Area colleges, local agencies and officials are launching a new highway safety initiative to help raise awareness of the region’s growing Amish population and prevent vehicle-buggy crashes.
At the urging of state Sen. Patty Ritchie (R-Heuvelton), they are looking at ways to inform new drivers and college students, in particular about the hazards posed by slow-moving horse-drawn vehicles sharing the road with faster moving cars and trucks.
The effort includes state budget funding secured by Ritchie to install as many as 100 new reflective road hazard signs and to produce a new brochure, prepared with the help of highway safety experts, to remind drivers to “Share the Road” with slow-moving Amish buggies.
Participants in the effort include all four colleges in St. Lawrence County, County Sheriff Kevin Wells, County Clerk Mary Lou Rupp, the St. Lawrence County Traffic Safety Council, and Jefferson County’s Public Health Service.
“Many of us in the North Country are already familiar with the sight of slow-moving buggies on area highways, and know to proceed cautiously so as to avoid crashes and injury,” Ritchie said. “But for thousands of college students, tourists and visitors who come here each year not expecting to encounter a horse-drawn buggy on the road, this initiative will help raise awareness, and hopefully prevent a tragedy from occurring.”
“When our four colleges reopen each fall, Northern New York sees thousands of incoming college students, many of whom come from communities across the country,” said St. Lawrence County Sheriff Kevin Wells. “Senator Ritchie is working with us to make this part of our county population aware of what’s involved in sharing the road with Amish buggies.”
The North Country has seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of Amish—and horse-drawn Amish buggies—in recent years. St. Lawrence County is now home to the state’s second-largest Amish community, and area roads are regularly traversed by the slow-moving, old-fashioned buggies favored by the religion’s adherents.
Consequently, there also has been an uptick in the number of vehicle-buggy crashes—twice as many in 2012 than the previous year, according to news reports—including a fatal crash that claimed the life of an Amish child, and others that left two children seriously injured, killed a horse, and caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage to vehicles, buggies and other property.
The “Share the Road” brochure is being made available at Motor Vehicles offices operated by St. Lawrence County Clerk Rupp.
“Many of our students have never seen a horse and buggy, or members of the Amish community on a roadway," said University Police Chief John Kaplan, who oversees both the SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Canton Police Departments. "We appreciate Senator Ritchie's assistance in our effort to educate our campus community about traffic safety when traveling in Northern New York.”
Sen. Ritchie’s 48th Senate District includes northern and western St. Lawrence County towns, plus Jefferson and Oswego counties.