Should License Plates Be Required On Amish Buggies?

There’s been a discussion recently over whether Amish in Pennsylvania should have their buggies registered and carry license plates, just like motor vehicles.

Young Center Senior Scholar Steven Nolt recently appeared on WITF’s Smart Talk to discuss the issue. Here’s the back story:

Drive behind a Amish horse and buggy in Pennsylvania and you’ll see a fluorescent orange, triangular placard attached to the gray and black buggy and maybe a few cute kids too.

However, if a proposal in the State House becomes law, you’ll see something else — a Pennsylvania license plate. Democratic Rep. Mike Hanna of Centre County wants Amish to register buggies like other vehicles and display license plates as well. The money derived from the registration would go toward road repairs where the steel wheels of the buggies have caused damage.

Currently, Indiana is the only state which requires plates on buggies (though on a county-by-county basis – Adams County, for example, does, while nearby Allen County evidently does not).

The fees in question would be $36 per vehicle registration.

Steve explores the issue in this audio interview, giving a nice overview of Amish custom and buggy design in general. A few things you’ll learn:

  • Buggy drivers are not required to be licensed, though there are buggy safety courses
  • Children start driving at different ages, varying by family. Seventh or eight-graders, for instance, may drive a pony cart to school
  • One new feature in parts of Pennsylvania is something called “airbags”…but they’re not what you think. They’re a special type of cushion rather than elliptical spring, which is supposed to make the ride smoother

The show receives some callers, one in particular with a strong opinion on the issue:

What do you think?

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    1. Alice Mary

      Within the last couple of years on a visit to the Shipshewana, IN area, we met a young Amish buggy maker (married, in his 20’s, with one child then) who told us about the license plates there. I can see how metal-wheeled buggies can do damage to roads (such as in Pennsylvania) but the folks on tour with me thought that manure was more of a problem there. To me, $36 is an outright bargain for license plates(I pay $110 in IL) and well worth paying if the funds actually do go for road maintenance.

      I’d be interested in how (and who) keeps roads in Amish areas free of manure. (My mother, back in Chicago in the 1950’s & ’60’s, would shovel up manure left by the “rag man’s” horse who traversed the alley next to our house, and apply it to her postage-stamp size garden. Neighbors would often cross the street to avoid the “aroma”.)

      Alice Mary

      1. Hmm. Well manure on roads is a complaint in some places. I’m not aware that there is typically someone who would clean it up. Non-Amish locals in some cases don’t like it and ask for Amish to handle the problem via things like horse diapers. I haven’t heard of them being used much though, Amish generally don’t like the idea as you might expect. Recently this was an issue in Kentucky:

    2. Dan Gadd

      No license plate required

      Its a FARCE & common THIEVERY forcing license plates on horse & buggies

      1. Alternative to buggy plates?

        If it were up to me I’d not push this on the Amish, but I can see the argument for trying to collect if it’s going to be used for maintenance and they’re saying that Amish traffic contributes to the need for that maintenance.

        If it’s about money, a better solution might be to just try to collect funds from the Amish by other means perhaps by asking them to contribute (for instance, Amish in Holmes County, OH created a fund for road upkeep –, rather than going the tag-the-buggy route.

    3. AJ

      Seems like another money-fishing scheme. The chemicals and speeds of cars and trucks are far more damaging to roads than a horse and buggy. Just visit Lancaster vs Philadelphia/Chester for a comparison. The Amish did not ask for roads to be paved in the first place. They were paved for the people driving motor vehicles, not horse and buggy. So if anyone needs to fork over the money to pay for man-made roads, than that should be the people who need them.

      Another thing, horses aren’t a motor vehicle. Requiring plates for them is concerning. What’s next? Registering bikes and baby strollers?

      1. J.

        Money and bureaucracy and questions

        A buggy is actually a very serious piece of equipment and seeing those horses on the road is kind of scary. Lives are at stake. As a non amish person, can I drive a buggy down the road without issue? How come zero non amish do? I also saw atleast one horse which looked mistreated in Lancaster but no one is held responsible, but I heard that a non amish man was charged with animal abuse for riding his horse a long way across several states. Doesn’t seem fair.

    4. Al in Ky

      Yes, I think that all states should require buggies (Amish or non-Amish) used on roads to have license plates. Revenue from sales of license plates should be used for road maintenance.

      There is an interesting article in the June 27,2017, edition of the Washington (In.) Times Herald entitled, “Amish Community Looks for Ways to Get More Paved Roads.” It seems like the Amish community is proactively cooperating with the Daviess County, Indiana, government in addressing the issue of newly-paved roads showing damage from horseshoes.

    5. Al in Ky

      I should have added that it seems like the current cost for license plates for buggies in Daviess County, Indiana, is $60 each.

      1. Interesting, Al. Quite a bit more for those plates than what they’re suggesting in Lancaster County, and Daviess County doesn’t exactly have a lot of paved roads. Maybe the tarring/watering or whatever the method is that they periodically use to keep dust down, is expensive.

    6. Merilee Nicely

      States Looking for Revenue

      I worked for a State for 32 years. They are always looking for revenue. I worked for the Dept of Revenue. I don’t think the buggies do much damage to the roads but as a person who worked two jobs in order to support my children I also worked as an Emergency Medical Tech. I think they should be required to have battery operated lights on the buggies for safety especially at dusk/dawn and at night. That should be a requirement.

      1. Merilee Nicely

        Continued from my last comment

        Something I left out of my previous comment is that I think it should be against the law for the buggies and horses to be on the road after dusk/dark. It scares the horses and thereby could cause an accident harming the rider of the horse and/or buggy the occupants of the motor vehicle or the life of the wonderful animals that pull these buggies. I know this will not be looked upon favorable with the Amish especially if they attending evening worship at their church. Maybe they could work out some other way so not to have the buggies on the road at night.

        1. Anonymous

          Horses Scared of Dark?

          I’ve been around horses all my life and have frequently been riding or working with horses after dark. I don’t know where you get the idea they are scared of the dark! Their eyesight is far better than ours in the dark and my experience with horses leads me to consider your statement uninformed.

    7. Today’s Lancaster Online contains a letter from a local resident who, going by his name and the content of the letter, may be Amish. An excerpt:

      However, if horse and buggies are to be licensed and taxed in accordance with automobiles, will this give them equal rights? If so, let’s consider a few ripple effects of the proposed bill:

      Will we take into consideration the safety and well-being of the horse and buggy? We should.

      Will horse and buggy rest stops be erected and maintained by the state?

      Passing a buggy on a double-yellow line is currently permissible and considered equivalent to passing farm machinery. Will this change once buggies become licensed? If so, traffic could back up for miles.

      Will buggy drivers be eligible to report potential “buggy hazards” to the state Department of Transportation (a 2-inch-wide crack in the pavement, for example)?

      In Pennsylvania, we have numerous metal-grate bridges that horses do not like and buggy drivers need to avoid. Will these get replaced? Oh, and what about the metal culvert grates that could be considered a hazard to horse hooves?

      Rep. Hanna, with all these unpredicted expenses, are you sure the $36 annual fee is enough?