Driving in Amish Country

Amish buggyIf you have never visited Amish country, you will need to be specially alert for horses and buggies. Since buggies normally travel about 5 to 8 mph, you can come upon them very suddenly – particularly if you aren’t on the lookout for them. You need to be particularly cautious when driving up a hill, for there may be a slow-moving horse-and-buggy on the other side.

Amish buggies in Pennsylvania normally have the triangular slow moving sign on the back. The sign is designed to alert motorists to slow down and use caution. Operating a motor vehicle through communities that include horse-drawn buggies and equipment is quite different than that of driving in other rural or urban areas. For instance: horse-drawn buggies are dark in color, travel less than 8 mph and are difficult to pick out, especially at dusk or at night. Motorists who are not used to driving among horses and buggies or who are not alert may find themselves suddenly coming upon a horse-drawn vehicle on the road, giving rise to a potentially hazardous situation.

One hazard to consider is that horses are unpredictable and even the most road-safe horse can spook at a fast-moving motor vehicle. So don’t get frustrated or impatient and begin honking the horn. This will only startle the horse and jeopardize lives. Instead, be patient and wait an opportunity to pass. Be sure to slow down when approaching and when passing a horse-drawn buggy. Allow plenty of room and only pass where it is safe and legal.

Another potential hazard is that drivers of horse-drawn vehicles may not be able to adequately see the cars behind. Following too closely is especially dangerous, as it puts undue pressure on the horse and its driver and may impair your visibility. Therefore, maintain a safe distance behind a horse- drawn vehicle and eventually you will be able to pass or the buggy will pull over or turn off the road.

Leaving a “cushion of safety” between you and a horse-drawn vehicle saves lives. A “cushion of safety” means that you should maintain a measurable distance from the front of your car to the rear of the buggy. This will allow plenty of time to recognize and respond to a situation while driving. Allowing adequate space will also provide you with a safe distance to prepare to pass. Remember to leave space between your vehicle and a buggy stopped at a stop sign or light, because buggies often roll back a few feet after coming to a complete stop. A good rule of thumb is to stop your vehicle far enough back so that you can see where the rear wheels of the buggy touch the road.* This should give you 10-12 feet of clearance between your vehicle and the buggy.

Amish Horses and Buggies: My Personal Experiences

I live in Pennsylvania, and there are quite a number of both Amish and Old Order Mennonite families in our county. So seeing horses and buggies on the streets and highways is quite common. Occasionally accidents do happen, but not very often. The rare accidents that have happened here have been caused by automobile drivers who were daydreaming or were distracted. A fast-moving automobile can come up on a buggy very quickly, so if the driver loses his concentration for a moment or two, he or she might catch up to a buggy that just a minute or two before was a mile away.

The universally followed rule in our county is that a car may pass a buggy even in a no-passing zone, so long as the road is clear. I don’t know if there is an actual law allowing that, or if it is just the de facto rule. But since most rural roads in our hilly area are no-passing, there would be a significant hindrance of traffic if drivers were not allowed to pass a horse-and-buggy they may encounter. I don’t know what the practice is in other parts of Pennsylvania or in the Amish areas of Ohio and Indiana. You should follow whatever custom is practiced by local drivers.

In our county, Amish buggies are well lit-up with lights after dark. As a result, in the dark, they are actually more visible than most cars. In the dark, they look like a large truck or something, as they have lights both on the tops and bottoms of their buggies.  So if you are driving in Amish country at night and you see what appears to be a slow moving truck ahead, approach it cautiously, as it may be a horse-and-buggy.

* This rule does not apply to drivers of vans or mini-vans; because of the short hood. These drivers must remember to stay back at least 10 or 12 feet.

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