Fractures to traumatic brain injuries: Golf cart-related injuries on the rise in Northeast Florida

Nocatee teen applauds new Florida law, urges caution after golf cart crash.

On the afternoon of February 1, 2023, Ali Colteryahn attended a meeting at school about an upcoming class trip to Washington, D.C., before hopping on her family’s golf cart and driving to a nearby grocery store for a snack.

That’s the only memory the 14-year-old Nocatee resident has from that day. Ali was just a few minutes from home when a car crashed into the golf cart. Her mom, Michele Colteryahn, received a call from the teen’s cell phone shortly after.

“There was screaming and crying on the other end, but it wasn’t Ali. It was other people who were at the scene, and they told me I needed to get there right away,” Michele said.

The golf cart was destroyed and Ali was lying unconscious in the street about 12 feet from the cart. Soon after, first responders were on the scene and Ali was airlifted to the Porter Family Children’s Trauma Center at Wolfson Children's Hospital.

The Level I Pediatric Trauma Center team was awaiting her arrival and rushed her to a CT scan. Ali remained unresponsive and was placed on a ventilator. Her skull was fractured and she had a subdural hematoma, or bleeding on the brain.

“We watched the bleed, but it showed evidence that it was getting bigger, so we knew she needed major brain surgery to remove it,” said Philipp Aldana, MD, chief of pediatric neurosurgery and co-medical director of the Stys Neuroscience Institute at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, who performed Ali’s craniotomy.

The next thing Ali remembers is waking up in the hospital.

“I briefly remember eating a popsicle in the room. I was asking what had happened and I was really confused,” Ali said.

Injuries on the rise

Patients admitted to Wolfson Children’s for injuries from golf cart crashes have increased more than 50% since 2020. Injuries can range from traumatic brain injuries and fractures to concussions and broken bones, among others.

“Golf cart accidents can result in serious injuries to kids. Compared to adults, who tend to keep golf carts on the course and pay closer attention to traffic laws, children involved in golf cart accidents are more likely to be injured at home or on the road. Adolescents are also more likely to be ejected from the golf cart when hit by a car,” said John Draus, MD, medical director of the Porter Family Children’s Trauma Center and chief of Pediatric Surgery for Nemours Children’s Health.

“Unfortunately, we see a range of injuries in kids of all ages. Head injuries and fractures are common. Young children are more likely to sustain traumatic brain injuries and fractures of the skull, face and/or neck. Older kids and teens are more likely to have arm or leg fractures.”

Moving forward, Dr. Draus hopes a recent law signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, which prohibits anyone without a driver’s license from operating a golf cart, will help lead to fewer injuries among kids and teens.

It’s a change Ali agrees with.

“I personally think that to be able to drive a golf cart now, you should have to have a driver's license, just for safety reasons,” she said.

A new perspective

Ali left Wolfson Children’s after eight days that included a stay in the Neuro-Intensive Care Unit and inpatient physical and occupational therapy by Wolfson Children’s Rehabilitation. After discharge, she spent 17 days in an inpatient rehab program before transitioning to a month-long day program.

In March, Ali was able to return to school part-time.

Life for her has been tougher since the crash but is improving.

“The first couple of weeks after I got home, I was tired and taking six- or seven-hour naps every day. I felt unproductive compared to what my life was like before because I was a very busy person,” Ali said.

“When I got back home, I felt like I wasn’t doing much and felt bad for that, but it’s gotten better as I’ve gone back to school. I’ve been studying a lot more and I feel like I have time to focus on what’s important. It’s given me a new perspective on life.”

Taking precautions

Both Dr. Aldana and Dr. Draus encourage parents to talk to their children about the risks of serious injury no matter if they’re in the driver’s or passenger’s seat.

“Riding in a golf cart can be fun, but everyone needs to be careful. Many people falsely assume that golf carts are a relatively safe recreational vehicle. Although not as powerful as all-terrain vehicles, they can be just as dangerous,” Dr. Draus said.

“Golf carts are built to be driven on golf courses, not roads. Due to their design, they are prone to flip, and passengers can be ejected quite easily.”

Ali also urged others her age to think carefully before getting into a golf cart.

“I think it's really important for those who are driving golf carts to realize that your decisions, even if you’re with your friends goofing off, can change your life within a second,” she said.

“You could lose your life for making a careless choice and you need to pay very close attention to your surroundings.”