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.”