New Ohio Law Requires Flashing Light Atop Buggies. Will All Amish Comply?

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine made the bill a law last week:

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine has signed a bill requiring Amish buggies and other animal-drawn vehicles to display a yellow flashing light while driving on public streets.

House Bill 30, co-sponsored by Republican Reps. Darrell Kick of Loudonville, and Scott Wiggam, of Wooster, is intended to reduce the crashes between Amish buggies and modern vehicles.

There were 120 such crashes in 2020, 60% of which occurred during the daytime, according to earlier committee testimony from Wiggam, whose district includes a major Amish community.

The law now requires a light mounted on the top-most portion of the vehicle’s rear, visible from the sides and lit at all hours. Current law requires buggies to have two red lights on the back and a white light on the front, but they only have to be lit after dusk.

This story is from June 1 but we first heard about the bill two years ago. I’m just posting about it now (I was in Lancaster County with Amish friends and at the Amish conference for the past week so just catching up now). As to the law, Amish reportedly submitted several handwritten letters of support. Here is an example of one:

The cleveland.com article I linked describes the written support as “27 pages of written testimony”. More specifically, the written testimony consists of four letters total, written by Amish people, followed by about 15-20 pages of signatures on a “Petition to Increase Buggy Safety”. Going by the last names, at least 90-95% of the signatures belong to non-Amish people.

This appears to be the relevant section of the bill:

(B) Except as otherwise provided in division (D) of this section, no person shall operate an
animal-drawn vehicle on a street or highway unless it is equipped with and displays, at all times, all
of the following:

(1) One yellow flashing lamp displaying yellow light that is visible from a distance of not
less than one thousand feet and that is mounted in either of the following positions:

(a) On the top most portion of the rear of the animal-drawn vehicle;
(b) On the top of the animal-drawn vehicle.

The question I had two years ago when I learned of this bill, and still have, is how does this affect the state’s plainest Amish group, primarily the Swartzentruber Amish? Requiring a flashing light mounted on top of a vehicle did not seem to me to be something acceptable to those plainest Amish.

At that time in 2020, I wrote both of the co-sponsors of the legislation asking, essentially two things: 1) is the strobe light the best solution available? (I asked whether it would be unique to buggies, thus both getting attention and conveying “this is a buggy” rather than potentially being confused for a vehicle) and

2) What about the Swartzentruber Amish? Had they gotten confirmation that they would change their 100-plus-year-old custom of not having electric lighting on buggies?

I noted that some Amish from that group had recently adopted new visibility innovations, but all were non-electric.

Swartzentruber Amish buggy with PVC pipe wheel addition, Tennessee
I didn’t get any reply to my questions then, nor have I seen the matter really addressed anywhere prior to now. So I’m still a bit puzzled how this will play out.
Swartzentruber buggy with additional white visibility material, North Carolina

If I had to guess, the Swartzentruber communities will ignore this, and it will not be enforced on those groups. If it is, there will be some sort of a conflict.

I should add that there may be other Amish in Ohio who don’t go along with this. One group I have in mind is the “Nebraska” Amish community near Andover.

However, with the letters submitted were at least two from Swartzentruber Amish authors that appear to be in support of some sort of change. This one is from a Swartzentruber Amish father:

This one also appears to be from a Swartzentruber Amish author or rather authors. This one appears to be from church members who cite the bishop as the impediment to adding such lighting. Perhaps there is quiet support among a significant number of (younger?) Swartzentruber Amish for just such a change. I’d be surprised if it were widespread among their churches, but can see this on at least a limited scale:
So make of that what you will. The effective date of this law is August 31, 2022. View the document in full here.

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    8 Comments

    1. Joe Donnermeyer

      Great story

      I have read many informative stories in Amish America, but this is among the best. Those letters are so interesting to read. AND, it will be interesting to see how this plays out as the law is actually enforced (or enforced differentially).

      1. Glad you thought so Joe and I was very interested to see the letters. The way the cleveland.com story was written made it sound to me that there were 27 pages of letters in support, when in reality it was only four letters and mostly pages of non-Amish signatures on the petition. The letters that are included are interesting and a bit surprising I must admit but enlightening to hear these views from the plainest Amish.

    2. David Stear

      Transportation

      I’ve read all the letters and if the Amish pay taxes they have as much right to use public roads as anyone else in whatever vehicle. Drivers of cars and other motorized vehicles generally have become much more careless about driving; I see a lot more drivers lately hardly making a pretense of stopping at stop signs and pedestrians have to be extra cautious crossing at crosswalks lest some driver not paying attention causes an accident. An Amish buggy isn’t that “invisible”, all a driver has to do is slow down and wait for the opportunity to pass the buggy taking care not to spook the horse. The Amish generally stick to rural, often dirt, roads. The only time I’ve ever seen buggies in town was in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania and most people there seem to know what to do to accommodate buggies. I should think it comes down to common courtesy and careful driving. There are often signs in rural areas where Amish live indicating that buggies could be on the road. Unfortunately it seems a flashing light on top of a buggy will have to become a necessity.

      1. Amish and buggy lights

        I see nothing wrong with buggies having lights installed. It shouldn’t matter how conservative a group is, common sense and safety should be paramount for everyone.

    3. Sister Su

      Hardin County, Ohio Amish will not do this

      I am originally from Hardin County, and our Amish would definitely rather go to jail or die, rather than using the orange triangle. I am 100% sure they will not use a yellow flashing strobe lights!! No they are not Swartzentruber, but close. Whenever I go back there, I just drive very slow. Anyone who lives near them does the same.

      1. That was another community I had in mind as far as not complying with this new law, thanks for mentioning. Quite plain as you say and a history of bucking authority (the outhouse issue of recent years).

    4. Sharon Koerner

      Buggies with flashing lights

      Buggies with flashing lights are a great idea. The Amish community in my area is growing. Five years ago I would just see A Buggie a week. Now I see a buggy a day.
      I came out of a side road to the main road this fall of 2021. I looked down the road and saw a flash yellow flashing in the air. I asked myself what is it. Upon looking again; I saw it was attached to the top of a buggy. I probably was a half mile to a mile away, but I noticed it was an Amish buggy. I never saw A flashing light on a buggy before that day. It was a great way to recognize it.

    5. Rich Chaffee

      Hello, I am visiting from Texas

      My Daughter lives in Medina County. Most of her neighbors are Amish. I have been driving in the area and see many Buggys on the road. I think several lights and triangle is a very good idea. Cars are traveling at speeds as much as 55mph on some roads the roads have many hills and valleys. Anything that would help save lives would be good for everyone. We put the triangle and have lights on tractors, LSV Low Speed Vehicle,Golf carts any vehicle that is slow moving on public roads.