- 1 of 1 Photos | View More Photos
WEST SALEM -- The Swartzentruber Amish in this area are looking for ways to preserve a simple way of life, as they have for generations, while at the same time recognizing some changes are necessary to increase safety on the roads.
English drivers in northwestern Wayne County and eastern Ashland County might have noticed Amish buggies with a couple of enhancements: A white square surrounded by white reflective tape on the back of the carriages and white tubes sticking out from the spokes of buggy wheels.
The purpose of these additional elements are a signal for drivers to exercise caution when approaching and passing the horse-drawn buggies.
Motor vehicles can sometimes get too close when passing buggies, and this can cause a horse or horses to swerve.
Even a safe horse with a lot of experience pulling a buggy can swerve, said Levi Hostetler, who is hopeful the decals and tubing can improve driving safety. In addition to a car passing, trash on the roadside, rocks or plastic bags fluttering in the wind can cause a horse to swerve.
"There's always a concern about a vehicle hitting a buggy like that," Hostetler said. "The biggest problem between a buggy and a motorized vehicle is the difference in speed. At 55 mph, you're gaining approximately 80 feet per second. If you come over a knoll in buggy country, and a buggy is about 250 ahead, then you have three seconds to stop or turn.
"That's not very much."
Add to the speed distance driver distraction, and it could make for a serious crash. Consider in about six seconds, a vehicle driving 55 mph can nearly cover the length of one-and-a-half football fields.
Hostetler has seen many close calls, and his mother died of injuries sustained in a buggy crash.
"There have been so many crashes, we decided to put 10-inch by 12-inch white rectangles (on the buggies) that we call white buggy markers," Hostetler said. "They have reflective tape on the boards."
Hostetler explained the Swartzentruber Amish have always shied away from the slow-moving vehicle emblem, in part because of the color and the shape. But, it is mainly the bright color.
"We don't wear bright colors in our clothing," he said. "We are plain people who live for God."
Hostetler said he is hopeful drivers will see the markers and tubes and recognize the buggies are the "slowest of the slow," he said. The slow-moving vehicle emblem can be used for vehicles traveling up to 25 mph, but the buggies are moving at a 5 to 10 mph clip.
"At night, they really get your attention," he said.
Lt. Stephanie Norman, commander of the Wooster post of the State Highway Patrol, and Capt. Doug Hunter of the Wayne County Sheriff's Office are happy to see the changes.
Norman said she appreciates any efforts to improve visibility and increase safety, both for those in the buggies and in vehicles. "They want to be more proactive on being visible," she said, adding the State Highway Patrol supports the efforts.
"It's important to understand that the current law requires very little when it comes to the marking of Amish buggies; and what is required is not effective during the daylight hours," Hunter said. "This group of Amish has been very resistant to any form of change, but in my discussions with them, it is clear that they have concerns for their safety when on the roadways. Prior to these new markings, some Amish in the area where tying white trash bags to the spokes in hopes of increasing visibility."
"This change is not perfect, but it is a certain level of progress and exceeds what the law requires," Hunter said. "I am hopeful the Amish leadership will continue to explore methods to keep their members safe while respecting their conservative lifestyle."