Special care required by motor vehicle and Amish buggy drivers for safety on St. Lawrence County roads, traffic expert warns
Saturday, April 14, 2012 - 5:18 pm

With the number of Amish families in St. Lawrence County at a substantial number and still rising, authorities believe some tips are in order to motor-vehicle drivers who share the road with horse-drawn buggies.

“Bicycles and pedestrians have been around on our roads forever, but the Amish buggies are newer to our area, and the numbers of buggies has increased to where we need to understand each other in order to safely share our roads,” said traffic safety expert Dave Werner.

To achieve this understanding, local safety board members and representatives of the enforcement community from St. Lawrence and Franklin counties met with leaders from the Amish communities of western Franklin and eastern St. Lawrence county recently to discuss the safety concerns with buggies and motor vehicles sharing the same roads.

From a motorist’s point of view, often traveling at 55 mph or more, buggies present a potential problem mainly because of the difference in speed, similar to bicycle riders. Buggies are black, and thus do not present a clearly visible object on the shoulder or side of the road until the motorist is relatively close to the buggy, especially at night. Furthermore, the religious beliefs of many Amish prevent them from displaying the slow moving vehicle emblem, a brightly colored orange and red triangle, on the back of the buggies. However, they do agree to using gray reflective tape. At night, they have agreed to use one red lantern mounted on the left rear of the buggy.

Based on concerns voiced at the meeting, buggy drivers will make an effort to keep the reflective tape and lanterns clean for better visibility. According to Werner, they said they would even appreciate it if enforcement officers inform the driver of the buggy if they find that their tape insufficiently visible or the light from the lantern is dull. Motorists seeing a problem with a buggy should contact a local law enforcement agency, the same as they would do if they observed a motor vehicle driver acting irresponsibly.

From a buggy driver’s point of view, motor vehicles can present problems to them. Buggy drivers rely on hearing a motor vehicle approaching from behind. But because of noise from the buggy’s wheels on the pavement and the horse’s hooves clomping along, they often cannot hear a vehicle approaching until it is upon them. They ask that motorists reduce their speed and move to the left side of their lane, and if there is no oncoming traffic, move over even farther, providing as much room as possible between the motorized vehicle and the buggy to insure safe passing. Horses, or any animal for that matter, can be very unpredictable, and may not react the way you would like them to.

Another concern is loud motorcycles. This noise can scare a horse, and buggy drivers would appreciate it if motorcycle riders would pass without “revving up” the motor.

Amish citizens often go to town in their buggies, meaning they may have to stop for a traffic signal or stop sign. Motorists should not pull up close to the rear of the buggy as the horse may back up slightly while waiting at the light or stop sign.

Additional things that give buggy drivers difficulty include on-coming drivers not dimming their headlights at night and snow plow operators throwing snow on the buggies and their horses as they pass. Traffic authorities will make highway departments aware of this concern before next winter.

One other safety issue: Some Amish children are not bussed to school, but they walk, as much as 1 1/2 miles one way. Motorists need to be very careful when children are walking along the roads to and from their Amish schools.

Motorists and buggy drivers can share the road safely if everyone understands each other’s viewpoint. Vehicle and traffic law requires us to “exercise due care to avoid colliding with” basically any person or domestic animal along a highway whether they are on a bicycle, walking, riding a horse, or driving a buggy, according to Werner, who is vice-chair of the Franklin County Traffic safety Board.