How do Amish youth get driver’s licenses?

Rita asks:

I’ve seen the comments about teens, during Rumspringa, driving cars. How do they get a permit, practice time, license and money to buy a car without the parent’s assistance?

We’ve discussed Amish youth getting their first buggies, but what about cars?  First off, some Amish youth do in fact drive, and some Amish parents have no choice but to concede car driving to those children (even though they may not be happy about it).

amish youth drivers licenseLike in English society during adolescence Amish parental control loosens.  But there is still a degree of influence or control that comes from living under the same roof and still not being an adult.  Amish parents aren’t encouraging their children to get behind the wheel, but they don’t necessarily have the authority to try to stop them even if they thought doing so would be a good idea.

If you ever drive around Amish communities and see cars parked in farm lanes or behind barns, chance are one of the adolescent family members–the majority of the time male–owns them.  I remember seeing this often my first summer on the backroads of Holmes County, Ohio and it took me a little while to figure out what was going on.

Even though a lot of Amish turn a disapproving eye to youth driving, truth be told some Amish parents benefit from their children being drivers, whether it is in providing transport for a business or for personal needs.  However not all Amish are going to explicitly or tacitly permit this, lower Amish in particular.

For instance in the same Ohio community Andy Weaver Amish who permit their children to own cars while living at home are subject to church sanctions (see An Amish Paradox p. 47–“Today, all Andy Weaver young people know that the high price they must pay if they buy a car includes leaving home”).  So, driving would be classified by some as “wilder” behavior, but certainly not the wildest, and not all that uncommon in certain communities.

Learning to drive

As far as learning to drive, obviously Amish kids are not out practicing with dad in the Wal-Mart parking lot.  Some Amish youth are going to have experience moving a tractor around the farm (even though most Amish don’t use them in the fields).

amish youth carsCertainly many get practice behind the wheels of friends’ vehicles.  I think like any other teens Amish youth have a fascination with fast cars, and given the circumstances of growing up in a slower-paced horse-and-buggy world, perhaps even more so.  Unfortunately, as with the English, Amish teens and cars can end badly, and from time to time you hear of tragic accidents with Amish youth drivers at fault.

Getting money to buy a car

When it comes to money, even though Amish kids typically contribute to the household finances until age 21, they can surely figure out ways of getting together enough funds to purchase a jalopy.  For those who’ve read his account of growing up Amish, Ira Wagler describs pooling money together with buddies to buy a first car.  Most Amish youth work and some even run their own sideline businesses; it’s not unheard of for Amish to cut their teeth in entrepreneurship while still in their teens.

When generating your own business income it’s not hard to see how you could procure the funds for a vehicle.  Even if you’re just doing regular labor finding a way to buy a thousand-dollar beater is hardly an insurmountable challenge for a determined young man, even when you’re still officially contributing to the household.

And in the less-common cases when an Amish youth leaves home to live on his own he would not have the same obligations to the household purse.  Of course at age 21 finances become a lot clearer, and with some Amish delaying baptism for years, the automotive world becomes their oyster.

Getting a license

On getting a driver’s license, I once asked an Amishman about the situation in his home state of Ohio: “You can get [a license] at 16…at 18, you can then get it yourself, without having the parents involved,” he explained.  “About all the Amish just do it that way.  They wait til they’re 18…they’ll get out there soon enough anyway, so why push them.”

Driver’s licensing laws vary from state to state, but you’re probably not seeing a lot of permits with Amish youth for the obvious reasons.  For what it’s worth, this Amish acquaintance–and former youth driver himself–doesn’t seem to miss his wheels much now that he’s a baptized Amish adult.  Returning from a trip to the city of Akron, he explains, “We got into rush hour on the way home.  And to think that people actually go through that every day…I couldn’t make it!”

amish youth driving ohio farmThough a lot of parents are not comfortable with it, the reality is that a good chunk of Amish youth–boys especially–are going to want to try out driving a car during those heady years of sowing oats.  How parents handle their teens’ desires can make a difference in not just the child-parent relationship but also the individual’s experience in the Amish church, even influencing how and if they join church in later years.

I hope that does some justice to Rita’s question, and of course experiences vary across Amish society.  I’d be curious to hear any “Amish car anecdotes” you’ve heard or experienced so feel free to share in the comments.

Camaro photo: kenjonbro/flickr

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    1. Ed

      Interesting. So the “higher” Amish groups may tolerate some driving by their youth, but less so the lower groups.

      And getting a license itself doesn’t seem to be a problem, at least for that community in Ohio. I take it they must have been issued birth certificates and possibly some other identity document previous to getting a license.

      I watched a video once of some group of ex-Amish youth in Missouri. Several had not been issued a birth certificates and therefore were basically unknown to the government. They mentioned it taking several months to get a birth certifiate as an adult.

      On the other hand, with all the concern these days about identity theft, having absolutely no government issued identity documents has a certain appeal. When your identity is based on real-world relationships with others, as opposed to a document, there’s not much concern about someone stealing it.

    2. Missy

      I’d be curious if they get insurance. It’s mandatory in Ohio, but Amish typically don’t buy any kind of insurance. So are they driving without, thereby breaking the law?

      1. Hi Missy, what we think of as Amish rules and practices technically only apply to baptized members. We can probably assume that if someone’s okay with driving he’s not going to have qualms about having insurance.

      2. Gerald

        Amish and mandatory auto insurance

        A hint as to their attitude toward mandatory insurance can be discerned from that of conservative Mennonites (Amish-ism is a sect of Mennonism): they buy only the mandatory minimum, liabilty only, and decline the un/underinsured motorist coverage, medical, towing, and any other non-mandatory coverage. They regard the insurance premium as a tax (which part of it is).
        Some jurisdictions mandate insurance on houses. The idea is that if the house is destroyed there will be funds to at least clear the lot, fill in a cellar, if not replace the house. Liability coverage in case someone is injured or killed on the lot is part of it. If Amish lived in such a place they would buy the minimum insurance and consider the premiums a tax.
        Amish pay tax(es) because Jesus and Paul advised not to offend the unbelievers by hassling with their revenue collectors over “filthy lucre.” If a Christian is truly dedicated to Jesus as Lord, all money belongs to Jesus. So if He doesn’t want His people to get into contentions with the unbelievers over His money, we shouldn’t.
        At worst, unjust exactions are collected on a “your money or your life” basis, and we are not to endanger our lives over money – the government will murder you to get what it demands. Human government has to operate on a foundation of violence and murder or the wicked will not obey the laws they don’t want to

    3. Alice Mary


      I’m right along with Missy in wondering about the insurance aspect of driving—Illinois requires insurance, too, so SOMEONE has to acquire/pay for it. I’d be interested to know (any insurance agents on this blog?) if Amish “youth” male or female, are considered better or worse risks than their English counterparts.

      The whole aspect of birth certificates (in order to get insurance, driver’s license) is interesting, too—so, do the more conservative Amish NOT “file” birth certificates—what if the birth takes place in a hospital, doesn’t the hospital have to submit info. about all births that occur there? How do they avoid it (conservative groups) other than only giving birth at home, no matter what the risk to the mother/child?

      Alice Mary

    4. Lee Ann

      Ed has a point there about identity thief.

      Interesting that the more conservative Amish do not have birth certificates. How do they go about getting loans, or whatever to build a house? I know they don’t like to take out loans, but sometimes must, so I would think the birth certificate would come in handy for that as well as for driving.

      1. Gerald

        Amish do not borrow money from moneylenders. They help one another, build one another’s houses and barns, etc.
        When they build houses now they conform to codes as to wiring, plumbing, etc. then cover over receptacles, switches are removed, plumbing may be capped off if outhouses or vault toilets are permitted where they live. This makes their houses so that they can be sold to non-Amish just by reinstalling fixtures and connecting to the power grid and water main.

    5. Beverly Cregger

      Comment on How do Amish youth get driver's licenses?

      When I was in Lancaster, Pa. recently I saw some Amish youth driving a Cadillac Escalade. How can they afford that?

      1. Gerald

        Before they are baptized into the Amish brotherhood they can pretty much as they please as long as they do it somewhere else. Called “rumspringa.” They get a taste of the outside world. Most return.

    6. Rita

      Thanks for the information and for choosing my question, Erik! You made my day!

      1. My pleasure Rita. I enjoyed visiting this question too. Though I don’t know how I’d feel were I an Amish parent of a teenage hot rod driver.

    7. This summer some Amish young men were putting in fence across the road from us. We kept hearing revving motors and loud country music. When we walked down the driveway to get the mail we saw the two young men, one in a tractor, the other one in a bobcat, playing chicken with each other. They were woo-hooing and shouting and singing with the radio. We looked at each other and said,”another Amish myth shattered!”

    8. Slightly-handled-Order-man

      Crazy Amish kids

      This is remarkable to me. I just figured that they’d just do horse and buggy their entire lives.
      I wonder how many of the young people buy what they consider a cool car and drive it for a few years and then hide it in their barns after they accept their baptism, and polish up their secret baby and remember their wild youth.

      1. Shom, that seems like a scene from a movie-to-be. Only I can’t figure out if it’s a comedy or drama!

        1. Slightly-handled-Order-man

          Erik: Maybe its a comedic drama. That would make a great film one way or the other, maybe have a scene echoing the “What a wonderful world this would be” scene in Harrison Ford’s “Witness”

          It is like when I was in high school, my friend and his family lived in a uniform development of rows of the exact same house over and over again (that boring), but one of the secret things of my friend’s house is that his father had this awesome muscle car in the garage that he worked on and polished. If my friend was sixteen at the time the car had to be in the garage or in the family for 10 to 15 of those, and I imagine my friend’s dad kept it to remind him of when he was a teenager or a twenty something (or bought it later as a midlife crisis perhaps) but he drove like a really conservative car, or junky pickup or a van or whatever most of the time.
          I would guess that Amish people keep mementos like we do.

    9. kerry

      Amish youth around here in Ohio might have a drivers license, but they often do NOT get insurance. There are a fair number who also do not get drivers licenses and they drive without them (and get caught).

      1. lynnea

        kerry — I agree with you. My husband comes from an Amish family in Holmes Co. (however, his father never joined the Amish church and he then married a Mennonite lady. Their family does not practice shunning.) Most of the youth driving in Holmes/Wayne counties in Ohio do not bother with a license and do not get insurance.

      2. Gerald

        No driver license is required for 21 and up as driving a motor vehicle on the public roads is a constitutional right, not a mere privilege. However, a certification that one meets eyesight qualfication and a knowledge and skills test has been passed, does not violate constitutional rights, nor does identification plate(s) being required to be displayed, safety and emissions inspection to be passed.
        Generally the Amish will not defend themselves in court or petition/sue to get their car back from the police who stole it.

    10. Annandra Bee

      Please send me info on how I can get a birth certificate I was born in a Polygimist colony and have recently escaped I have never had an ID or certificate of birth

      1. Patsy Hoekstra

        Acquiring a Birth Certificate

        @Annandra Bee

        Ms. Bee, I am wondering if you ever got any help answering your question? It doesn’t seem that you did unless someone responded to you privately.

        When a person does not have a birth certificate it is almost impossible to become financially independent, get an education or travel outside the country. Also, in the increasingly intrusive police state mentality engendered by the NSA, a person runs the risk of having to prove US citizenship, or face deportation.

        I know the problems because I am trying to help some Amish teens who were born at home in Ohio get their birth certificates. There sold be no doubt or “controversy” that they need an ID, even if they are Amish.

        Please contact me if you have any info to help in obtaining birth certificates and I will do the same for you. I wish you well.

        BTW, Rumspringa is a complete myth among the conservative Amish group in my area.

        1. Gerald

          Deportation of a natural born US citizen

          Patsy Hoekstra: “…in the increasingly intrusive police state mentality engendered by the NSA, a person runs the risk of having to prove US citizenship, or face deportation.”

          Deportation? To where? For a natural born citizen, citizenship is conferred by birth, either to a US citizen parent or by being born within US jurisdiction, not by the purchase of a birth document by a parent or other witness to the birth.

      2. Gerald

        Annandra Bee, do you know who your natural parents are? Natural father and natural mother?
        If you know who they are and where they are, they can be compelled to cooperate in producing documents to support you in obtaining a delayed birth certificate. The court will almost certainly accept a DNA analysis of your father. This has to be done by a legally accepted DNA laboratory. The document must be transmitted directly from the lab to the court or perhaps to the attorney for the state.
        Millions of Americans were born to polygamist parents (“serial monogamy”) so it really isn’t anything unusual. But most were born in a hospital, birthing center, or delivered by a midwife. So almost all of them have birth registration within a year of the birth.
        Abandoned babies whose parentage is unknown and whose nationality is uncertain get birth certificates. Refugees from countries whose governments are in a shambles or uncooperative get birth certificates.
        You will need the assistance of a legal aid that handles this problem.