Ohio Bill: Flashing Roof Light Required On All Buggies

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.

A more feasible solution to promote might be the PVC-pipe-on-wheel setup, or other improved visibility alternatives that are actually being accepted in some Swartzentruber communities.

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.

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    23 Comments

    1. Daryl Fair

      buggy lights

      Where will it stop ? Will buggies have to install a generator to power all the lights ? LED lights would take the less amount of power but the batter would still need to be charged. may we need to install strobes on the top of cars so the can stop running into each other.

      1. Geo

        FYI

        I wouldn’t object to a strobe on top of my car. Maybe some folks would not pull out in front of me from side roads. I had a strobe on a plane I flew and I have one on top of my sailboat mast. I want to be seen. I carry a rescue strobe so I can be seen in case I go overboard. It’s no bigger than a flashlight. Uses a small battery and quite cheap. Gosh, I have two head lights two tail lights flashing turn signals on all four corners and an elevated brake application signal. Is it all just too much? And I have to keep the battery charged too. Yikes! What a drag. Once I took a break along the autobahn in Germany at night when a cop stopped and informed me it was illegal to park along the road without lights. That cost me a substantial fine. I dare say a few traffic tickets would cause the most conservative Amish to adjust to reality.

      2. Bill Rushby

        Living in an area where there are buggies on the road

        I speculate that commentators who object to efforts to make buggies more visible do not live in areas where buggies on the road are common. If you are a conscientious motor vehicle driver, hitting a buggy is less about abstract legal arguments than it is about innocent people being killed or being unnecessarily involved in a motor vehicle/horse-drawn vehicle collision.

    2. Geo

      Rights come with responsibilities

      Small strobe lights are extremely effective and low cost. Reflective tape and rotating reflectors depend on external lights hitting them at an optimum angle. A strobe gets attention all directions without depending on anything external. Strobes may exceed the tolerance of some Amish for modern technology but the rights of anyone in society must balance against the rights of others. Rights must be exercised responsibly. Rights of Amish to be primitive need to give way to rights of non Amish sharing public roads. Visibility requirements for motor vehicles are a matter of settled law, and in fact, moral responsibility and common sense. We all must see where we are going and be seen. While Amish have rights to use public thoroughfares, I submit their right to be invisible is inconsistent with the rights of other travelers to see them, Amish English, or whomever.

      1. Kathryn

        sovereignty

        “…but the rights of anyone in society must balance against the rights of others. Rights must be exercised responsibly. Rights of Amish to be primitive need to give way to rights of non Amish sharing public roads…”

        No, that’s not how the Constitution works. Individual rights as granted in the US Constitution are soveriegn, and cannot be changed, regardless if you are the only one in the crowd. Majority rules has ZERO jurisdiction over individual rights. Religious rights are 100 % sovereign and no government can make any law against them.

        Our founding father’s feared “majority rule,” (read the Federalist Papers and every other document our founding fathers wrote), because the majority is prone to panic and abusive mob rule. This fear of allowing the majority to rule is why we are a Republic a representative democracy, and not a 100% democracy. In a representative democracy, (a Republic), representatives gather and discuss issues in a smaller unit. It authorizes the representatives to make decisions on BEHALF of the majority, which allows them to make decisions in opposition to the majority when the majority is wrong and left to themselves would run ramshod over someone’s individual rights. Individual rights cannot be denied. Especially religious rights.

        The majority elects representatives, but the majority does not decide the law. And this is the reason why. Because left to the majority, The Amish’s beliefs would be run all over and abolished I to oblivion. Ohio cannot make any enforceable law that runs in violation to the Amish’s beliefs. It’s who we are as a nation and this is a very good thing.

        Ohio can make the law if it wants, but if it violates the Amish’s religious beliefs, the Amish don’t have to follow it because it’s unconditional. Then it goes to the courts for the courts to decide the constitutionality of the law.

        1. kirt

          road laws

          they are for all if we like them or not has noting to do with religion, i don’t understand why some amish think they don’t have to go along with the laws and whats worse they get away with it, suppose everyone acted like that

    3. Billy Rowland

      Suggested in Buckingham Co Va

      Suggested locally…..overhead white blinking strobe light as currently used on public school busses. Highly visable even when not in direct line of vision ( around curves….over hills ) low electric use also

      1. Mimicking motor vehicles may not be the best idea

        I can see the advantage of having the light source elevated especially in hilly areas like Holmes County. However an Amish person recently told me that he felt it’s not necessarily a good thing when Amish buggies are lit up similarly to motor vehicles. For instance the two red rear lights on many buggies is like that of cars. He said that this can make people think they are behind a fast moving motor vehicle and fail to reduce speed accordingly. As you say those strobes are used on local public school buses…would a driver coming up on a hill just as he sees the blinking strobe disappear over the crest, not assume that it belongs to a much speedier school bus and not a buggy traveling under 10mph? That could create its own hazard.

        For that reason I would lean towards a solution which simultaneously conveys visibility – and identifies the vehicle as horse-drawn by its unique design.
        This is one reason I have found the new PVC pipe solution being used by Swartzentruber Amish in places like Ethridge TN something to consider – especially having recently seen in person the unique oscillating effect it gives at night.

        If a roof-mounted solution is deemed to be best, I would suggest considering something unique to the Amish & Old Order Mennonites that not only draws attention but also says “I am a buggy.”

        1. Geo

          imitating motor vehicles

          Bicycles here (CA) are using front and rear strobes. Not required far as I know but a good idea. They are visible in traffic for a block or more. I have a rear strobe on my own bicycle and I plan to rig another on top of a whip. I’ll risk mis-identification as a motorcycle (or a helicopter, whatever) if I’m seen. Car VS bike is like car VS buggy. No contest.

          1. I think it’s less a concern for bikes which can travel closer to engine-powered vehicles speeds than buggies do. I have hit 40 mph before on a bike, which is a lot closer to what a car or a motorcycle does than what a buggy typically does (5-10 mph range).

            So I think being mis-identified as a motorcycle if you’re a bike is probably going to be less a risk. But yes I agree on balance it’s probably better to make sure you are seen vs. not seen even if the driver behind you isn’t immediately sure what you are.

        2. Bil Rushby

          Buggy Lights Mistaken for Car Lights

          After our wedding and reception in Rockingham County VA, we were headed to a motel on the south side of town. I was nervous!!! It was after dark. We came up behind a vehicle with lights on the back. I thought it was a motor vehicle, but it turned out to be a buggy!! Misjudging its speed, I ALMOST ran into it.

      2. Anna B

        Yes, flashing lights do help

        In the community here in VA, there are a few buggies that have the flashing lights on their buggy already. That light is very visible from a much farther distance. The white light may also be, but I do see the top yellow one from a very good distance.

    4. High lights on hilly roads

      A common cause of automobiles crashing into buggies is surely hilly terrain. When a car is coming over a hill, the first part of a buggy the driver can see is the highest thing on the buggy–the roof or a pole sticking even higher.

    5. Alternative

      Perhaps instead of going after the Amish, the lawmakers should have more State Patrol officers patrolling the roads and stopping speeders and tailgaters. Have the lawmakers thought about how distracted and blinding those yellow lights can be? Be behind a school bus at light with the white light blinking and see how distracting that is. Perhaps the lawmakers are trying to force the Amish to give up their buggies altogether and get cars; then everyine would be happy because the Amish have become ‘like us’. Personally, I hope that day never comes because then the Amish will stop being special.

      1. buggy safety

        i gather you don’t drive a car to have a opinion like that ,not wanting too kill someone and have to live with that the rest of your life.

    6. phyllis Jost

      buggy visability

      Were any Amish involved in this decision making process?

      I would suggest inviting Bishops to discuss their ideas.

      If some type of demonstration of different options could be made to the Bishops, then they would be better able to offer ideas or recommendations.

    7. Bill Rowland

      Suggested in Buckingham Co Va

      Here in Buckinghham County school busses normally don’t run at night…and when they are in service they are usuallyin a constant state of stop and start either picking up or discharging passengers. I don’t feel that confusing a school bus with a horse drawn vehicle is that much of a factor to consider. Here in Buckingham we have had 3 serious accidents in as many years. The last one was just a few days before Christmas…we lost an Amish mother of 4.Her husband and children were all injured…..and here’s the question I / we have: all 3 accidents were in the light of day…..on dry roads…in direct line of sight….not in a curve, not on the blind side of a hill. All buggies had blinking red lights on the back too. The Amish believe that it’s all part of Gods plan…I agree. But as an ‘ English ‘I believe God also blessed us with common sense…and that we should continue to explore any and all options to make things safer.

      1. It’s true school buses don’t usually run at night, but they do run in inclement weather and early AM, fog, etc. – in other words cases when the strobe would come in handy, and possibly what the people who put them on the buses had in mind. So you’d have buggies and buses in potentially the same circumstances in those cases.

        All things considered a strobe will get more attention vs. no strobe, but I stand by the idea that better would be some kind of lighting which in addition to getting attention also conveys “this is a buggy” (because it is unique to buggies).

        I don’t know exactly what that should look like, but I question if the ones who wish to mandate this for tens of thousands of buggies in Ohio have even considered that aspect (I suspect they haven’t).

        I’m sorry to hear about the accident in which the mother’s life was lost. I don’t recall seeing that in the media. As you point out here (and as some Swartzentruber Amish expressed to me recently) – these accidents can even happen in “ideal” conditions – especially with driver inattention, substance abuse, texting while driving, etc. There is no magic solution or ideal law that will solve this completely as accidents will continue to happen even if this new bill becomes law. But I do believe they can be reduced with smart solutions (and by “smart” that also means ones that the Amish in question are actually going to accept and implement).

        1. Buggy lights

          Buggy lights are about safety nothing else it’s not against them I can’t believe some people mentally. It’s just like when we were force to wear seat belts and so many cried about that but how many lives has it saved. Yes anything can happen in ideal conditions just like wearing a seat belt doesn’t mean you still can’t be kill or injured just decreases the odds. Wish some of you with negative comments would think truly about your statement be for you post it you would see how foolish you look

    8. Tim Sheldrick

      roof lites

      years ago bikes had a generator that ran off the tire….I would assume that could be done off the buggy tire….requiring no battery

    9. Tim Sheldrick
    10. flashing roof light

      don’t see how this has anything too do with religion , what would you do if everyone did what they wanted I’ve had some very close calls my self traveling just too work dark , foggy hilly it worries me all the time about hitting a buggy someday

    11. Geo

      wheel generator

      A bike wheel generator will power small strobes. It would add a lot of visibility with minimal technology. I’d hesitate trying to sell it to my Amish friend though. He’s reasonable and not super conservative, but tech ideas from outsiders don’t seem welcome. Recently a buggy versus car crash demolished his buggy and injured him, so he might consider the idea now. I’ll suggest it.