SHARE
An Amish buggy drives on a street road. | Wiki­media Commons

As I zipped along Jonesville Road on my way back from a fall-break camping trip, I was pleased that I was making good time. It had been a refreshing excursion, but my head was already spinning as I con­sidered the many assign­ments that awaited me on campus.

Then I spotted a strange, black vehicle with feet and a bobbing head about a quarter ‑mile away. It was an Amish buggy, and I was approaching it rapidly. I braked lightly, and then more forcibly. I didn’t come close to hitting it, but the buggy caught me off-guard.

Others have not been so lucky.

Horse-drawn buggies are dan­gerous for both Amish and motorized-vehicle drivers. They should be banned from driving on public roadways.

So far this year, six children have died in five acci­dents between buggies and motorized vehicles in Michigan. Three people died in Branch County when a pick-up truck col­lided with an Amish buggy in June.

From 2014 to 2019, eight people were killed in acci­dents between buggies and motorized vehicles in Michigan. In Penn­syl­vania, 23 people died in buggy-and-car col­li­sions between 2007 and 2016, according to the State Department of Trans­portation.

A study for the Ohio Department of Trans­portation counted 1,412 col­li­sions between horses and buggies and motorized vehicle from 2007 to 2016, an average of one every 2.32 days in the state. Of the crashes, 78% occurred on dry roads, 65% hap­pened in day­light, and 76% took place on non-inter­section por­tions of roadways. Even in the safest driving con­di­tions, horse-drawn buggies present an often unavoidable hazard.

With frames of wood and fabric, buggies are no match for a two-ton metal vehicle. In a New York Times article, Alfred Nichols, super­visor of a town in New York’s Amish country, described the effects of an accident.

“You hit one of these buggies and they’re like kin­dling wood — they just kind of explode — and you almost always have to put the horse down,” Nichols said.

Three Amish children were killed in an accident near Chester Township, 25 miles southwest of Lansing, as they com­muted home from school by buggy last July. The driver of the motorized vehicle was an 83-year-old man. Although he had shared the road with Amish drivers for decades, he had dif­fi­culty seeing because he was driving into the sun, and didn’t realize he was over­taking the car­riage until it was too late.

Small and dark, buggies are dif­ficult to detect. They often take me by sur­prise, and, because I’m young, I can see well and react quickly. But not all drivers are so agile. In 2016, nearly 42 million Amer­icans over the age of 65 were licensed to drive.

Even if you can see them, it’s often dif­ficult to reduce speed in time to avoid hitting buggies, espe­cially on roads with a posted speed of 55 mph. On freeways with 70-mph speed limits, the minimum speed is 55 mph, 78.75% of the posted speed, as it would be unsafe and disrupt the flow of traffic if a vehicle traveled any slower. Yet Amish buggies travel at around 10 mph, just 18.18% of the 55 mph speed limit.

Motorists share the road with other slow-moving entities, including bicycles, golf carts, and riding horses. These forms of trans­portation also pose chal­lenges, but are smaller and often drive on the side or shoulder of the road. Even if they drive on the roadway, it’s much easier to swerve to avoid a col­lision with them than with buggies, which take up most of a car lane.

Horse-drawn car­riages are par­tic­u­larly dan­gerous on hilly roads. Had I come upon the first buggy just below the crest of a hill at 55 mph, I would likely not have been able to stop in time to prevent a col­lision.

Con­sid­erate motorists know to slow down when driving near and passing horses and buggies, but horses are skittish and are some­times per­turbed by even respect­fully-driven vehicles. Spooked horses are known to damage passing cars, often injuring them­selves and their drivers in the process.

There is no minimum age or skills test for buggy drivers. Most states mandate that buggies be equipped with reflectors and lights, but some strict Amish people believe such addi­tions violate their reli­gious views, and so they refuse to comply.

Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R‑Clarklake, Mich., and State Rep­re­sen­tative Eric Leutheuser, R‑Hillsdale, Mich., have spon­sored three com­panion bills that would impose tighter reg­u­la­tions on buggy drivers. Intro­duced in the state house and senate Nov. 7, they come in response to a recent rise in deadly col­li­sions between buggies and motorized vehicles.

The bills would require buggies to be equipped with at least two lights on the front and rear, and would compel buggy drivers to use them between dusk and dawn and in inclement weather. To min­imize damage to roads, they would ban carbide on the bottom of horse­shoes and require buggies to sport rubber tires.

Addi­tionally, the bills would allow counties to require owners to reg­ister buggies before driving them on public roadways.

Shirkey and Leutheuser hope that the bills will increase safety on roadways in Michigan, which has the fastest-growing Amish pop­u­lation.

The pro­posed reg­u­la­tions are better than nothing, but they don’t go far enough.

In the aftermath of a fatal col­lision, a sheriff in Eaton County, Michigan was asked what could be done to prevent future acci­dents.

“People need to be more cog­nizant there will be buggies out there,” he said, according to The New York Times.

Being aware of Amish buggies does not make them faster or more visible. Even stauncher stip­u­la­tions will do little to make roads safer.

Michigan must ban the buggies.

Madeleine Miller is a senior studying inter­na­tional business and a reporter for The Col­legian.