Being more visible is no accident

By Bruce Stambaugh

It’s no accident that buggies, pedestrians and bicyclists are easier to see when traveling the hilly and curvy roads of the area.

Visible walkers by Bruce Stambaugh
Pedestrians, like these Amish school children, are much more visible since they started wearing day glow vests.
The Amish Safety Committee, made up of three Amish men, has been working for 18 years to educate their constituency on road safety. The most recent focus has been on improving visibility.

Drivers who frequent the Amish areas of Holmes, Wayne and Tuscarawas counties can literally see the impact the committee has made. Recognizing the importance of being seen, lighting has been the biggest improvement. In addition to the required slow moving vehicle orange triangle on the rear of the buggy or cart, most horse-drawn vehicles are now well lighted.

“The biggest factor in most car/buggy accidents is speed,” said Wayne Hochstetler, of rural Millersburg, and a member of the safety committee. “Drivers just can’t judge how fast they come upon a dark colored buggy.” Church rules stipulate that buggies be black in Ohio.

Visible buggy by Bruce Stambaugh
Amish buggies, like this one in Holmes Co., OH, are much easier to see thanks to improved marking and lighting.
“The biggest help has been the blinking amber light,” Hochstetler said. The light is usually centered at the top of the back of the buggy. It operates on batteries, and some models even provide varying blinking patterns.

“The blinking light tells the driver that a buggy is ahead sooner than the triangle does,” Hochstetler said. The committee has suggested other lighting for buggies as well.

“We encourage people to use taillights and running lights for both the front and back,” Hochstetler said. Rear lights are imbedded in the body of the buggy, while running lights are on both sides of the buggy.

The rear lights are red, just as they would be on a motorized vehicle. The running lights serve as a form of headlight, although, according to Hochstetler, they are used more to be seen than afford light for the buggy operator to see.

Tied buggies by Bruce Stambaugh
Amish buggies are marked with Slow Moving Vehicle orange triangles, reflective tape, and lights. How they are marked is determined by the church district to which they belong, or which sect of Amish, like the Swartzentruber buggy with no SMV.

In addition, smaller lights are often used on the top front of the buggies, too. These are white, amber or sometimes blue, though law enforcement discourages the latter. Most of the new lighting is LED lamps, which create a brighter, easier to see light. Most buggies also have white reflective tape that outlines the back of the buggy.

The illumination improvements haven’t been confined to horse-drawn vehicles either. Many pedestrians and bicyclists now wear reflective and lighted vests for easier visibility. Like the buggy lights, the lighted vests blink at night. Some walkers use LED lamps attached to their hats in order to be seen by oncoming traffic.

Bicycles also use red blinking taillights and bright white headlights. Reflective straps are also used around horses’ ankles and on the shafts of the buggies to which they are hitched. This permits reflectivity from traffic approaching from the side.

Safety sign by Bruce Stambaugh
Drivers of all kinds are reminded to drive safely in Amish country.

Besides Hochstetler, other committee members are Gid Yoder and Rueben Schlabach. Detective Joe Mullet, of the Holmes County Sheriff’s Office, and Lt. Chad Enderby, of the Wooster Post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, serve as ad hoc advisory members.

Hochstetler said that the grassroots efforts of the committee have been so well embraced by the Amish in Holmes, Tuscarawas and Wayne counties that they have been invited to help form other safety committees in other Ohio Amish communities.

“We have even been asked to share in other states like Indiana, Michigan and New York,” Hochstetler said.

Mullet said that even the Swartzentruber Amish, the lowest order of the sect, are now using two lighted lanterns with front and rear lens. They formerly used only one.

Mullet said that he spends several days a year visiting Amish parochial schools to teach the students practical safety measures. They include the proper way to walk and ride bikes to and from school, and encouraging wearing the day glow vests.

Mullet said he often tells personal stories to make it more meaningful for the students. Mullet also has an advantage in keeping the students’ attention since he can speak Pennsylvania Dutch with the students.

In addition to being proactive on safety, the Amish for several years have paid a self-imposed donation to the Ohio Department of Transportation to help improve area roadways. Hochstetler said each church district has a person designated to annually collect donations for each horse-drawn road vehicle owned by the household.

ODOT shares the money with county and township officials for local road improvement in areas where Amish live. The money is intended to be a monetary substitution for road improvements in lieu of paying gasoline taxes, which owners of motorized vehicles pay each time they buy fuel.

Buggy lane by Bruce Stambaugh
Donations by Amish families to the Ohio Dept. of Transportation help construct and maintain buggy lanes for safer traffic flow. This buggy was traveling near Mt. Hope, OH.

The pleasure and perils of driving in Amish country

Red barn white house by Bruce Stambaugh
A typical scene in Ohio's Amish country.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Driving in Amish Country is usually pleasurable and relaxing until the unexpected happens. A couple of recent experiences served as reminders of both the dangers and the benefits of traversing the winding, hilly highways in Holmes County.

A friend of mine, Glenda, and I recently each experienced amazingly similar situations only days apart. We each came away from our separate but comparable incidents feeling bathed in the beauty of humanity’s best behavior.

Glenda was on her way to her office when she came upon a buggy accident only seconds after it had happened. The buggy was crumpled, the horse lay injured in the roadway, and a young Amish woman was seriously hurt.

Glenda said everything happened in a whirl. Someone called 911 while she tended to Katie, the injured buggy passenger. Others came to settle the horse, releasing it from the tangled wreckage, getting it to a safe place and calling a vet.

The ambulance arrived, and transported Katie to the hospital. Glenda continued on the way to her office, wondering how the young girl would be.

Open buggy by Bruce Stambaugh
The Amish enjoy riding in their open buggies on pleasant days.

The following Sunday evening it was my turn. A friend had just arrived at our home for a visit when we heard a muffled crunch, followed by curdling screams of despair. We rushed to the front of our home to watch a horse bolt away, harnesses wildly whipping along the pavement.

A young Amish woman was slumped on the ground in front of a damaged buggy. Blood gushed from her forehead. John, our visitor, was a registered nurse and rushed to the girl’s aid. My wife retrieved towels from the house to help control the girl’s bleeding, and I called 911 on my cell phone.

Neighbors who had also heard the girl’s cries came running from every direction to help. Some brought blankets. Others lit flares to warn approaching traffic of danger on the other side of the hill. John continued to control the bleeding, and reassured the girl, whose name was Ellen.

A wave of bicycles all ridden by young Amish girls glided over the hillcrest. They had been with Ellen at a gathering, and retraced their path when they recognized her runaway horse. They came to see what had happened to their friend.

A few minutes later a pickup rolled up and out jumped Ellen’s parents and siblings. Someone had told them about the accident and they arrived to console their daughter. In addition, a passerby had corralled the horse and taken it to a neighboring farm. All this and the ambulance had yet to arrive.

Fortunately, Ellen was alert and with the bleeding stopped, she became more coherent and said the horse simply spooked. Unlike the accident Glenda happened upon, no other vehicle was involved.

Once the rescue squad arrived, treated and transported Ellen, the scene quieted dramatically. Our neighbors offered a flat trailer to haul away the damaged buggy. It was loaded and transported home. In a few minutes, the pickup returned the borrowed trailer.

The scene soon cleared after that, and we returned to visiting with John as if nothing had happened. Yet much had.

In both trauma situations, good citizens arrived to do what they could. What could have been very tragic instead turned humanitarian spontaneously.

As these two examples reveal, the beauty of driving in Amish Country isn’t always found in the scenery. The compassion of its citizens can outshine any pastoral vista.

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