopped by striking a boulder. The golfer was injured.

GEI was assigned to examine the site and golf cart in question, to evaluate the safety factors of the site and determine if the golf cart brakes were properly functional. Our expert, a seasoned mechanical engineer, examined the site of the accident and interviewed the golf course manager. The manager reported that the golfer had proceeded down the steep grade near the ninth hole upper tees, lost control, and exited the golf cart path between the lower two tees. He descended down the rough canyon and struck a boulder at the bottom of the canyon.

Our expert measured the length of the golf cart path and also its steepness. The golf cart path for the most part had a slope of as much as 28 percent (a rise of 28 feet over a horizontal distance of 100 feet). A sign at the top of the slope stated “Caution Steep Grade”.   The expert reviewed the signage present with the requirements as stated by the ANSI Z130.1 paragraph 5.2.1 which stated that the warning sign at steep grades should state “warning steep grade descend slowly with one foot on the brake.”   The additional statement directing the golf cart operators with specific instructions would have been more desirable than simply describing the hazard.

Our expert removed the brake drum on the right rear wheel and examined the brake assembly.   He found the brake drum and shoes in good condition and all appeared normal.   Although the cotter pin was missing from the castellated nut retaining the brake drum, he did not find any signs that the brakes had been disturbed in the recent past. After reassembling the right rear brake drum and wheel, he examined the left brake assembly.   He noted immediately that the adjuster return spring appeared to be modified in that the end connection of the spring which attached to the brake shoe was different from the same attachment as found on the right brake.   It appeared that the spring on the left wheel had been modified at some point in time rather than being replaced.

He then reviewed a report by another company, which essentially stated their examination indicated that the adjustments on both brakes had been tampered with since the accident and therefore the evidence was spoliated.   They did not, however, indicate that the adjustment spring on the left wheel had been modified. They further reported the grade at the site of the accident was approximately 20 percent to a maximum slope of 28 percent.   They did not report the requirements for signage as outlined in the ANSI Z 130.1 standard.

Our expert came to the following conclusions. The left rear brake assembly has an improper adjuster spring, which apparently has been modified. This modified adjuster spring, however, was still functional.   The right rear brake assembly spring was not modified and was also still functional. Contrary to the other report, there was no conclusive evidence that brake adjustments had been manually performed after the accident.   The brake linings and drums were in good condition and the brakes were in adjustment at the time of our examination. Had the brakes been out of adjustment before the accident, the golfer would have experienced “unwanted acceleration” at several of the steep declines on the holes that lead up to the 9th fairway.

The warning at the top of the grade where the golfer began his descent did not meet the requirements of ANSI Z130.1.   The warning should have directed the operator to descend slowly with “one foot on the brake”. While the signage was wanting, the experience of the ups and downs of the golf course path on the first 8 holes would have taught a prudent driver to exercise caution. Mechanically, the golf cart was functional.

The conclusion was that the spectacular views had distracted the golfer’s attention, and he simply drove off the path