One Swartzentruber Community’s (Unique?) Buggy Visibility Improvement

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.

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    1. City Slicker

      Reflective tape

      Might the difference in areas of reflective tape on these buggies be intended to differentiate between the left side (larger area) and right side (thinner strip) of the buggies as approached from the rear, so as to help drivers in passing?
      Then again, maybe not …

      1. Lee Zook

        Reflective tape

        I’d thought of the same thing, that the larger white markings may be an indication of the left side of the buggy.

        One further note, the Amish around Harmony MN and elsewhere have used reflective tape on their buggies since late 1990’s if not earlier.

      2. Hmm, interesting idea. On closer look it appears that there are two “L” shaped patterns on either side as the base layout, but the left has a rectangular block laid on top of its “L”. Perhaps this is meant to draw drivers’ attention more to the left side when passing as you suggest.

    2. Martha

      wish I could get a picture...

      Here in Ethridge,TN I’ve seen some interesting ideas for improving the visibility of the Amish buggies. It’s usually in traffic that I see them though and never a safe (nor a respectful) way to get a pic of them. Since recently here in Lawrence County the buggies have a reflective type of cylinder attached to their wheels. Honestly it looks like it might be a short piece of pvc. It actually does help. There is only one on each side of the buggy. They do use the reflective tape on the outline of the back of the buggy which actually shows up better to me than the lanterns do. The most unusual type of visibility help I have seen was a box sitting in the rear opening painted a bright red. It did the job of the triangle caution sign without that buggy using one.
      I will surely try to catch a pic of a buggy in the buggy parking area at Wal-Mart or Save-A-Lot and send it to you.

      1. Martha, a photo or two would be great, I would like to see what those buggies look like lately. Now that you mention it, I do remember a woman I spoke with at the NC auction commenting on I believe the Ethridge buggies having the PVC pipe attached to a wheel. She thought it looked funny but if it does the job… The Lodi Amish are doing something similar which you can see here:

    3. Mike Sparks

      One Swartzentruber Community

      In Ohio, especially with the Swartzentruber communities of Ashland, Wayne and Holmes Counties, I am seeing similar use of reflective tape, as well as attaching short pieces of white PVC pipe to the spokes of the buggy wheels. As the wheels move the car lights pick up the movement of the PVC to alert drivers.

    4. Ralph Edelbach

      Objection to visibility devices

      Before retiring, I taught a college course that looked at the impact of technology on our lives and spent some time discussing the Amish and their attempt to control the ways they use technology. The issue of putting red reflective triangles on their buggies was, as I recall reading, not something they were originally willing to do. The primary reason I understood was that they felt any accidents that might happen were part of God’s master plan and it was not appropriate for them to do anything to interfere. To a non-Amish person who is also a non-believer in regards to a supreme being controlling events in this world, I found that view incomprehensible but, given their strict upbringing, consistent with their religious beliefs. I would be interested in knowing why some Amish who initially were not willing to do anything to protect themselves from being hit by cars or trucks are now willing to do something to prevent injury and death? The mind works in mysterious ways, especially when it comes to religious belief in my view.

      1. Martha


        Hey Ralph!

        From what I understand from some of the locals, the Amish were respectfully asked to add these wheel reflectors by some of the county officials. That is not official, but there may be truth in it. There have been many accidents on this busy US Hwy 43 that runs through Lawrence County. Often the reasoning was the vehicle driver just did not see the buggy. A portion of this hwy has no shoulder wide enough for the buggies to safely travel. A much larger portion does have a very wide shoulder and many consider it the “Amish lane.”

        1. Ralph Edelbach

          Reflectors on buggies

          My reference is to a law that I believe was passed in PA many years ago. It was opposed by the Amish, not sure whether it was all Amish or just some of the more conservative groups, for the reason I mentioned. I do not know to what extent the “we don’t want to do anything to interfere with the master plan” ideology is applied. For example, do Amish take aspirin or use fertilizer? I suppose they do but if so, why does putting a reflector on a buggy cross some imaginary line regarding thwarting the divine will? Call me crazy but I would want to know exactly where the line is if I was Amish. I am not a lawyer and have never played one on TV either but I do think logically and try to be reasonable. Happy holidays….and that includes all of them!

          1. Nathan

            Hi Ralph, the reason for rejecting the red triangle besides it’s gawdy color, can be found in two Bible verses. a) Rom. 12:2. be not conformed to the world, and b) 2Cor. 6:17. come out from among them and be ye separate.

            Using the red triangle like everyone else uses for slow moving vechiles, is conforming too much with the world, of crossing the line of separation.
            Today it’s a red triangle conformity, tomorrow it’s worldly clothing conformity or something else.
            Resisting the worldly conformity of the red triangle today, ensures that whatever worldly temptation or compulsion for conformity arises tomorrow, it too will be resisted.

            The spiritual war isn’t won with one large battle, not yet anyway, but by a myriad of tiny skirmishes. Which is why Jesus told us to pick up our cross daily and follow Him, for each day will present new challenges that will try to undermine our faith. Such challenges must be resisted.
            It is the only way to ensure that when Jesus returns, He will find a faithful remnant of believers on earth still being obedient to His teachings.

    5. Lee Zook

      Amish Buggy reflectivity

      I gave testimony in two different cases regarding the slow moving vehicle (SMV) emblem in the 90’s, one in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin. I did not hear the “act of God” argument put forward by anybody in those two incidents. The Amish arguments revolved around using a “worldly” symbol and a color they objected to.

      The legal case was interesting to me and was made with the same arguments that were used in Wisconsin v Yoder where the school exemption was argued. The courts found that the use of reflective tape was on equal with the SMV. In one case the lawyer for the Amish went so far as to video tape buggies with the SMV and one with the reflective tape and showed it in court!
      The courts found further that as long as there was a religious belief (whether you or I think it is odd or not) and as long as the public was as well served with an alternative to what the state required the Amish could use that alternative. That alternative was so many square inches of reflective tape outlining the backs of their buggy. Of course those court cases were decided in the two states and applied only to those jurisdictions so another state could rule differently but I think most states have allowed the reflective tape to stand.

      1. Ralph Edelbach

        Buggy safety

        I find your comments interesting. So the issue was whether the shape of the safety reflector and its color were acceptable to the Amish or not? I wonder how one defines a “worldly” symbol/color as opposed to what, a “non-worldly” one? Consistency is important to me. The less fuzziness the better in my view. Many years ago when I was much younger I was told I ask too many question. No doubt I do but that’s the way I am and will likely remain for whatever time my mind continues to work and think. Could that be part of the “master plan.” Inquiring minds want to know. Bye

        1. Lee Zook

          Are Amish rules fuzzy?

          I think if one looked critically at an individual Amish church rules and order there would be (from a non-Amish view) many inconsistencies. This may be a result of years of gradually changing rules, attempts to allow some new things because of some perceived necessity, new regulations from the government, the press of modernity. While I think Amish folks attempt to be consistent from their point of view they may not always achieve that and certainly what they would view as consistent may not seem consistent to an outsider.