Ohio lawmakers want all 75,000+ Amish in the state to make some changes to their buggies.
A proposed law would require a buggy-top flashing light, and a new kind of tape.
From the Wooster Daily Record:
Rep. Scott Wiggam (R-Wooster) and Rep. Darrell Kick (R-Loudonville) announced a bill Monday designed to make buggies more visible. The bill would require animal-drawn vehicles to display a new type of reflective tape that provides higher visibility as well as a flashing yellow light on top of the vehicle at all times. The penalty for not complying would be a fine.
“I’m convinced this will save Amish lives and English tears,” Wiggam said. Fatal collisions between an automobile and an animal-drawn vehicle almost always result in the death of the animal-drawn vehicle occupant, not the English driver.
Since 2014, there have been over 872 reported crashes involving an animal with a rider or an animal-drawn vehicle in Ohio, including at least 18 fatal crashes that killed 20 people, according to statistics provided by the State Highway Patrol.
Ohio Revised Code currently only requires one white light on the front of buggies, two red lights on the rear (or one red light and two red reflectors on the rear) and a state-compliant slow-moving vehicle triangular emblem or 72-inches of reflective tape to the rear.
Law enforcement, including Lt. Stephanie Norman, commander of the Wooster Post of the State Highway Patrol, say they have done about all they can to encourage better safety measures.
While it applies to all buggies, this bill is really about the Swartzentruber Amish and other plain, low-illumination buggy groups in the state.
Amish in another low-illumination community (Ashland County, OH) recently began adopting a blinking buggy-top or pole-mounted light. This might be what the lawmakers have in mind. You can see a flat light on the roof of the buggy below:
Photo by Tom E. Puskar, Times-Gazette.com
Cory Anderson, who has authored a paper questioning whether the SMV triangle is the best safety solution, is skeptical:
“The configuration of rear markings on the buggy, I think, is one of the lesser problems that needs to be addressed in terms of horse and buggy safety,” Anderson said.
Anderson said “disco-ball buggies” can even lead to what traffic researchers call the moth effect. This theory expounds that drivers are distracted by flashing lights and may even veer toward them inadvertently.
It is also possible some of the more conservative Ohio Amish would not comply with the new law.
Anderson said Ohio is the first state with a large population of Swartzentruber Amish, a particularly conservative group that began in Ohio, to introduce a law requiring a flashing light.
If the law does pass, Anderson suggests it could have effects beyond the state:
“One of the things the Amish churches are dealing with in Ohio is, if you accept this yellow blinking light, that is going to put a lot of pressure on Churches in other states and Canada,” Anderson said, “It is a big deal whether Ohio bishops accept it or not.”
Why a flashing roof light?
Representative Wiggam says that he is convinced this would save lives. That might be correct.
But I would also ask how the people involved here landed on this particular solution as being the one they should codify into law.
What other buggy visibility options did they consider? Is there data showing this one is the best?
You could require an illuminated SMV triangle, for instance.
Or what about some sort of lighting attached to the buggy wheels that creates an oscillating light effect?
I’m just throwing those out off the top of my head.
But they also sound like ideas too, don’t they?
Maybe a flashing roof light is the best solution. And don’t get me wrong, I think the representatives’ desire to improve safety is admirable.
I’m just curious how this came to be the solution they want to make law, versus alternatives.
That said, if this becomes law, I doubt the state’s Swartzentruber Amish are going to comply.
These are real changes happening now in communities which have long resisted most change.
Going from a couple of dim lanterns and scant reflective tape to a flashing roof light is a pretty big jump these lawmakers are asking of those Amish.
Don’t be surprised when they balk.