Levi Shetler is a member of the conservative Swartzentruber Amish. This group is known for a very low-tech lifestyle. Even other Amish comment on the austerity of their lives and aversion to technology.
Last month, Shetler’s buggy was hit by a vehicle in his northeastern Ohio community, resulting in the death of a passenger.
As it turns out, this is the 54-year-old Amishman’s 14th buggy accident. None have been as tragic as this one, described as “by far the worst” Shetler has experienced.
Still, I was shocked by the number. Is this some kind of a record? From the Chronicle-Telegram article:
This first of Shetler’s accidents happened when he was 21, he said. Ten of the accidents occurred during daylight hours and four in the dark. Jan. 18 was the first time someone in an accident Shetler was involved in died.
Shetler’s wife, Dalila, has been married to her husband for 13 of his 14 accidents.
“It’s just the way it is, I guess,” she said.
Despite the accidents and deaths, Shetler said he won’t change the way he travels or marks his buggy. Shetler said he’s on the road almost daily and as long as he works, he’ll continue to get there by horse and buggy.
“It’s part of our religion, and I don’t doubt it,” he said.
Buggy accidents involve two moving pieces – the buggy, and the motor vehicle. Both can contribute to tragic occurrences happening. Amish in many communities want to improve safety, though friction can occur when church standards clash with public expectations (here’s a recent article addressing buggy safety in southern Michigan).
The Swartzentruber group is known for its resistance to change. While in some communities, you’ll find buggies lit up with a wide array of lighting, including strobe flashers and attention-grabbing turn signals, Swartzentruber carriages are only dimly illuminated – with meager reflectors and a single lantern (and no SMV triangle).
While some criticize the Swartzentruber Amish for their lack of lighting apparatus, Shetler has observed how technology also creates danger:
While driving a 2-mile stretch between Bursley and Jones roads recently, Shetler said, he counted 11 people coming toward his buggy who were either talking on phones or texting. That’s not counting the people coming from behind who might have been using phones, Shetler said.
Shetler said he often sees ruts and debris on the side of the road where it is obvious a car veered from the pavement for one reason or another.
People often fail to turn down their high beams when approaching Amish buggies head-on, Shetler said. It’s fine to approach from the rear with high beams, he said, but doing so from the front blinds the driver and the horse, which leads to buggies swaying and horses pulling wildly. It also can blind any drivers approaching from the rear, Shetler said.
If there was such a morbid thing as a buggy wreck record, I would wager the holder would be someone from the Swartzentruber Amish community.
Shetler adds, that he suspects some non-Amish consider his people “a nuisance”, possibly leading to aggressive driving:
It’s not uncommon for people to get extremely close to buggies, their car hubcaps sometimes touching the buggy wheels, or drive by within inches at 70 mph revving the engine and scaring the horse. Shetler has lost count of the times people fly by waving their arms, screaming or making obscene gestures, something he said farmers on tractors encounter as well.
“They go by so fast, it actually shakes the buggy, Shetler said. “We have quite a bit of that happening, and it seems to be happening more and more.”
At the same time, Shetler says he feels badly for the car driver in the accident, whom he knows, and does not blame him. The Amish community has reached out to the man.
Buggy road safety is clearly a concern in this community (as it is in many).
The uncle of the man who died in Shetler’s buggy last month, Jon Swartzentruber, was hit just 10 days after Jon, and passed away last week.
You might also like:
The part about people driving close or purposely endangering these people because they disagree with their lifestyle this saddens me but it is what much of society has come to be. A disgrace that some people cannot simply have respect or empathy for another human being. This type of behavior is getting worse by the day it is really very sad and disgusting, Jesus is coming soon. God bless.
Sad state of affairs
I agree Nicole, it’s too bad people can’t treat one another with kindness and respect; it takes no effort at all to slow down, pay attention and share the road with car and buggy alike.
A little courtesy goes a long way! Honking or crowding a buggy is very foolish and endangers all involved. Unfortunately, it is a sign of the times – too many angry and impatient folks around, I guess.
bike lanes/buggy lanes
I would love to see more multipurpose lanes or roads for bike and buggy use in towns and cities.
General public are not taught how to drive a motorized vehicle in the presence of horses, let alone horse and buggy. They need also to be made aware of the consequences of their poor driving manners. I believe that if people were required to experience riding a horse and driving a horse trailer they would respect the plain folk.
Wouldn't that be nice!
I agree, the old saying “walk a mile in another mans shoes” does apply!
I’d say let them spend a month with the plain folk, it could be a life-changing (for the better) experience!
Jan, you are so right. Before any one gets their drivers license they should be made to drive a horse and buggy, a pick-up with a stock trailer, a large piece of farm machinery and a semi-truck — both loaded and unloaded. The horse and buggy accidents are generally much worse because they are the most vulnerable. Where I live it is farm machinery, as in the large stuff that takes the whole road, and pick-ups towing stock trailers. Nothing irritates a ‘city-slicker’ like having to slow down for the people who actually work and make this country tick. May the Lord have mercy. By the way, I have nothing but respect and admiration for the Amish.
Very well said, Nicole. Sadly, there are some folks that have no respect for other people regarding their beliefs, way of life, etc..
And, all too often, teens (English) will love to show off for their friends and deliberately do something to spook the horse or coming way too close to the buggy and cause accidents with injuries. They do not realize they will have to be the ones to answer in the end.
Fourteen? That sounds like a LOT! I can think of people who have not had any accident involving cars, but our buggies are equipped with SMV triangles, battery lights, reflectors, rear-view mirrors and windows on the sides & backs. Swartzentruber buggies have none of that.
The only accident I ever had involving a car involved a drunk driver and witnesses backed me up he was at fault. I guess in a case like that, safety features don’t count for much.
But fourteen accidents… Wow. Either he is fortunate and God has some purpose for him yet or he might be unusually accident prone, careless, or travel on bad roads with careless people.
Amishman/ buggy accidents
I agree with you Mark. This man is either extremely lucky or extremely accident prone!
Same skills needed for other vulnerable vehicles
Anyone whose driving puts buggy drivers and passengers in danger, will also endanger cyclists, scooter users, milk floats etc. It is in everyone’s interests to makes sure that drivers have the skills and the consideration to be able to co-travel safely with all kinds of fellow road users.
This is what I don't understand...
My religion, like the Amish, has the utmost respect for Life. From the womb to the grave – we honor and cherish Life. Whether it is abortion or euthanasia or the Death Penalty – we believe taking a human life, including one’s own – is a grave sin. There is not a single Christian religion that I know that doesn’t respect Life from at least cradle to grave.
So I cannot ignore the fact that the Schwartzentruber purposely put their lives and the lives of their children and loved ones in danger, by refusing to have anything except a small lantern lighting up their carriages.
If there was an expectant mother who had a community that said she had to purposefully not take care of herself while she was pregnant, even though it might result in the death of her unborn child – I think we would all say that religion was wacko. Maybe even evil – because Life, given to us by God, is sacred. Yet, somehow for the Schwartzentruber – they believe that their complete disregard for the gift of Life from God Almighty by not driving with a simple reflective triangle or lights, or even more lanterns – is a showing their Love for God.
It appears to me, in my humble opinion, to be so misguided as to be completely disrespectful and ungrateful even, to God for the Life He has bestowed upon them. How sad God must be to welcome a Schwartzentruber member at the gates – only to say “why did you disrespect my gift of Life to you so much, that you would refuse a simple triangle on the back of your carriage? Only to hear them stammer our it was out of respect for you that we forbade it – and I could only see God shake his head in exasperation at it all.
I can only hope and pray that one day the Schwartzertruber will one day accept that God would want them to cherish the gift of Life he gave them more than honoring him with the absence of a reflective triangle.
It’s so discouraging to hear of needless deaths. And I’m sure it saddens God.
Amishman survived 14 buggy accidents
Judith…very well said and AMEN! I think the Amish believe that nothing happens unless it is God’s will…so if there is a tragedy or death they look upon it as God’s will. I don’t understand either why they wouldn’t want to take some simple measures needed to help protect the life that God gave them.
Jamie, please keep in mind the group written about in the article does NOT reflect all Amish people!
Our buggies are very well lit, have reflective tape and regular reflectors, turn signals, lots of windows, rear-view mirrors, and a flashing strobe-light on the middle of the top. We feel we should be clearly visible on the road and able to monitor other traffic easily not just for our own safety, but out of courtesy and respect for those driving motorized vehicles. We don’t want to be hit, but we also don’t want to leave the car driver in a position of having to feel guilty or traumatized either. To be blunt, many in our group feel the Swartzentrubers should improve their safety standards, but we know it is the way they think/ believe and they are unlikely to change.
God is in control, but my belief is He expects us to be prudent. I don’t cross a busy road without looking for traffic, I don’t drink poison, I don’t taunt bulls, I don’t ignore dangerously high fevers… As individuals we can accept that God is in control but we have a part to play in it as well — using common sense. I sometimes hear my wife giving warnings to one of our children (who tends to act first, consider risks second) “Don’t tempt God.” (It sounds better in our PA German, “Du sollst da Hah naett versuche.”
Maybe the reason for the 14th (and 1st fatality) accident was to post this very item in the blog to get our attention. Judging by the comments, IT DID!
My opinions align with yours, Judith. The example of a pregnant woman was a powerful analogy. Thanks for posting it.
Let’s keep our eyes out for non-motorized vehicles of ALL kinds.
Belle Center, Ohio traffic deaths
Mark has told me that Belle Center has never had that many buggy – car related accidents. There was one in which an Amish couple on their way to church were hit from behind by a car. The man admitted that he had dozed off at the wheel. Belle Center has had two traffic related deaths. One a six year old boy and the other a thirty something lady. Both were on bikes, at night, and both were hit by drunk drivers.
I live in western NY, and the Amish community in our area is growing. I always slow down, even on busy roads. I always get a wave, and a smile. There is no reason why we all can’t share the road, and have respect for each other. Stay safe Mr. Shetler…
While I can’t help but wonder if this poor soul is accident prone, I have to wonder if he is just unfortunate enough to live in an area where drivers are not aware as they should be or just inconsiderate of non-motorized traffic. While I don’t have a buggy, I ride bicycles a lot and can attest that automobile drivers don’t always observe safety precautions and often pass too close and too fast. I have even had people honk and make obscene gestures when I was riding on a sidewalk simply because they couldn’t turn because I was going through the intersection with perfect right of way. I do wish road safety were a bigger concern for more drivers!
Nicholas, I ride a bike to & from work and to run a lot of errands. I’m thankful that most of our roads are safe for bikes. The main roads have a buggy lane on the side and that works well for bikes, too. I rarely run in to rude drivers while biking. I do have a question, though… I always thought it was illegal to ride a bike on a sidewalk?
Biking through the busy village of Berlin, I have often been tempted to make a left turn on to the sidewalk if I see a gap in traffic. It would be easy to just do that then continue on the sidewalk until I get to one of the business driveways that connect with the back alleys, but always avoided it because I thought it was illegal. Am I mistaken?
Mark, I am not sure if it is illegal to ride bicycles on sidewalks here. I checked a legal resource, and that was not mentioned. However, bicycles in Indiana are subject to the same laws as a vehicle, so I suspect it’s illegal. Where I live, though, there are not many sidewalks and few pedestrians. Most drivers around here seem aggressive toward cyclists and I use the sidewalk for my own safety. I doubt most police in our area would enforce the no bicycles on sidewalks rules unless there were complaints. I would attribute this to consideration for the safety of cyclists.
My one trip to Berlin, Ohio took place last March when I was there for the Anabaptist Identity Conference. My mother and father were hosting a friend from Berlin, Germany at the time! Berlin, Ohio was much more crowded than the city where we live (we’re on the outskirts where the farms are actually in city limits), even though the population here is 55,000! There were more pedestrians there than in downtown Anderson! I can see why one wouldn’t be able to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk there, legal or illegal.
I would check with a local legal professional like a police officer to find out if it’s illegal in your neck of Ohio, Mark. That or you might be able to find it online.
Nicholas, I wouldn’t even try to ride on the sidewalk in the tourist stretch of Berlin. 🙂 This is more to the west side close to the Dollar General & auto-detailer. I like to cut in through the alleys that lead into the back streets to avoid the tourism-crowds.
Mark, I don’t blame you for doing what you can to avoid the tourist crowds! 🙂 That’s a major reason I like going to Northern Indiana in the winter and have a preference for smaller communities like Allen County, Indiana and the folks near Richmond, IN. GB’s like to patronize Amish owned bulk food stores in those areas. 😉 When riding around Anderson, I’ve had to learn which routes are traffic lite and most bike friendly. Sometimes, I’ve had to go out of my way to be safer! I’ve thought I might like living in a decent sized Amish community for the sole reason folks are more used to bikes!