An interesting letter just appeared at Lancaster Online. An excerpt:

I have an idea for the state to make a chunk of change. Why not make the Amish register each of their buggies and have a yearly inspection and safety check, just like those of us with motor vehicles are required to do? I believe the buggies ruin our roads.

When I asked a state representative about this, I was essentially told, “Well, you probably wouldn’t want to travel at 20 mph.” And my answer is, “No, you’re right, but I also wouldn’t want to be riding in a plywood box up against a vehicle doing 50-60 mph.”

When I ask about the cost of repairs to our roads from their horses and wheels, no one will answer. There is no excuse, in my view, for some buggies to have metal wheels; they are very dangerous.

I just want to know why their rules and laws are different from ours. After all, aren’t we all in this together?

The saying “someone will only get away with what they’re allowed to” seems to fit here. Maybe we all should wear straw hats, because it seems like there is magic in them.

Terry Conrad

New Providence

A few comments:

1. It’s unclear to me how metal wheels on buggies are “very dangerous“, unless he means that they are dangerous to asphalt, ie, they cause it damage…but that would be an odd way to put it. Seems hyperbolic.

2. The complaint about buggy road damage is a recurring one. It seems reasonable. It’s assumed that Amish buggy wheels can damage road surfaces. I haven’t seen much arguing against that, though the degree to which they damage roads, and in what ways, I don’t think has been thoroughly analyzed. I have heard that certain types of horseshoes can do more damage.

3. To the writer’s point, it also seems fair to expect some kind of compensation paid by regular users of the road, no matter the type of vehicle. In the case of motor vehicles, this comes in the form of gasoline taxes. After all, the Amish don’t buy gas, right?

Actually, the Amish purchase fuel as well, and thus pay this “road upkeep” tax. An Amishman in Ohio explains:

We do buy gasoline. It goes into our generator, lawn mowers, pasture mower, and into other things as mixed fuels (garden tiller, weed eater, chainsaw, etc.) During the winter we can get away with buying 8 – 10 gallons of gasoline a week at the local gas station, but during the warm parts of the year, that often doubles.

Ten to twenty gallons of gas per week is a pretty decent expenditure.

In 2017 there was a proposal that Amish buggies in PA should be registered and have license plates. The fee was to be $36 per buggy. It doesn’t look like that proposal came to fruition. Amish in other communities do pay some road upkeep charges, including annual buggy fees, or license plate fees (Indiana only).

Photo by Don Burke

4. The writer states that “I just want to know why their rules and laws are different from ours.” The Amish live very differently and in some ways are very different from most Americans. They do have different rules governing various aspects of life, which are guided in part by religious belief and in part by culture and tradition.

Here, at first look the rules appear to be one and the same for the Amish and the English: steel wheels are permitted and regulated by the laws of the state, as covered in the PA State Vehicle Code. However, that only applies to motorized vehicles – like tractors. The state doesn’t regulate the nonmotorized variety – in part to avoid opening a “Pandora’s Box”.

5. As to the idea of a yearly inspection & safety check…this seems mostly pointless, an unnecessary additional regulation.

It’s not like buggies are often having mechanical failure on the roads (“horse failures” appear to be much more common…). There is relatively little to inspect on a buggy, at least compared to a modern automobile with its countless onboard features. The Amish operators seem to do a pretty good job of keeping their simple vehicles in good-enough shape.

It appears the main issue here is not the roadworthiness of the buggies, but the damage they cause. That, and also…

6. The undertone of this letter is one of someone who sees the Amish as getting away with things that he wouldn’t be able to as an English person. A “magic straw hat” gets you special privileges in this view.

The state rep’s reported comment is sympathetic to the Amish. He seems to say, “they already have a tough time traveling at such slow speeds, it wouldn’t be fair to charge them”.

I think it is true that the Amish are generally seen as valued residents, and this might get them leeway in some areas. They bring in tourist dollars, and are usually considered good neighbors and a plus for local economies.

I smell an axe to grind here. Maybe it’s a general dislike of the Amish – or maybe it’s just a dislike of what he might see as the unnecessary expense and hassle of him having to go through an annual inspection. If the latter is the case, I can empathize.

At the same time, it doesn’t mean the writer doesn’t have a point about road damage and upkeep. Does the fuel tax Amish pay cover the actual damage created by buggies? Should horse-drawn vehicle operators here be charged in some additional way?

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