There’s nothing surprising about this. Well, maybe it is surprising to Representatives Scott Wiggam and Darrell Kick, creators of the new law requiring flashing lights on all horse-drawn vehicles in the state of Ohio.

But if they had bothered to actually dig deep into this issue regarding the group it would predictably most effect (Swartzentruber Amish), it might not be so surprising. My suspicion is they did little of that. Back in June, Wiggam addressed the matter with an appeal based in “love”. To recall his quote (via the Wooster Daily Record):

“We put flashing yellow lights on things we love, from school buses to ambulances, and we put flashing lights on emergency vehicles, police and fire,” he said. “Everything we love, we put flashing lights on, especially when you’re talking about scenarios where something bad can happen.

“The speed differential of 35 to 50 miles per hour, something really bad has happened quite often in the state of Ohio, and we want to reduce that,” Wiggam continued. “We think this can be done pretty easily now with the technology available. That’s kind of where we are on this issue. We want to save lives. We all share the roads, and this issue spurred me to move forward with this.”

Wiggam believes in protecting things we love, which puts him in agreement with close to 100% of humanity. But I’d have hoped for more nuance than he provided. Everyone wants to “save lives”.

Referring to the Swartzentruber Amish in areas such as Ashland and Medina County, Kick stated that they were “just not up to speed on the technology”. Quotes like these give me the sense that they don’t really understand these groups too well at all.

Amish appear in court…and will be back in court

So this is starting to unfold in a manner similar to what happened with Swartzentruber Amish in Kentucky in 2011. And here we are with what looks like stage 1 of the process: Amish predictably cited for violations, they show up in court, and refuse to pay their fines. Via Fox 8:

ASHLAND, Ohio (WJW) – Many members of Northeast Ohio’s Amish community are not happy about the enforcement of a new state law that forces them to make their buggies more visible with flashing yellow lights.

Members of the community filed into Ashland Municipal Court on Tuesday morning in a silent protest of the new law.

While the measure is designed to reduce the number of buggy crashes across the state, many Amish elders and church leaders believe the flashing light law violates their traditional beliefs in a simple life.

A number of Amish buggy drivers were cited by deputies with the Ashland County Sheriff’s Office and troopers with the Ohio State Highway Patrol for violating the new law, which went into effect in September, but was not actively enforced until last week.

One by one, each of the violators entered a plea of no contest this morning.

Image: Fox 8

No one spoke in court, though the judge did read a statement:

A portion of the letter read, “a similar law had been in effect in the early 1960’s, which our fore fathers deemed too worldly. We are inclined to still believe so. We had an unanimous vote throughout all of our affiliated churches to not have any blinking lights whatsoever.”

The fine given was $50. All declined to pay it. Paying can be considered akin to admitting guilt. Now each has a court date in January where they’ll have “a hearing to determine their ability and willingness to pay the fines.”

What was the game plan

If the above-mentioned representatives had taken the widely-publicized Kentucky SMV story into account (it got national coverage, just 10-11 years ago), maybe they’d have a sense of how this group of Amish responds to attempts to impose change from outside. Clearly they didn’t. Or did, and ignored that example. Maybe assuming Amish will eventually break under the pressure.

So will this end with Amish jailed, and additionally humiliated by having their mug shots all over the internet, as was the case in Kentucky? Was that the game plan?

As for getting Amish to comply (again, good luck), here’s law enforcement officer Brad Bishop:

Meanwhile, authorities will continue a campaign to convince the Amish that the flashing light law is designed to protect them and their loved ones.

“The tradition can be changed and ultimately this is about their safety as well as the people that are on our roadways, so the enforcement component will hopefully bring compliance into the law for everybody’s safety,” said Lt. Brad Bishop, who is the commander of OSP’s Ashland Post.

This quote really annoys me. “The tradition can be changed.” Is it just me, or is the attitude here typical nowadays. We know better, and you need to get with our program. No matter your way of life, traditions, or values.

Maybe there is another way?

Rather than trying to force this law upon a group that predictably wouldn’t comply with it (and the state has thousands of Swartzentruber Amish, more than any other state, so this is not just one little community off in a corner somewhere), perhaps they could have promoted a solution some communities of the group have actually put into practice?

Now maaaybe they did look into this. But I have not seen any mention of it in any coverage of this issue over the past two years. I wrote both these representatives in 2020 attempting to bring this to their attention, with no reply from either.

The fact is there are currently at least two visibility-improving options accepted by Swartzentruber Amish (key point) in different communities, outlined here on multiple occasions: 1) PVC pipe sections on buggy wheels, which creates an oscillating reflective effect, similar to flashing lights (used in the Ethridge, Tennessee community) or 2) the large white reflective rectangle/”L” option (Ellenboro, NC or Randolph, MS Swartzentruber Amish have both adopted versions of this).

Ethridge, Tennessee Swartzentruber community

The motion of the PVC pipes creates an oscillating, attention-getting effect, not unlike a flashing light

Is it not better to actually try to work with the group and get something that will a) improve visibility and b) that they actually have a chance of accepting?

Even if this was checked out, it makes little sense to simply produce a new law and expect to coerce Swartzentruber Amish into following it after the fact. Their history says that they don’t do things that way. Change comes slowly, and they’ll often rather go to court or move away than accept something imposed upon them.

Ellenboro, NC. An Amish minister in this community stated that he felt the additional reflective material helped increase visibility

Amish in Pontotoc County, Mississippi use inverted “L” shaped reflective material on both sides of the buggy’s rear area

We’ll see how it plays out and how many people end up going to jail, when they quite possibly could have worked out a solution that might actually already be in practice right now, and helping make the plainest buggies more visible. Maybe not flashing-strobe-light visible, but more than they are currently.

This of course leaves aside the issue of non-Amish drivers, many of whom hit Amish buggies while intoxicated, checking social media, or otherwise distracted. Will the representatives also be addressing that part?

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