Should 10-year-old Amish buggy drivers get off the road?

Is this the next road battle for the Amish?  A local news station did an investigative piece on young Amish drivers in Indiana (the Swiss Amish settlements in Allen and Adams Counties).  They discovered children aged 12, 11, and even 10 driving horse-drawn vehicles.

If you’ve spent time in Amish communities, that shouldn’t come as a big shock.  Amish children learn to drive horse-drawn vehicles from a young age.  You’ll even find Amish children younger than 10 piloting pony carts–I’d guess 7 or 8 years old is not unusual for that particular vehicle, though they’re usually not riding on 55-mph highways.

I can understand why it might be unnerving to see children so young operating a vehicle on the road.

Of course, children of all cultures regularly walk rural roads, ride bicycles in the vicinity of traffic, and so on. Buggies are more visible than youngsters rollerblading or on scooters. That said I’m pretty sure there are Amish parents who’d consider 10 too young. A horse may be well trained but can still behave unpredictably. Factors like road traffic and a child’s experience enter the equation. A busy highway in Lancaster County is not the same as a gravel back road in Adams County, Indiana.

The report finds a number of English neighbors supportive of the Amish custom, or at least reluctant to criticize. An Adams County resident says: “I don’t think that anything needs to be changed because I think the majority of Amish people that drive are responsible people and as I said before, most of them are teenagers.”

Another non-Amish person notes that Amish children learn to handle horses from a young age.

However it sounds like there is support for age restrictions for buggy drivers.  An Indiana state police officer doesn’t seem too happy that there is no law governing the matter. The station also took the issue to lawmakers and will air that commentary in a follow-up report today.

The video is below (removed).  What do you think-should the state intervene on the basis of safety and child welfare, or just leave the Amish alone?

Just a note:  this will be the last post for this week as I’ll be having a little family time the next few days.  Will still be checking in on comments though, and posting will be back to normal schedule next Monday.

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    1. A well trained horse may behave unpredictably?

      Do you imply that adult drivers can prevent that from happening?

      Regulate who may or is able to drive a buggy?

      The trooper should spend some time on an Amish farm and watch a ten year old boy deftly handling a team of draft horses while backing a four wheeled manure spreader into the barn.


      1. Amish children buggy drivers

        I’m not a horseman, but as I understand even a trained horse can “spook”, and no one can prevent that, so no I don’t imply that.

        I wonder if you would agree that an adult male with years more experience driving and much greater physical strength probably has a better shot at getting that under control before something tragic happens than a 10-year old would. In general driving a buggy may be much more “smarts” than strength but I have to believe that in some situations physicality can be a factor. But if physical capability has no role to play whatsoever I hope someone will set me straight.

        That said George I have no argument that the youth learn horses well, and at a young age. I also personally wouldn’t argue against Amish youth drivers. I think the smart thing would be an empirical approach. Do Amish youth drivers cause or end up in a greater number of accidents? If not then the desire to regulate it is probably just a reflection of English cultural expectations. If they do cause or are involved in a disproportionate number of accidents, then maybe there is scope for paying it more attention, but I think the Amish would probably be able to deal with that themselves assuming it were understood.

        There is another story running right now, on a horse-and-buggy driver’s manual produced in PA (joint effort of organizations such as transportation, state police plus Amish) and found in many communities around the country. I have a copy and it seems a pretty thorough guide on the ins and outs of operating a vehicle. Here is the story and video:

        In fact you can also view the manual online here:

    2. Valerie

      My Two Cents

      One time in Holmes County, on a busy street, a family of Amish were in their buggy-(35 mi hour speed limit area). One of those old fashioned ice cream makers popped really loud scaring the passing horse & buggy. It was a very scarey few minutes as the father had to jump out of the buggy and get that horse under control-the crowd just gawked to in hopes the family would not be harmed-not sure, could a 10 yr old do that? I’ve seen pony carts on the hilly faster speed limit roads too-passing one I just prayedd for the little ones in the lane in pony cart, on the down side of the hill, as I saw on the other side of a hill, a semi was coming-I believe some judgement and ability to handle situations comes with maturing and strength/size so on the back roads maybe one thing-but on busy roads considering the horses that can get scared, it’s too much to expect a child to control the situation-my two cents.

      1. This ice cream popper situation you describe Valerie is about what I had in mind. Amish 10-year-olds may do a very good job with the horses but I don’t think we should equate them with adults. Experience is only acquired one way. Though they may be capable of handling buggies on the road it’s worth at least recognizing that.

      2. Vindonah Horse Shelter

        Oh My word what are people thinking here? If any English child of the age of 10 took a vehicle out on the road and drove anywhere the parents would face stiff charges for a very good reason. So what are the expectations of an Amish child doing the same yet with a horse who can be unpredictable in any circumstance with traffic. Buggy accidents happen all the time so where is the common sense here to say if the English can’t why should the Amish be allowed to do this? The State trooper doesn’t need a lesson in Amish farming , he sees enough people dead from accidents during his career than needs to be seen. Doesn’t matter who’s fault it is when you’re dead. I have standardbred harness horses so I know what it can take regardless of who you are, man or woman, big or small to control and out of control horse who’s spooked and takes off. A very crazy and not well thought out idea for sure.

    3. Carolyn B

      I am very impressed with the almost 4 1/2 minutes this station gave to this news segment; very significant. I also would like to see Part 2 of this story…the reporter, Mr Widener, does say there is a Part 2.

      If the state successfully goes after age limits for Amish buggies, I expect someone will then go after bicyclists’and skateboarders’ age limits. I’d rather see a ten year old be protected by an Amish buggy than an English bicycle if hit by an English car.

    4. Magdalena (Julie Armstrong)

      A horse weighs at least several hundred pounds and more, even ponies. It is all skill in handling it – you can’t manhandle a horse. I didn’t even know this was an issue. A car has no mind, no training, and is a ton of dangerous, high powered steel. A horse can think. A ten year old can handle a horse as well as any brawny blacksmith.

    5. 10 year old Amish Buggy Drivers

      Leave them alone they are not as big a problem as adult bicycle riders.

    6. Matt from CT

      On the opposite side of the technological spectrum, Nevada has just started issuing special license plates for driver-less cars (the first batch are for experimental; but also authorized is an additional specially colored tag that will be used on “production” cars).

      IIRC, California has now also taken up the issue of registering driver less cars. The tech companies, led by Google, believe the technology will be viable for widespread use by 2020.

      Many of the luxury car brands like Cadillac are already selling “Adaptive Cruise Control” that use radar systems to maintain separation from other vehicles. Google IS driving fully automated experimental vehicles that use a combination of radar and video sensors to control the car autonomously.

      Like the horses who know how to get home on their own, “driverless” cars bring up other issues — do you need a safety system that the car parks itself if the person sitting in the driver’s seat falls asleep even though he’s not in control? Does drunk driving become a mere technicality if all you do is tell the vehicle to take you home?

      These automated systems should make everyone — Amish included — much safer. The radar, video, and I’d assume infrared for fog and night will realize a buggy is a slow moving vehicle far sooner then a driver normally does. If not me, certainly the next generation will live to see divided highways restricted to automated vehicles only (just like we currently prohibit horses, farm tractors, and bicycles from them).

      1. Matt thanks for this driverless car update. It’s fascinating to consider. It’s also probably still hard to imagine for much of the public, probably like horseless carriages once were.

    7. Lee Ann

      Amish or any farm person knows how to handle a horse from a young age. Amish are more able than others as they are driving a horse and buggy from very young. The Father’s won’t allow the child to take the horse and buggy if he doesn’t feel the child is ready.

      I think the Government needs to leave the Amish alone. Its the English that need to slow down and watch for others. From what I have seen with the Amish, they are careful drivers of their buggies. Yes, things can happen to scare the horse, but even the most experienced horse driver can have problems.

    8. Roberta

      I see reckless drivers around here every single day and none of them are Amish children. How about enforcing some of the laws that we already have??

    9. Ruth

      Amish Drivers

      In the news story the police officer said that the Amish follow all the rules of the highway, then he said they are dangerous. How can they be dangerous if they follow the rules. I have lived in Amish areas and have never encountered a buggy driver who was not following the laws of the road, on the other hand I have been in situations where non Amish bicyclists DO NOT follow the rules of the highway. They do not stop at stop signs, do not stop at red lights, and do not move out of the way for motorized traffic,let alone those who are walking. If the rules are going to be changed because of this issue then change the rules for those non Amish who ride bicycles, skate boards, roller skates etc. these people are the real problem.

    10. mary ellen ashenfelder

      Love your interesting and informative articles.

      Thank you so much for sharing all of your wonderful articles, pictures, etc. with us.I reall enjoy EVERYTHING about your site. Enjoy your time with your family. We are off to Lancaster next month for another visit — always a good time.

      1. Thank you Mary Ellen, that’s very kind of you. I hope you have a nice visit to Lancaster.

    11. Joan Sheldon

      Part 2 of report

      I also would like to see part 2 of this report and hope it can be posted. Thank you, Erik.

      1. Joan I will keep my eye out for it. If I come across it I might just go back on what I said above and put up one more post this week 🙂

    12. Dena

      Personally I think the kids are qualified to drive the buggies and are more responsible than many of the Englischer kids now days. I would like to see them off the 55mph hwy. just because no matter who is driving, risk is far greater for a careless driver (car/truck) to hit them and fatalities result. As someone mentioned earlier, we drive deadly weapons on the roads and many people are very careless. We see red light runners, failures to yield, improper lane changes, etc. I noticed about a quarter of the way into the video a car illegally pass a buggy by crossing the solid yellow line. If they want the buggies to be safer, they need to deal with the rotten drivers they keep allowing to retain drivers licenses!

    13. Margaret

      Good article — because it gets us thinking the situation through.

      Coming from farm country, it was not unusual to have 10-12 year old kids driving tractors, hay trucks, etc., down the county roads (even if it was illegal), so I’m not surprised this age of kids are also driving buggies. I don’t know if it is a ‘government’ issue, as much as parents making better decisions on what they allow their children to do.

      My opinion is that while this age of child can handle a horse (or farm equipment) correctly on the farm, that doesn’t mean they should be allowed to on the roads.If they make a mistake in proper handling on the farm, it just affects them and their families; however on the road, the lives of others are at stake.

    14. Tom in KY

      To deny that physical strength does not play a role in handling a horse is bologna. Sometimes the best way to control a horse that is pulling or scared is to physically restrain the horse, and the larger amount of force one can assert on a horse the faster one can get a horse to calm down. This does not mean one out powers a horse, but is to say one is strong enough to assert enough force on a horse to calm it down or to guide it out of danger.

    15. Rachel

      Let them be

      I just got back from staying with an Amish family for the weekend. I think people need to understand that these people trust God with their lives 100%. If somthing happens then it was the Lords will. They know their kinner are young and that if somthing did happen then it would be hard for them to get the horse under controle, but they trust God more.
      I think us English people need to stay out of their lives. They are not hurting anyone. Here in MI they just passed a law that mortercycle drivers no longer need a helment. I don’t see where they come up with these rules. How can someone drive a mortercycle with no helment or seat belt, but if you drive a car then you are forced to whear a ceat belt.
      The Amish have been who they have been for hundreds of years, why are people now starting to go after them for everything. One thing is for sure is that their ansesters went threw alot to let them be who they are and I don’t think their going to stop acting they way they do now.
      I enjoyed reading this, but come on people quit picking on them!

    16. Valerie

      Amish Trusting vs Wisdom

      The Amish are thought to be obedient to the Bible so when a parent is entrusted to look out for the safety of their children it’s assumed that they exercise Godly wisdom, not carelessly testing God.
      Jesus Himself was put to the test of 100% Trust-
      Matthew 4:5: “Then the devil took Him up in the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you’, and ‘In their hands they shall bear up up. Lest you dash your foot against a stone’.

      Jesus said to him, It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God’.

      That is probably why in my area of Amish, largest in the world, it is RARE to see a young one as a buggy driver. That is tempting, not trusting God, it seems.

    17. Lance


      Are you saying that the Amish are being negligent and mockers of God in regards to this issue? An issue that many Amish don’t even know is an issue yet.

      It is not too rare for Holmes Co Amish to have children driving buggies and pony carts as these photo albums witness:

      1. Valerie

        Please don’t put words in my mouth Lance. I love the Amish but I’m not so smitten I can’t see clearly enough to distinguish between when the law is looking out for people in these cases & when it is not. I’ve been visiting Holmes Co. for 18 years very frequently-I see ALOT of pony carts-only ONCE have I seen a 10-12 yr old Amish driving BUGGY & NEVER in my own county of a very large Swartzentruber community do I see 10-12 year olds on our roads-your pictures proved nothing to support this in my area-I’ll tell you what-YOU come down for a weekend here-I’ll pay all expenses-you watch & take count of how often you see THAT young of youth operating horse and buggies on the roads. I agree with Barbara, they’re not being picked on-Don’t forget what Apostle Paul said about the purpose of our government-Obey the government or disobey the Bible-until the time it’s REAL persecution and not giving Amish free reign to do everything they please but the rest of us Christians abide by the rules.

        I’m a Christian-I abide by the laws. Apostle Paul addressed WHAT the government is to do and what our responsibility is
        Romans 13:1-4-

        1Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.

        2Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.

        3For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:

        4For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

        1. Lance

          I never said the Amish are being picked on.

          I took your words “carelessly tempting God” to mean negligent (from carelessly), and that you were calling them mockers of God from the “tempting God” part.

          Nowhere in Romans 13:1-7 does God use the word government. It could mean church ministers. We all tend to read what we want the Bible to say, and ignore all other possibilities because that way we get what we want.

          All of the Amish I know place obey God and church over obeying government, no doubt about that. Does that make them wrong? “Acts 5:29 Then Peter and the [other] apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.”

          This is not the forum for this disagreement and you know very well how to contact me by email, why did you attack me here?


    19. Charles Oliver

      young drivers

      I grew up on a farm and began driving tractors at age 8 or 9. I was closely supervised until it was observed that I was ready to work on my own. There are many people age 25+ that should not be driving on the road and there are many people younger than 16 that are very competent drivers. I live near the Buchanan County, Iowa settlement and I see young children driving pony carts and farm wagons all the time. I am always very careful around them and slow down to 10 or 15mph to pass them, but I have never seen a young person have trouble handling their animal.

      I think the last thing we need is more laws. We need a healthy dose of common sense. If your child is not capable of driving a buggy, don’t let them (I have never seen this be a problem). If you see a young person and it makes you nervous, slow down and be ready to stop if something happens. I am tired of the government trying to constantly step in to save us from ourselves as if we are incapable of living our own lives. How would they even enforce a law of this nature? I doubt many young amish people have state issued photo ID with which to prove their age.

      I love your site Erik! Thanks for all of the posts and let us know what you hear about this issue in the future.

      1. Thanks Charles! I have a feeling this issue will disappear especially after viewing the second segment, but will keep an eye out.

    20. Laura

      I’m in the group who believe that the Amish youth who drive buggies probably know how to handle their horses FAR better than a lot of English know how to handle their cars, and so it’s up to the people in the faster equipment to SLOW DOWN for those in the slower vehicles. Especially in an area, such as that story was set in, where a third of the citizens are Amish — they’re not exactly a rare minority! Anybody living side-by-side with that many Amish really needs to learn to be a more responsible driver. It’s up to us, not them; have you ever heard of a horse and buggy running into a slower-moving car and killing the occupants? Until that happens, I say leave the Amish youths alone — they’re acting responsibly, unlike the drivers of cars and trucks who fail to give themselves a few extra minutes to get where they’re going so they won’t be pushed into doing something dangerous around a buggy!

    21. Barb

      Thanks, Eric, for sharing the link to the driver education booklet. It’s wonderful, but what would be even more wonderful is if every Amish parent used it in teaching their children “road rules” when driving a horse. Does a 10 year old know everything in that book, and are they able to make decisions about their driving? To me that’s the issue, not “is the horse well trained”, or “is a 10 year old strong enough”.

      My husband grew up working for farmers in PA and drove a tractor before age 16 — but only on farm lanes, not on the road. Even though he “could handle the horsepower”, he still had to take a driving knowledge test to get his “license to drive on the road” when he turned 16. Nobody considered it “picking on him” to have age and learning requirements (yes he took driver’s ed in school) to drive on a public road. Why is it “picking on them” to expect the same behavior from the Amish?

    22. Darlene

      I really don’t understand the reporter’s”gasp” factor. If we could travel back in time (which I assume is also a dangerous way to travel) 20 (30? 50?) years we would see children driving the pony carts/wagons/buggies. I agree with Erik, take a look at the data, are children drivers responsible or involved in many accidents in this area? If so, take a crack at the problem. If not, pack up the cameras and get out of Dodge.

    23. Mark

      Leave them alone you den of vipers and theives!

    24. Elizabeth Snoke

      The thought of really young Amish children driving a regular sized buggy on busy roads makes me cringe. Not because these children are raised to be extremely capable and able to make responsible judgments far beyond the abilities of English children their age, BUT because of the irresponsible English drivers. Wish there were some statistics involving such young Amish drivers being involved in accidents. I don’t have a problem with pony carts. I expect that the horses used with buggies youngsters drive are older ones–not fiery but well experienced and trustworthy for the most part.

      I agree with government getting it’s nose out of making more laws. I am in favor of police enforcing laws against drivers who driver unsafely around buggies–constant arrests/tickets/very large fines for them.

      Why let motorcyclists no longer wear helmets? Stupid. When a motorcyclist goes down, his/her head is in imminent/constant danger–being dragged on the pavement and so on. It’s just plain stupid. The other thing is that, if there’s a car involved but NOT guilty of anything, the motorcyclist or hisher family can sue the car driver. Several cases like that here for such accidents. Some nerve.

    25. Ed

      Sometimes we need to step back and recognize that roads should be used for the benefit of people — not exclusively car drivers.

      Interesting article from the Atlantic Monthly on how the auto industry in the 1920’s worked to change laws, giving motor cars the right-of-way and making things like “jaywalking” a crime.

    26. Forest

      Part of the problem, as I see it, is that in many communities the world is changing around the Amish, that is, areas where maybe 30 years ago it was relatively safe for a 10 year old to drive a cart or buggy on the public road, are no longer so safe. There is more traffic and it travels faster, increasing the liklihood of accidents.

      I also tend to agree with Tom that most 10 year olds lack the physical strength ( as well as the experience) to control horses if a problem arises. I would like to think, however, that most parents would not let their children out by themselves on a public road at that age except for very limited purposes.

      Some of the problems could be helped by lowering the rural speed limits in the apropriate areas, and then having them enforced, instead of just ignored, as often is the case.

    27. Katrina

      Buggy Drivers

      I grew up in Indiana- it is one of those wonderful states that believes children can and should be taught responsibility at a young age. On farms, it is not uncommon to have the 12 year olds driving trucks to and from the fields. Twelve and thirteen year olds can drive a speedboat on a lake unaccompanied, although teens have to be 16 to operate a jetski by themselves. My child has had his boat license for 2 years. The Amish teach their kids to be extremely responsible as well. The teen/preteen buggy drivers do a better job driving than the adult motorcyclists, who cut in and out of traffic, race down the street, etc.It sounds like the reporter from Channel 15? (WANE) is trying to stir up controversy where there is none. And yes, I realize that any Law enforcement officers reading this are probably not too happy with my post.

    28. Don Curtis

      My son, Mark's opinion

      I asked my son, Mark, who is Amish, what he thought about children driving buggies. I didn’t know this until he told me but the school children in his community receive a course in buggy driving safety. He knows because he’s taught it, already. There is, also, a coursebook, put out by The Ohio State University that goes along with this safety course. He feel that if the child has received training at home about driving a horse and has a good safe driving horse, they should be fine. Mark says that in his community, the horse and buggy accidents caused by Amish, at fault, have been very, very few. The horse and buggy accidents have mainly been Amish buggies hit from behind by careless car drivers and that can happen whatever age the driver is. Also, Mark says, that the number of folks in his community hit while riding their bicycles far outnumbers any horse and buggy accidents. There have now been, in Mark’s community, at least two fatalities because of bicycle riders being hit by car drivers, in both cases alcohol was involved. Mark says he feels safer driving his horse and buggy than he does riding his bicycle.

      1. Mark on safety

        Don I always enjoy you sharing updates from Mark. I found these comments quite interesting, especially about the course. I’m not a biker but recently returned from a 3 day trip which included some road travel, and I think I know what he means. Please tell Mark thanks for sharing.

    29. Dolores

      10 going on 25

      I work with an Amish man and visit many Amish farms. It is my experience that your typical 10 year old Amish child has already taken on a level of responsibility typical to our English 25 year old…and are better behaved than our English 20-somethings. We need to butt out of their way of life. Stop trying to impose OUR beliefs on them. They do not need our input on their lifestyle…but we could definitely take some pointers from them…. Especially where child rearing is involved!

    30. Lara

      10 Year Old Buggy Drivers

      I think 10 year old buggy drivers were great before cars, trucks were invented. With other horses and wagons that could only go very slowly on the roads, it was probably okay for young children to “drive” a horse drawn buggy. I love the Amish way of life and it has many redeeming qualities. However, let’s be realistic. It is the 21st Century. There are cars, motorbikes and trucks going extremely fast on the roads as well and I don’t think we should allow such young kids driving buggies with those modern vehicles buzzing by and around them. I also think that denying a child education beyond 8th Grade is cutting them off from opportunity and any real choice of ever leaving the Amish church as adults. Absolutely nobody would hire them in the “English” world with just an 8th grade education which is more like a 6th grade level or even 4th grade compared to mainstream schooling. This lack of education, prevents the Amish from ever being able to leave their community, should they choose to do so.