State Sen. Shirkey is looking to solve the increasing problem of Amish buggy acci­dents on the roads.
Photo: Wiki­media

State Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Jackson is working to improve safety on the road for areas of Hillsdale County that encounter auto­mobile and Amish horse-and-buggy col­li­sions.

According to Shirkey, road safety con­cerns seem to be a big issue for the county, and he plans to speak with Amish bishops in the area to under­stand how they per­ceive the sit­u­ation before working toward a solution. The county does not have a record of how often the acci­dents occur; however, several county offi­cials and Amish res­i­dents find it nec­essary to improve the sit­u­ation.

Anna Schwartz, an Amish res­ident from Hillsdale County, said the acci­dents occur quite fre­quently.

“What really makes your eyes open is that it happens in the day­light,” she said.

She recounted a recent accident in which an auto­mobile driver rear-ended a buggy on Hillsdale Road because the driver was reaching down to pick some­thing up off the floor of the auto­mobile. The driver of the buggy fell on his head and was life-flighted to the hos­pital, and his horse had to be put down. The driver left the hos­pital quickly, but is still in recovery.

Another Hillsdale County Amish res­ident, Esther Lengacher, said auto­mobile drivers tend to speed past buggy-drivers.

“Some drivers are nice and pass slowly, but others just step on the gas,” she said.

Lengacher said her nephew’s baby was killed when an auto­mobile hit their buggy three or four years ago on Mont­gomery Road.

“I just don’t get over that to feel safe on the road,” she said.

Another Amish res­ident in Hillsdale County, who wished to keep his name anonymous, recounted an accident that occurred by Cal­i­fornia Corners Cemetery in Branch County in which at least two children were killed.

The res­ident said acci­dents in Branch County occur partly because Amish res­i­dents are not allowed to use blinkers; they instead often use kerosene lights, which are hard to see. On the con­trary, the Amish com­munity in southern Hillsdale County usually equips their buggies with a blinker and two LED lights. The res­ident said he feels safe on the road for the most part.

Shirkey said road safety is high on his list of local pri­ority issues. He said another less-urgent but related issue he wants to address is that of road damage caused by the buggies. Hillsdale County Com­mission Chair Mark Wiley agreed that the safety con­cerns must be addressed.

“Anytime you have a potential safety issue, it’s a concern,” he said. “It’s not just a safety concern for the Amish community…Just because a buggy was hit doesn’t mean the motor vehicle driver wasn’t injured as well.”

Both Wiley and Shirkey attended a meeting on Jan. 27, in which several author­ities in Hillsdale County dis­cussed the safety con­cerns. Among other things, they dis­cussed the pos­si­bility of reg­is­tering the buggies. Wiley said reg­is­tration is def­i­nitely not a pri­ority for the county, and reg­is­tration fees would not help much in paying for road damage.

Amish res­ident John Schwartz said if the law enforcement required the Amish com­munity to reg­ister their buggies, it would probably turn into an issue.

Shirkey, however, said he does not wish to resort to new leg­is­lation to fix the problem, if pos­sible.

“We too often resort to leg­is­lation to solve problems when they can be done through logic and sincere com­mu­ni­cation,” he said. “Whenever there is inter­section of freedoms, much caution should be in order before jumping to con­clu­sions.”

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