Promoting Safety for Horse and Buggy Travelers

Today I discovered another report about the new law in Ohio that requires all buggies to have yellow blinking lights and how some of the Amish men are non-compliant. Most of them are pleading no contest in court, resulting in a guilty verdict and then refusing to pay their fines.

I don’t know how to get the most conservative Amish to yield to secular laws. In the Amish mind, secular laws are secondary to the authority of the church elders, and if the bishop says the lights are against their Ordnung, then the Amish will go a long way to flouting secular laws to comply with the bishop. They are such practiced martyrs, so some will even go to jail rather than yield to secular authority. Most law enforcement and the courts are not going to want to be seen as beating up on the Amish, so often Amish citizens get away with violating the law, while their “English” neighbors would have to comply. After all, how are they going to force them into compliance… confiscate their horses and/or their buggies? Most would see this as a step too far.

The yellow blinking lights may reduce the number of accidents, but I feel like there needs to be a better long-term solution. The speed differential between motor vehicles and buggies is too great to have them share main roads safely. If a buggy gets hit it flies to pieces and most often the horse is injured or killed. With or without the blinking lights, there are those who aren’t used to driving in Amish country and are surprised by how fast they come up on a buggy. I always think that I need to treat one as if it were a cow in the road.

There are other unpreventable accidents. If you come around a bend, you may not expect to see a buggy in the road. Or the horse may veer off into the oncoming lane. There are numerous scenarios in which accidents cannot be avoided. So yellow blinking lights may be a measure that was important to take in Ohio, but I cannot imagine it will be easy to measure how effective they will be in reducing traffic accidents.

I find nearly every day there is another report of a vehicle-buggy accident, sometimes multiple reports a day. Considering the Amish are the largest growing segment of the U.S. population, this problem is only going to grow worse unless we make major changes.

A few years ago, I proposed a solution to the car-buggy problem and then found out later that it already existed in some Amish areas. This idea takes into account that buggies are much more compatible with bicycles than with motor vehicles and therefore could¬† share “the road” with cyclists and pedestrians instead of motor vehicles. In other words, put buggies on bike paths instead of roads. This option exists in parts of Indiana and Ohio, including my home community that offers the option of avoiding a section of Route 608 that is especially hazardous for buggies. David and I had the opportunity to bike on that path on a beautiful autumn day a few years back.

Photo by Saloma Furlong

According to The Young Center, the Amish population is doubling every twenty years. I hope as the Amish communities grow, more of these buggy/bicycle byways will be built to relieve buggy traffic on the main roads. I keep hoping for that option here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where the Old Order Mennonites travel by horse and buggy, especially between Harrisonburg and Dayton.

Have you ever had the occasion of driving in Amish country? What were those experiences like?

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