“Driverless” Amish Buggy Crashes After Two-Mile Ride

I have to admit when I saw the headline of this story (“Driverless Amish buggy crashes in Watertown”), the first thing that came to mind were driverless cars.

Had Amish in some under-the-radar settlement stealthily adopted battery-powered self-driving buggies when no one was looking? Some Amish absorb change faster than others…but that would be quite a leap.

Damaged Amish buggy and fireman
The buggy sustained significant damage. Image: WWNY

But of course, that’s not what this was. Here we simply have another case of a regular horse-powered buggy, which somehow got loose on the road sans Amish driver. Luckily, things concluded without major injuries to either horse or humans. So what happened? From WWNY:

WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) – An Amish buggy without a driver to control the horses traveled roughly two miles on one of Watertown’s busiest streets before colliding with vehicles.

City police said the driver, Joseph Zook (no age or address available), parked his buggy at Lowe’s Home Improvement on Route 3, also known as outer Arsenal Street, in the town of Watertown.

While Zook was inside, officials said the two horses got free and wound up pulling the buggy onto the street and continued traveling toward downtown Watertown.

Police said the horses collided with a couple of vehicles at around 3 p.m. on Arsenal Street in front of Walgreens near the intersection of Bellew Avenue.

The two horses were injured and a member of the Amish community retrieved them to take them to a farm. It appeared the animals were not seriously hurt.

Sounds like it was a lucky ride for both the horses and the residents of Watertown. A two mile ride at let’s say eight miles per hour is still about 15 minutes on the road without a human at the reins. If they had crossed the lane or turned into oncoming traffic, this could be a much sadder story. As it happens no people were injured and it sounds like the horses are going to be okay.

Far from the first time

This type of thing happens often enough. Just recently we had the story of a horse taking off with a baby in the buggy, only to be happily found about two hours later. In a similar incident, a state trooper had to chase down a driverless buggy to rescue an Amish toddler inside.

Runaway Amish horses have gone a lot further than in this example; in 2017 a horse exhausted itself after hauling an empty buggy ten miles in Wayne County, Ohio. And unfortunately these horses sometimes cause accidents, as in this head-on collision in Tennessee, or this accident in Pennsylvania which left a woman seriously injured.

Amish horse petted by fireman
Did one follow the other’s lead? One of the two lucky horses. Image: WWNY

This may be the first case I’ve seen where a pair of horses decide to take off together without their owner. It’s not that common to have two horses pulling a buggy, but some Amish do it, as it increases the range a buggy can travel. The owner may have had a lot of stops planned that day. But how did the horses get free? Joseph Zook says that he doesn’t know.

I can see just two options here. Either they weren’t secured tightly enough, or someone came along and released them. Option #2 would be not just a “prank” but would seem more like a criminal act.

So unless there is a dark side to this tale, I would bet they simply weren’t secured well enough. And I imagine some horses are better at getting loose than others. Joseph Zook will have a story to tell – and I guess will be extra-vigilant from now on, when it comes to tying up his hooved haulers.

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    15 Comments

    1. john

      driverless buggy

      In a situation like this where the horses and buggy get loose and causes an accident and the Amish not having insurance on the buggys who would end up paying for the damage on the vehicles that were hit

      1. Lou

        I think most likely the Amish have a community insurance pool in case of litigation for damage.

      2. Central Virginian

        Who Pays?

        I expect it would work the same way as when my car hit a cow in the road at night and the farmer did not take responsibility, nor was the cow tagged for identification (although everyone knew who it belonged to) Another time I was rear ended by a driver with no insurance. In both instances my auto insurance paid for damages and medical.

    2. Tony Antonucci

      Must Have Been an Elon Musk Driverless Buggy

      The Amish buggy that crashed without a driver must have been a prototype driverless buggy being developed by Elon Musk. Wait until he tries to develop a buggy that runs on a battery instead of a horse. LoL.

    3. Love Finds You in Sugarcreek

      Erik,
      Your article reminds me of a 2014 TV movie, titled “Love Finds You in Sugarcreek.” The acting wasn’t the greatest but the contemporary movie took place in Sugarcreek, OH.
      It had a scene with a runaway “driverless” Amish buggy. In the fictional movie, no one was injured–people or the horse.
      As a result of this accident, two city police officers disagreed on how to handle the incident. A relative newcomer to the community and the department, said the young Amish man needed to be ticketed to “teach him a lesson.” The other, home grown, local officer, who had Amish relatives, disagreed.
      She said, (summarizing) Oh, by the time he gets home everyone will know what he’s done. His family and community won’t ever let him forget this. He’ll be embarrassed enough by his mistake. It won’t happen again. He’ll be more careful. He doesn’t need a ticket.
      As a former deputy sheriff, I remember the scene because I like how it was handled in the movie. Officers are allowed discretion on most incidents, to do the “right” thing. You might also call it cultural awareness.
      Makes me wonder how a lack of awareness by an English person or organization can be interpreted as uncaring, uncompassionate, or of being hard-handed.
      This scene from a movie could even turn into a future blog where the amount of cooperation between the Amish and the English would in part be determined by the amount of trust with a person in law enforcement, not totally on rules from the Ordnung or interpretation of a district bishop.
      Thanks again for your essays/blogs.
      Jim

      1. I think it’s a great point. The human element is always important…to take another example, the Nickel Mines tragedy as awful as it was apparently led to better cooperation and relationships between Amish and local law enforcement.

    4. WoW!

      There’s always something new under the sun. In all my years with The Amish, I have never heard – or seen – of two horses pulling a buggy. This has to be something new. The horses can’t be hooked up side by side, so they were evidently one ahead of the other. Wait ’til I tell my Amish friends in Wisconsin about this. I know they’ll get a charge out if it.

      1. Lou

        Two horses

        Lancaster resident here…Bird-in-Hand area. Yes, on occasion two horses are used for buggy transportation. Most likely, for exercise if one of the horses are in need of same. I was told it does not double or increase speed much. Of course, different districts and settlements may have different sets of rules in regards to a post in this thread.

      2. Rod

        Two horses..

        Two horses side by side is common. Primarily used to haul a large family or other heavy load in hill country where a bit more “horsepower” is required. For those that are used to seeing big draft horses used in this manner, two Standardbreds or other similar sized horses can travel this way as well. The article didn’t mention how they were tied, or what went wrong, but I’ve seen this before and the result is terrifying to watch.
        Two often are used for longer trips to town, and it only takes one of them to break their way free to start the other one thinking he/she needs to go too. Once gone, it takes a brave man to stand in front of an undriven team. They get quite wild and nervous without a teamster, and run like blazes. I’ve seen seem crash through a 8’ tall chain link fence at a fairground, and through fields at full speed. A horse on the loose like this makes the livestock at a rodeo look tame. Fear takes over, and the results are seldom without damage. Do this once, or see someone else make this mistake and you will never casually tie any driving horse, no matter how broke, again.
        Note the extra neck rope on the one horse in the picture. He or she has a history of breaking lead ropes or bridles, and that rope is to insure they don’t get loose. It’s broken, and I suspect that horse is strong enough to have broken it.

      3. RUTH MAXWELL

        HORSES ARE SMART

        yes,horses are smart but if you look at photo of horse w rope around neck you can see the bottom end is frayed/torn![such ropes are used for securing them when out & about] perhaps this one was old /weak -something spooked the hosrse and jerked his head-or could have chewed on it! Some horses get tired of waiting in the cold! Yes,most have manual brakes for use while driving but would not have been used while parking.

      4. Martha Cable

        I’ve seen Amish driving a pair, side by side, in Pennsylvania. Tandem would be too long.

    5. Kensi Blonde

      poor horses

      Poor horses. btw it’s weird to have to title all the comments.

      1. Titles are not required. That option is just there for those who want it. You can comment without them.

    6. Horses are smart

      Thankfully no one got hurt seriously. Horses are smart. I had one that knew how to untie the rope. Could be thats what happened. And the comment about who pays for the vehicle when amish carry no insurance well i believe the people who own the car would be carrying comprehensive meaning their insurance will cover. I was wondering if a brake on the buggy was set or do they not have brakes. I seen movies that show wagons etc have a break so I’m curious.

      1. Martha Cable

        The method that horses are tied does not lend itself to the horses being able to untie themselves. I’m thinking someone who doesn’t like the Amish and their horses on the roads, untied this pair.