Car drivers complain about the lack of visibility of Amish buggies, particularly those of the plainest (Swartzentruber) churches. This group of Amish is highly resistant to change.
But do Swartzentruber Amish never bend when it comes to making changes to their buggies? We’ve now seen more than one example showing that, in fact, they do.
While visiting the North Carolina Swartzentruber settlement two weeks ago, I was surprised to come across something I hadn’t seen before on the local buggies, which you can see in the photos below.
The buggies here have two distinct elements that improve their visibility (beyond the lanterns).
One is the strips of reflective tape on the top and bottom of the buggy frame.
The other, which I found to be of more interest, are the white “blocks” of reflective material on either side of the back.
I was told that these blocks were adopted on local buggies about a year ago.
Amish I spoke with seemed to feel it was an improvement. One man cited the area’s wooded character contributing to difficulties seeing the buggies on the road.
I’m not sure why it appears that the white block material is partially covered over with black material. You can see the distinctive pattern repeats across the different buggies seen in these photos, so we can conclude it is intentional.
Perhaps two large solid white blocks was deemed to be too flashy. Now that I think about it, that raises the question as to why this larger area material was used rather than just strips of tape. I’ll have something to ask on my next visit.
It is not a universally recognized symbol like the SMV triangle. Having one uniform symbol in common use has the advantage of helping with drivers to more rapidly recognize that they are encountering a slow moving vehicle. But it seems the white contrasted on the black would help with visibility at least.
I’m not sure if other Amish communities are using this exact package of visibility material. The Amish in the Lodi, Ohio community began to test something similar two years ago, which I understand is now in use in that community.
In the Holmes County community, home to the largest Swarztentruber population, I am told they have not made such adaptions (at least not on a wide basis). The Swartzentruber buggies I observed while there two weeks ago did not have anything like the Lodi or NC adaptations.
There are several sub-groups under the Swartzentruber banner, and they do not act in unison on these sorts of changes. To take a counter-example, the large Swartzentuber Amish community in upstate NY initially agreed to doubling the reflective tape on their carriages, before later balking at implementing changes.
Yet examples like NC and Lodi are signs that some Swartzentruber communities are in fact open and somewhat flexible on adding visibility enhancements to their carriages.
On the other hand, I don’t expect Swartzentruber churches are going to adopt anything like electric lighting or the SMV triangle anytime soon. In fact, one Amishman I spoke with in NC brought up the triangle and his opposition to it. However he seemed to be fine with the solution his small community is now employing.