Who’s More Dangerous Driving in Amish Country – Tourists or Locals?

While playing Amish taxi a few days ago, I found myself behind a buggy on one of Lancaster County’s countless curvy backroads, unsure whether it was safe to pass or not.  Lancaster is hilly, and the roads go this way and that, with buggies everywhere, so you do this a good bit.

I decided to wait, with a couple of vehicles behind me, until the sightline cleared enough to be sure I could get by safely.  As we drove along I wondered aloud to my Amish passengers:  Which driver is a bigger threat on the roads of “Amish Country”–the tourist, or the local?

On the one hand, I once saw a driver with New York plates at a standstill on, I believe it was 896, one of the busier secondary highways in Lancaster County (45 mph speed limit, curvy).  This fellow looked to be lining up a photo of an Amish buggy (rare find!)  Some tourists do dumb things like this.  They’re also not used to the deceptively slow buggy speeds.

Amish Buggy Traffic Jam
Ascension Day Buggy Jam

On the other hand, my Amish passengers that day felt that locals generally posed a greater danger (something I’ve heard others say).  They see Amish buggies every day, are used to driving around them, and can get impatient.

I don’t really share as much as I could about buggy accidents here, since they seem to happen so frequently (once every few weeks?) Yesterday a buggy was hit in Geauga County, killing the horse and critically injuring the driver.  The driver just didn’t see the carriage and struck it on a hillcrest.  No word on whether it was a tourist or local person behind the wheel.

What do you think?

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    51 Comments

    1. Shannon Bishop

      Who's More Dangerous

      Since I am local to Lancaster, it’s the locals.

    2. 2whls3spds

      I think locals…

      I drive some in the Lancaster area, do much more cycling than driving though.

      Aaron

    3. Roberta

      Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

    4. New York State of Mind

      Is that my car you were talking about with the New York plates??? Just kidding. I say the tourists would be the most dangerous driving. Myself included when I first came to the Lancaster area and saw Amish for the first time. I think tourists spend more time looking at the scenery than they do watching the road. At least, I would have had enough common sense to pull the car over to the side of the road to take pictures.

      1. Yes and even worse, it was at a complete stop right on a curve. I guess the driver figured this was his only chance!

        1. George Moore

          I think that anybody driving vehicles are dangerous whichever it might be local or tourists and I think that we could always do betater tao aslow down a little bit and on another note Erik im looking to buy some non fiction Amish books which ones should I get

          1. Some good books on the Amish

            George, for a general view of who the Amish are, the most recent and comprehensive book is ‘The Amish’ https://amishamerica.com/3-book-giveaway-kraybill-johnson-weiner-nolt-amish/

            There are a lot of others depending on what you are interested in. The Amish Way on Amish religion/spirituality. An Amish Paradox (Hurst/McConnell) covers diversity among Amish very well as it explores the large Holmes County Ohio community from many different angles. Interesting first-person accounts of the Amish can be found in Plain Secrets (Joe Mackall) or Beyond the Plain and Simple (Pauline Stevick).

            1. George Moore

              Thank you very much Erik and im just looking for bany kind of non fiction Amish books BC im just trying to learn more about the Amish

    5. New York State of Mind

      Good Morning Erik,
      That wasn’t my car. I wouldn’t have been THAT dumb. LOL

      1. No definitely didn’t think it was you! 🙂

    6. City Slicker

      More dangerous - Tourists or Locals?

      Dangerous driving recognizes no State borders, and so fools are licensed in every State. How can one tell if the vehicle with PA plates that was seen to do something is local or an in-State tourist?
      That said, it seems to me that reports of serious car-buggy accidents in the Lancaster media more often identify the operators of the motor vehicles as locals.

      1. Good point…a lot of this discussion is going to be based on anecdotes and impressions, unless there is a study I’m not aware of. I’m pretty sure the NY plates fellow wasn’t a Lancaster local however 🙂

        The Amish passengers I had along seemed to think that the out-of-towners were less apt to mind being stuck trailing a buggy, after all many come for the “slower life”.

        1. City Slicker

          I’ll stipulate the “Noo Yawk” (and yes, I have them myself!) plates on the car — and the buggy photo op — can be taken as at least strong indications the occupants were tourists!

          I’ve had cars from several different States stack up behind me and get annoyed because I hesitated to pass a buggy or wagon until I could see for myself that the road was clear; a [local] commercial van once pulled out and passed the two cars behind me, my car, and the buggy in front of us on May Post Office Road.

          By the same token I’ve had buggy drivers wave me around, and have seen buggies passing one another in what I considered an unsafe manner.

    7. Robin Miller

      Well, we are headed to Lancaster County this coming week and I really look forward to the slower pace (once we get off Rt. 30) … no rush to get anywhere and if we get “stuck” behind a buggy for a bit, that’s fine with me. We always exercise caution when driving these roads and yield to the buggies as well as scooter “traffic” and pedestrians.

    8. Margaret

      Drivers

      Impatient drivers abound in every state. I was in the crosswalk the other day, a nice person had stopped for me. The guy behind him didn’t even look forward and out the drivers window–he just blasted his horn.

      Other people do whatever they can to startle the horse. They think it’s fun to see him rear and take off. They don’t stop to realize that with the blinkers on the horse CAN NOT SEE TO OTHER SIDE. It’s stupidity at its worst.

      Still others deliberately run people over cause “they were in the way”.

      As a former crossing guard maybe I’m more sensitive to the stupidity of drivers. When in doubt stay behind the buggy AT A REASONABLE distance. Be aware the buggy may slow down for hills, turns, or anything ahead of them that will affect you but you just haven’t sen yet. Quit with the photos. Amish people don’t appreciate it. It is not in their belief system.

      When it’s safe to pass get fully into the other lane and pass. You don’t need to rev the engine to do 60 in 2nd gear–making a racket. If you have traffic coming from the other direction it’s not safe to pass. At the minimum your car will be damaged possibly totalled. The buggy will be totalled. People seriously injured if not killed. The horse is the most victimized. And he’ll bear the worst of the injuries.

      My first question if I were a judge would be what was the point? That you’re bigger and more powerful in the car? Big deal. Life’s have been ruined as a result of your actions. The Amish may not seek retribution and they may not seek for you to pay hospital bills. But who is going to harvest those fields if the man was hurt and can’t get out there. And no matter what you will have to live with the fact that you ran people down for no good reason other than your selfish needs.

      We need to learn act with kindness and compassion. With love and tolerance for one another. We need to learn to drive with our heads not our brawn.

      Sometimes you can fix stupid. People make mistakes even stupid ones. When you learn from them and become willing to listen from the accident it isn’t entirely fraught. Hopefully you’ll have singled and no one else will be involved. Then you commit to change and allow that to guide you. But when you get defensive and refuse to listen and insist that you were the one not at fault nothing’s been learned.

      Perhaps making a buggy lane would decrease accidents. Buggy lanes would just be a bit wider than bike lanes. It could allow everyone a chance to get to where they are they going without fear of being run down.

      1. Ed

        Good post Margaret. I agree with your sentiments.

        Special buggy lanes sound like a good idea. Similar to bike lanes that have been installed in New York and some other cities. Our society has become so car-centric over the past century that it can be hard to imagine there may be better ways of getting from point A to point B.

    9. Erin

      From what I’ve read from local newspapers, I’ve found it to be locals. I do know that many of the Amish communities in MN do not use SMV signs, putting them at greater risk.

      An Amishman was hit from behind in Mora last September. He did have a SMV sign and battery operated lights. It was a local woman that hit him and she said that the lights were not on.

      When a new community starts, do the Amish request buggy signs to be posted? There is a community that started near Milaca, MN (Central MN) about six months ago and there are no signs posted anywhere. Many of the locals are just discovering there are Amish in the community.

    10. Maggie

      Just dangerous drivers in general

      Amish communities are “in the country” and being “in the country” poses other roadway hazards besides buggies – people (children included) walking, wildlife crossing, cattle crossing, free range chickens and guineas, bicycles, scooters, folks on horseback, etc., etc., etc., If I were to choose another career, besides quilting, I would definitely lean towards one that improves vision and, if there was such a career, improves attentiveness! I think locals are more likely to make impatient errors – including going around the tourist -because they know the road/terrain better. It is another one of those “hot topics” of yours, Erik because there is so much to be said. I am not so sure that it is a situation involving just Amish communities, but in general. Drivers are impatient/inattentive and it’s causing deaths everywhere – a five car pileup taking the lives of three people because someone did not see the brake lights of the car in front is no different then not seeing SMV triangles, reflectors or lanterns. The stories go on and on.

    11. Juanita Cook

      Driving

      I would have to say the locals. They see the buggies on the roads all the time so they are not as careful. Tourists try to be on the look out for buggies and tend be more careful

    12. Rachel

      I think locals are probably the biggest hazard, due to the fact that at any given time there are more locals on the road than tourists.
      But I’m sure I can speak for many locals when I say that it is extraordinarily frustrating to be stuck behind a tourist who is happily following a buggy with no concern whatsoever for those behind them who would like to pass the buggy. If you are a tourist I can tell you that no-one appreciates your pleasurable ride behind the buggy. Not those behind you, nor the buggy occupants. I’m not saying you should pass when the conditions are bad, just don’t stay behind the buggy when there is no other reason to do so.

    13. Katrina

      Does Lancaster Have Buggy Lanes?

      In parts of Indiana Amish country, there are what is called a “buggy lane”- a paved section of road to the right which is wide enough to accomodate a horse and buggy. Yellow warning signs are also posted around the Shipshewana area, showing a horse and buggy. From what I have seen it is generally tourists that are impatient. What worries me are the Mennonite and Amish kids/teens who ride their bikes along the 2 lane highway that is one of Shipshewana’s main streets-the riders I saw were constantly looking back over their shoulders as they rode. Their parents had probably instructed them to do so, but cars were turning left in front of the bike riders- one driver slammed on his brakes just in time.

      1. Some of the main roads do…for instance Highway 322. This would be a similar level of highway to say the buggy-laned Highway 5 in Lagrange County IN.

    14. Bob Rosier (Bob the Quaker)

      So, I wonder which is worst. Being stuck behind a tourist or stuck behind a buggy? I never minded getting stuck behind a buggy especially when there are a few small heads peaking out the back.

      It use to be common for deer to get hit when our development was new. Now, the deer have learned about traffic, and I haven’t heard of a case of a deer being hit in several years. That’s not saying the humans are necessarily as smart as deer :-), but I think the locals are more aware of the danger. Comparing an equal number of both locals and tourist, I think the tourist are more dangerous.

    15. New York State of Mind

      I agree with Margaret. In New York State, we have bicycle lanes, which in some places, are now buggy lanes, too. I think we could use a lot more of these lanes in places. It is safer for bicycles and buggies. But, of course, there are still some dumb car drivers that cut the bicycles and buggies off.

    16. Tina

      My thoughts

      A recent trip to Lancaster and I asked myself the same question. I have notice that the locals there drive very fast as do those who taxi the Amish around and those that are Amish that can drive their trucks, cars, vans. It scares me for all that are on the road rather they are in a buggy or in their car. I think it’s important that we all take the time to drive safe and have some patience when driving no matter where your at. Thanks for listening.

      1. LarMar

        What is very fast? 55 mph in a 55 mph zone? The reason I am asking is our perception of speed seems to be centered around the speed of the Amish Carriage. I can not tell you the number of local cars I have come upon that are driving 35-40 on a wide open stretch of State Highway where the speed limit is 55 mph.

      2. LarMar

        I have also noticed that Beachy Amish will often drive their vans or cars 35-40 mph. It could be that driving their vehicles that slow is part of their parish’s ordnung. But I don’t know for sure.

    17. FDloyd Zook

      Without a doubt, Lancaster drivers speed, tail-gait and generally are impatient with buggies and tourists. Just look at the amount of accidents in the county.

    18. Dali Castillo

      Dangerous Drivers

      Locals. Definitely. I often drive to Shipshewana or Napanee and have seen crazy drivers in both. They whip around the buggies, even on hills & curves that have blind spots. They also cross the double yellow line in the middle of the road. Often times I’ve seen them accelerate suddenly to go around.
      If I pass, I only do so if it is absolutely clear and safe. And, I take my time because I don’t want to spook the horse. May sound crazy, but it’s true.

    19. Linda

      Sad to say, according to http://www.news-herald.com/articles/2013/06/28/news/doc51cd8be16548e161025114.txt
      the Ohio Amish teenager who was driving a two-wheeled sulky, did not survive the accident that Erik mentioned in his article. The car driver seems to be a local person. We can pray for the driver and the Miller family.

      1. OldKat

        Thanks for the update

        Thank you Linda. I was wondering about this. Sorry to hear of his passing. Thoughts and prayers are with & for his family.

      2. Linda

        The buggy was pulling a road cart. They met by accident!

        1. Linda

          Oh, I meant the horse was pulling a road cart. Sorry.

      3. LarMar

        That was Friday afternoon and it was raining about that time as I remember. Do you know if Mr. Miller was old order or not? (ie., lacking a triangle and marking lights?)

    20. OldKat

      Not just in Amish Country

      Having never been to Lancaster County, Pa I wouldn’t have a clue which driver is most dangerous in Amish Country; local or tourist. I do have some insight about driving horses on the highway though. Obviously, I am not Amish. However, my team of driving-horses were trained for field and road work by a young Amish man. This issue not exclusively a problem in amish Country though.

      Horses either being ridden or driven on the roadway are not as common in my area as they would be in an Amish community, but you do see them. We have a world class driving horse trainer / competition driver in our community so he is frequently out on the roadway with his hitch. Many of the local youth will ride their horses on the roadway when the weather is nice, sometimes even riding them right into town.

      Roads are wide and well maintained in our area, but few roads other than the major highways have paved shoulders. The terrain is relatively flat to gently-rolling, so there are view visibility issues. Typically the drivers that I would encounter would overtake my rig and pass using one of three methods; #1) zoom right past us moving over ONLY enough to not collide with us ( passing only a couple of feet to the left at 50 to 60 mph), #2) slowing down to ensure there was no oncoming traffic and then swinging into the other lane and passing at a reasonable speed (35 to 45 mph … I LOVE that sort of driver) and then … #3) those that will pull right up on the back of the wagon and creep along at the 5 mph that we are doing, regardless if the road is wide open or not. They just refuse to pass. They may think that they are doing the driver of the team and his animal(s) a favor by doing this … really they are not. That driver gets a vigorous wave around.

      I can tell you that the first type do aggravate me some, but the third type aggravate me AND my mares. They get VERY nervous being able to hear the engine of the car behind us, but they can’t see it for the blinders (blinkers) on the headstall. After a couple of minutes of this they are both ready to bolt and run. In fact, I am having some new headstalls made that have no blinders … just for this reason. I WANT the team to see what is behind them.

      I used to take my team out on the road more than I do now and will probably be doing it more in the future. This fall I am going to restore an antique John Deere farm wagon and adapt it accept a wagon pole. I am also going to add lights to it & the state mandated SMV sign. From there on it is a matter of acclimating the girls to the sights and sounds of this new rig and then launching some serious prayer before we venture out onto the roadway.

      1. Lattice

        Thank you for your perspective, OldKat. I am ashamed to say that I am oftentimes driver #3! It’s for two reasons, really. One, I am not an impatient driver, and two, I am not a risk taker. I do not mind at all moving at the pace of the horses until a very clear opening to pass becomes available. Sometimes horse drivers will slow a little more or edge somewhat to the shoulder as an invitation to pass, but very frequently it is on a hill or in a curve where visibility doesn’t suit me (this is the Kentucky and Tennessee area where flat lands seldom exist, and again, I’m not a risk taker!).

        Sometimes I will go ahead and reluctantly pass, as it seems to be the desire of the horse driver, but I always assumed it was just politeness (him guessing what I would want), not his preference. Likewise, I always assumed the horse driver thought I was only being polite by following along slowly (not tailgating by any stretch), but it’s actually my preference (over passing unsafely)! I was around horses for many years and am well aware of how they anticipate what they will be asked to do next. The hum of an automobile engine behind them would probably cause them to be tense until it passed.

        Thank you for your input. I have heard my horse and buggy friends complain about speeding drivers, but never the number 3’s. Maybe they didn’t want to hurt my feelings. 😉

        1. OldKat

          Terrain can make a difference

          The type of country you are travelling in can have a big impact on how to handle this issue. That is why I made a point of saying that in my area, at least on the roads I would use, the road surface is wide and the terrain is flat to gently rolling. We are also in a prairie setting, which is mostly open. I can see how if you were in a hilly area, with narrow roads, no shoulder and maybe winding roads the approach to passing a horse-drawn vehicle would have to be much different and much more complicated.

          I’d suggest that if anyone is in a situation where they can’t pass a buggy, wagon or whatever being drawn by a horse or a team of horses; drop back some distance, put on your left blinker to let the drivers behind you know that you DO intend to pass and then, when it is safe to do so, increase your speed such that you can get past the much slower vehicle without endangering you, the animal powered vehicle, or oncoming traffic. I know, I know, I know … “easier said than done”.

          BTW: There are several reasons that I suggest dropping back a little bit, rather than tailgating a horse, mule or other animal powered vehicle (APV). #1) It allows the drivers behind you to see what the obstruction is; so that they don’t try to pass YOU only to discover that they can’t pull back into their lane of travel because of the APV. Just don’t drop back so far that you actually ENCOURAGE people to pass you. #2) It is less distracting to the animals, because they can’t hear the engine in your vehicle nearly as well if you are not right on their tailgate. #3) It gives you room to accelerate BEFORE you reach the APV, rather than having to swing past them and THEN rev your engine to accelerate … which can further unnerve the poor animal pulling the vehicle. Really no fool proof way to do this, but that is how I approach it.

          1. Lattice

            Thanks O.K., excellent advice. I will certainly put it into practice.

      2. OldKat

        Typo time ... again.

        I wrote:
        “The terrain is relatively flat to gently-rolling, so there are view visibility issues”.

        I should have written “FEW visibility issues”.

        1. Lattice

          It still made sense anyhow… a little redundant maybe, but I didn’t catch it as an error.

          Once (or twice) I suggested how handy an “edit” option would be, but on the other hand, Erik’s format forces us to pay close attention to what we write (for lots of reasons). You probably get to know a different aspect of people through their “off the cuff” reactions and thoughts.

          “Measure twice – cut once,” that is, proofread twice and send once! 😉

          1. Thanks for seeing the benefit of not having one Lattice 🙂 I have mixed feelings on this, but still leaning towards not having an edit feature. I think the comments here are generally at a high level despite the occasional grammatical or spelling error. Not to mention measure twice, cut once is something the Amish would probably appreciate.

      3. ...not just in Amish country

        This #3 choice makes ma a little nervous whether it’s the semi driver in front of me or the guy in the buggy. Neither of those drivers knows me and my reaction time nor the limits of my vehicle to get around them safely.

    21. Locals ... that means me unfortunately

      Doing taxi work here in Holmes, I think we locals are more apt to do the stupid passing on hills. What gripes us locals is that the tourists get behind a buggy and there are half a dozen cars waiting to pass, but the tourist wont pass, probably from a fear of spooking the horse or something.
      Well, I sort of smile to myself when hauling an Amish person somewhere and we get stuck behind a tourist puttering along at 35 mph. He/she is enjoying the laid back, slow, easy-going Amish lifestyle. Meanwhile, I have an Amish man with me that has places to go, things to do, and people to see. So we pass the tourist. 🙂
      And the buggies also, admittedly probably in some places that are sort of iffy. You pass and watch real close, making plans that if a car pops over the hill you will hit the ditch if need be, since you are probably only going 20 mph or so when passing the buggy.
      This is a good reminder to me that a few minutes saved would not be worth an accident.

    22. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      My Memory of driving with my parents in at least a part of Ontario Mennonite/Amish country, was my Father driving reasonably slowly to accommodate the Old Order types, we passed buggies very cautiously. We did take pictures, but usually it was my mother who was the shutter bug craning hurriedly to get a shot of the horse and buggy, allowing my Dad to safely drive forward, no perilous stops in strange roadway locations. Although I do remember stopping at the intersection, by now I forget street sign names, where Pathway Publishers was located.

      I remember also feeling a little concerned for the horses when we went to some store or something in a small town, only to see a horse and buggy parked between parked cars on the side of a partly residential partly commercial street. It seemed to me there was potential for danger if the other driver backed up into the horses. I seem to recall that there was a group of Old Orders and English chatting nearby so I suppose the owner of the horse and buggy was there, and likely the people who owned the nearby home likely knew the owner of the team.

      As said repeatedly above, “good road ways” as I once read in an Ontario drivers learning guide book is to share the road with caution and courtesy to others both in motorized vehicles and those who aren’t.

      I mean as an avid pedestrian I have countless times had drivers hurry into the intersection while I’m crossing only to become impatient with me walking across the walk way, I’m a young guy with reasonably good health, but I worry about impatient patient drivers barring down on slower seniors.

      Darn people like Mr. Ford for making the car an affordable thing any idiot with a decent job can afford.

    23. Eli

      I am amazed by the selfishness and impatience of the average person in a car. Riding with people I know makes me seriously doubt the future of humanity.

    24. Eli S.

      Should we speed up or slow down?

      People who drive too slow are a hazard. Tourists want to see everything. Seeing a horse pulling a buggy for the first time is a novelty. They don’t want to speed by and miss this strange and wonderful sight.
      People who drive too fast are a hazard. Locals have places to go and things to do. After all, Holmes County loves the income tourism provides. So the fast and the slow clash.
      Having been born and raised in Holmes, I can say without a doubt that traffic of both horse and engine powered vehicles has increased tremendously, possibly ten-fold since 1960. Identifying which demographic creates the most danger is not useful nor possible, in my opinion. Any warning signs or law must apply to both sides. But then, I have been wrong before.

    25. LarMar

      I get nervous when I see out of state plates. Tourists are unsure where they are at and what they want to see. So you will often get the ‘slam on the brakes and turn-in without signaling’ from Tourists.

    26. Alice Mary

      Another thought

      For one thing, I don’t like driving in strange areas, don’t like traveling more than 20 miles beyond my home, so it’s not very likely I’d ever be driving an automobile in an Amish area, anywhere! (Thank your lucky stars!) I can understand, however, that locals would tend to “look past” what is “regular traffic” for them. Tourists, in my opinion, would go slower—but, as LaMar indicates, they might be more likely to make sudden stops/turns/decisions. Mix the locals with the slower-than-average tourists, and accidents are pretty much inevitable!

      Are there any “government” or “community”-sponsored “learn how to drive safely in Amish Country” kinds of programs (“drivers ed” around horses/buggies/farm vehicles) anywhere in the country? I’d be interested in attending them, IF (BIG “if”) I ever intended to drive in a horse and buggy area.

      We still have areas around here where we encounter farm equipment on local roads, or people on horseback areas, but horse and buggy traffic is definitely different—you’re dealing with a horse’s brain and a human’s brain, both powering the same vehicle (both an art and a science)!

      Alice Mary

    27. Rachel

      My Thoughts

      As a former Amish I would have to say I saw the locals as being more careless…and I totally agree never try to spook a horse you don’t know the driver may be a young child who can’t handle that horse well…I know sometimes when I was that ‘young child’ if my horse spooked I had a hard time getting him under control.My Dad let me drive when I was 15 years old,(with no experience)and a lot of Amish parents let their 9 and 10 year olds drive so especially in a hilly country like Lancaster one can not be to careful..As a young girl we lost a family member to a horrible buggy/car accident,,,and now that I’m driving a car I do frequently drive in Amish country and I have to say I try to be very careful, having been on both sides..

      1. Dali Castillo

        Driving & Buggies

        Rachel, I appreciate your comments on being careful not to spook the horse. That’s always my concern when I drive in Amish country. Glad to know I’ve been doing it right. Just wish the other drivers would get it.

    28. I’m not a don’t live in Lancaster county and I’m not a tourist but I do spend a lot of time in Lancaster county Amish county at Amish farms doing pictures for puppy advertising and sometimes I forget how slow the buggies travel. I really have to pay attention so I don’t hit anyone.