Legally blind woman on the road to trouble

September 01, 1994|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Sun Staff Writer

Sometimes a woman has to do what she must do. In Kathy Harkum's case, that means driving her three children a half-mile to school in a golf cart -- even though she's legally blind.

During Monday's first day of school in Anne Arundel County, the 31-year-old Pasadena woman, legally blind since birth and ineligible for a state driver's license, ran into the county police.

As she waited with her 10-year-old daughter in Riviera Beach Elementary School for classes to begin, her golf cart, parked out front, was being ticketed as an unregistered vehicle.

Drive it again, the officer said, and the county would tow it away.

"It took me 30 years to find a way to transport myself, and I finally did it," Ms. Harkum said today. "Now I'm stuck. My car is parked. I am very mad because it's the only transportation I could have.

Ms. Harkum can see "shapes, figures and colors, but objects in the distance are fuzzy," said her sister, Beverly Locantore.

"I bought the cart thinking I had some independence. Now, my neighbor's back to taking the kids to school, and I'm going to have to ask my family to take me grocery shopping."

Ms. Harkum has driven the motorized cart since January to take her children to school and to the nearby bank and grocery store. She said police told her they had received complaints that she drove the cart recklessly.

"But I was not," she said. "It was a privilege to get that car, and I'm not going to do anything to get it taken away. I drive on the side of the road -- as far on the shoulder as I can so I'm not impeding traffic."

Ms. Harkum said she bought the used cart earlier this year for $2,000 after her father, Joe Harkum, said he received assurance from a state police officer that if he added proper brake lights, head lights and a "slow moving vehicle" sign to the cart, she could drive it on county roads.

Now, however, Mr. Harkum cannot remember the name of the state police officer, and it seems the rules have changed.

Jim Lang, public information officer for the state Motor Vehicles Administration, said today the state's motor vehicle law has specific equipment criteria that must met on vehicles before they can be registered, titled and tagged in Maryland.

The criteria include seat belts, a horn, door handles, mirrors, an exhaust system, lights, windshield wipers, emissions equipment and a fuel system.

"A golf cart has some of those, but not all of those," Mr. Lang said. In general, he said, golf carts are not allowed on Maryland's roads.

Responding to Ms. Harkum's plight, Anne Arundel County Councilman Carl "Dutch" Holland said today he had directed the county's law department to research whether it can grant Ms. Harkum a special motor vehicle exception to use the golf cart.

"We want to see if its possible at all to help this young lady because all she is trying to do is to help herself," Mr. Holland said. "This is very unique."

Ms. Harkum's plight has prompted expressions of sympathy from Mr. Lang and the National Federation of the Blind, which has its headquarters in Baltimore.

A spokeswoman for the organization of 50,000 blind and visually impaired persons said she had never heard of a golf cart being used by a visually impaired person for transportation.

"I haven't heard about this specific case, and I don't have enough information to comment," said Pat Maurer, coordinator of community relations for the federation.

"We're for blind people being independent and doing things that we can do. But when people's safety is involved, that's a different question. Most people ride the bus or take a taxicab. Or they travel on foot with a cane or a with a dog."

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