Whenever I hear people complain about US infrastructure problems, I shake my head. I always say that when you consider its vast scope and quality, the US driving experience has to be the best in the world, bar none.  We take it for granted how good it is.

As an example, main roads in Krakow, the Polish city where I live part of my year, often have long ruts from tires which I estimate can get 3-6 inches deep.  They’re caused by hot weather, heavy use, and I’d guess low-quality asphalt.  Gaping potholes are another standard feature in the automotive landscape.  Interstate-style highways are practically nonexistent in the country.  I don’t drive here (see previous 3 sentences) but I have ridden in vehicles enough to know that the driving experience is nowhere near what we enjoy in America.  Poland has made leaps and bounds the past 2 decades, but road quality is not there yet.

Even though we forget how good we’ve got it in the US, in such a car-focused culture, the road is still something like sacred space.  The Amish intersect with mainstream society, sometimes loudly, on this space.  Lately the big issue has been road safety and the buggy SMV triangle in Kentucky.  But a second problem has been percolating in the Bluegrass State, having to do with another Amish vehicle–the tractor.

The tractor is basically a mutant automobile.  Four wheels, steering mechanism, self-propelled–just a funny-looking, slower version of the car, that you also happen to be able to do farm stuff with.

Therefore many Amish permit the tractor, but restrict its use.   They do this by requiring any tractors owned by church members to have steel wheels.  Stripping them of their tires discourages Amish from taking their “farmer convertibles” out for a spin.

Amish churches also place regulations on where they can be operated, which means many Amish will use tractors to power equipment by the barn, but won’t use them for field work (horses instead).

Amish tractors (rubber version) at Guthrie, KY

There are a few Amish communities where tractors are used liberally, including in Kentucky. Rubber tires are found on the tractors at the Guthrie KY Amish settlement. But most Amish with tractors are going to have the metal-wheeled kind.

Steel-wheeled or not, at times the tractor also needs to be driven on the road.  The metal clanking on the highway is loud and discourages driving at high speeds. But it also tears up the road surface, which is the problem one Kentucky legislator is trying to address (Update: article no longer online) via a proposed bill banning steel-wheeled farm implements.  The metal wheels can leave ruts similar to the loud rumble strips designed to alert drivers on highways.

Should Amish tractor drivers be required to pay for road damage, either via fines or a tax? There is such a thing as the HVUT (Heavy Vehicle Use Tax), for vehicles over 55,000 lbs. That starts at around $100, and maxes out at $550/year, based on weight.  Roads are designed to handle rubber tires, but metal just isn’t a friendly material, especially rolling over hot asphalt.

Would Amish tractor drivers object to kicking in a little bit, like semi operators do?   Amish must have a lot of good sentiment among Kentucky legislators right now, because it apparently won’t matter, with the KY Senate Transportation Committee head reportedly not planning to call the bill to a vote.