Avoiding buggies on dark roads a challenge
Wednesday, November 10, 2010 - 1:55 pm

To the Editor:

I am writing this letter in regards to the lack of slow moving vehicle signs on the back of Amish buggies in St. Lawrence County (and the North Country in general).

I have driven home to Canton from Malone on Route 11B and from Ogdensburg on Route 68 and I have been alarmed at the lack of reflective or illuminating devices on these buggies. On a dark night with no moon, I am shocked at how invisible these black buggies with dark colored horses that contain occupants all wearing dark-colored clothing can be.

With the tiny lantern on the drivers’ side that appears to throw only a few watts of light, and the few pieces of barely reflective stripping on the back of the buggy, I am frankly surprised that there have not been more accidents involving these buggies and motor vehicles.

I asked Sheriff Kevin Wells last week how they get away with it in St. Lawrence County. He replied that the Department of Motor Vehicles determines what is required for the Amish buggies and that the various Amish sects determine how much outside regulation they will follow!

All farm machinery has to have them. Tractors, wagons, manure spreaders, combines, etc., all need to display them. In conversation with the locals I found that each year there were still multiple human and horse deaths due to car-buggy crashes.

Why are we allowing the Amish to decide which DMV rules they will follow in New York State? Why are they allowed to have a wagon filled with their families riding down the road without as much as a seatbelt? If a local college student had ten fellow students in the back of his pickup truck driving down the road, the police would take notice and issue a ticket or two for various violations. The Amish do it and nothing happens.

Slow moving vehicle signs are on the back of large pieces of farm equipment to protect the public, which includes the driver of the farm vehicle and the car or truck that is approaching from behind. With the Amish it is everyone beware! There are no safeguards in place for the Amish family (and often it is the WHOLE family), no safeguards in place for the motor vehicle driver who may not be able to see the all black, unmarked “slow moving vehicle,” and no safeguards in place for the poor horse or horses who are the “horsepower” for the “vehicle.”

As a veterinarian I feel for all of the above players in this scenario.

As members of a community who value the unique contributions the Amish bring to the North Country, let us encourage our Legislators to petition the DMV (state and local) to make the Amish vehicles conform to the rules that all other vehicles in New York State must obey. Laws are supposed to be enacted and enforced uniformly for the safety of all of our citizens. Just because a certain group feels that societal rules infringe upon their rights does not mean that society should back down—it should be just the opposite. This is for the safety of all the involved parties. The term defensive driving takes on a whole new meaning if you pass a dozen or so of these almost invisible buggies at 10 p.m. on a Sunday night!

Tony Beane, DVM, Canton