Swartzentruber Amish Testing Unusual Buggy Visibility Solution (Updated)

Do you recall the recent story of the Amish man who had survived 14 buggy crashes?

Levi Shetler is a member of the Swartzentruber Amish group, which does not use the orange safety triangle and other otherwise-common safety features.

pvc-pipe-swartzentruber-amish-carriageIt looks like change is coming to the group’s approach to vehicle safety – at least in Shetler’s corner of Ohio.

Amish in the man’s community have begun adding additional visibility features to their carriages. From the Akron Beacon Journal:

Earlier this year, after one of the Schwartzentrubers survived his 14th buggy crash — the same January crash killed his work partner — a three-member steering committee was established to help communicate with the public on safety-related issues.

The group —Stutzman, Levi Hostetler and Eli Hostetler — met in Levi Hostetler’s wood shop just outside of West Salem on a Friday in April to show a reporter two things Swartzentrubers have started adding to their buggies, along with a suggested improvement.

The three changes to Swartzentruber buggies in this community are:

  1. A 10 x 12-inch white plastic rectangle outlined by reflective tape, affixed to the back of the carriage
  2. Two pieces of reflective tape-covered white PVC pipe on the outside of the buggy wheel. At night the pipe segments “almost look like reflective bicycle pedals being pumped up and down”
  3. Community members are now encouraged to use only larger kerosene lamps in their buggy light boxes

The plastic add-ons give the buggies an odd look, to be sure, but perhaps that is what’s needed to get people’s attention on the roads.

Photo by Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal

By the article, it doesn’t seem this has been rigorously tested. The Amishmen are said to be hoping drivers will better see them with the changes. “It can’t hurt,” said the county commissioner.

This is not the only creative workaround used by Amish with objections to the orange safety triangle, but I’m not aware of any other Amish using this approach.

The lack of buggy markings within the Swartzentruber group has been a long-running area of controversy, which creates conflict from time to time in Swartzentruber areas (see here, here, and here).

I’m a bit surprised by this move, but if it saves lives while being visually acceptable, maybe it will be adopted in other Swartzentruber communities.

As noted in the article, Amish here are concerned not only for their own safety, but for the impact on their non-Amish neighbors, including “the guilt they may forever carry if they hit a buggy.”

UPDATE: The Amish also shared ways drivers can help (photo: cantonrep.com). From the Akron Beacon Journal article linked above:

For drivers …

The Swartzentruber Amish said they are trying to help motorists. Here’s how they say motorists can help them:

  • Don’t rev your engine when passing because it spooks the horses.
  • Slow down on rainy days because tires can send up a wall of water.
  • Give buggies room when passing. If possible, try to keep your vehicle left of the center line when passing and don’t pass on hill crests.
  • Dim lights at night when approaching a buggy head-on because bright lights can momentarily blind the horse.
  • Flash headlights at night when you approach a buggy to let the buggy driver know you see them.

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    1. Space-age Amish

      Day-Glo Solution

      Why not just paint the whole thing with the reflective paint? Harness too.

      1. It seems that or something like it would be the practical thing to do, but it’s not always about what’s most practical or effective above everything else, especially with the Swartzentruber group.

        They are balancing safety features against things like not being too flashy (they object to the gaudiness of the orange color, thus all Swartzentruber visibility solutions avoid this color), maintaining the plain buggy appearance, and having faith in God rather than relying on man-made devices for protection.

        It’s hard for non-Amish to come to terms with it when we are accustomed to always going the safe route when it seems so obvious. But there are other considerations in this case that are important to the Swartzentruber Amish especially.


    2. Al in Ky

      Very interesting. I’ll have to check with friends in a couple of other Swartz. communities to see if they are beginning to use the same type of changes.

      1. Would be interested to hear what they think Al.

    3. What group does this man belong? The Joe church, The Mosey Mosies or the the Andy Weaver group? This would impact buggy innovations, as well as lifestyle alterations.

      1. I’m not sure, Lodi has at least the Mose Miller group and the Andy Weaver group according to Karen Johnson-Weiner’s discussion of Swartzentruber schisms in the book New York Amish, and maybe all three groups are represented there.

    4. Kiki

      Buggy changes for safety

      I’m wondering if they could just paint only the back of the buggy/carriage with reflective paint. I know for a fact that the reason fire trucks are now painted a canary yellow color is because it’s better seen both during the day and at night. Too bad the Amish couldn’t paint just the backs with that color. It’s not as if they’re becoming “worldly” but, as Christians, we’re responsible for our actions that can negatively affect the entire community, including the non-Christians. The Amish should be more concerned about the safety of the community – including the non-Amish – than worrying about their man-made “rules” about colors. Scripture, after all, never says believers cannot use colors. Early Bishops (i.e. Clement of Alexandria) required believers to wear white or off-white so as not to attract attention to oneself, especially the women. However, he didn’t have the problem of motorized vehicles going 65 mph. I’m sure God wants us all to try to ensure the safety of everyone which is why the Amish train their children to be safe buggy drivers. No training will be of any good use if the buggy cannot be seen because it’s BLACK!! That small reflective rectangle or triangle will be of little help when a driver is drunk and can barely see to begin with, or when there’s too much fog for ANY driver to be able to see. Humility means putting the interests of others before your own. Bicyclists get hit from behind all the time so that little reflective pedal does little good when drivers cannot see for one reason or another. A LARGE change needs to be made, not a small one!

    5. Space-age Amish

      Kickin' it with KiKi

      Yeah, but if you’re drunk enough to have impaired vision and suddenly you see a glowing buggy at the top of the next hill looking like it’s floating in mid air, might that not make you run into a ditch? And if you’re a drunk who believes in The Rapture, you might speed up to avoid being Left Behind.

      1. Kiki

        Buggy changes for safety

        Lol! I never considered that one.
        You’re very right, “Space-Age Amish”, but I’d rather see the car in the ditch than the buggy and if it’s a DUI situation, then the driver DESERVES to end up in the ditch, lol!

        I agree with you, Terry, that to do what’s right, to do what our “leaders” and the law requires for the sake of the safety of EVERYONE, Amish and non-Amish alike, is what we’re commanded in Scripture.

        I’m very conservative and wish we’d all go back to living like the 1st century church did. Orthodox Christianity has in Liturgy and Doctrine, but we also realize that the early Christians never had to deal with things like cars, drunk drivers, traffic, etc. For those things we must rely on the laws of the land and our own common sense, both of which may conflict with our man-made traditions, and be flexible enough to see the big picture and end goals….for EVERYONE!

    6. Terry from Wisc

      Doing what's right

      When the Amish moved into my hometown area in the early 60’s the local officials went around and around with them about the safety of their buggies. The community got involved after several incidents had occurred when a driver had an encounter with a black buggy on a black night. At the time all that was used was a lantern with a red globe hanging on the left side of the buggy. I forget how long the debate went on, but the Amish caved and agreed to put the slow moving triangle on….and the community all cheered! 🙂

      Some years ago I was visiting Amish friends and it was dark when I headed for home. Not to far down the road I almost hit a horse that was NOT pulling a buggy! Shortly after I saw a buggy with headlights coming down a long driveway and I waited for them to inform them of the horse that must have decided it was time to go home..alone. What grabbed my attention was the headlights on the buggy as it was a first for me! I thought to myself, it’s about time!

      Erik, you know how I like to get long winded so I’ll stop right there…

      Hebrews 13:17 (NIV)

      17 Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

      1. Wow, that was a close call for both you and the horse. Interesting anecdotes Terry. I always appreciate your perspective since you have the benefit of decades of observing the Amish. There was a time when headlights weren’t common.

    7. Amish girl- Rebecca

      Though I’m Old Order Amish, I agree with you all about the whole safety issue. In my church group most of us use LED lights run off a 12 volt battery. The typical buggy has headlights,tail lights, two ways, a yellow flasher on the back,SMV emblem, and reflective tape. Some also have small lights along the top,the sides, and on the mirror. Again buggy lighting will vary from community to community, but what I’ve seen in travels, most buggies in the larger Amish communities,- Northern Indiana, Pennsylvania, Geauga ,Holmes, and Wayne Counties of Ohio are well lit and most of us are just as frustrated about the ones that aren’t ,as the general public. So maybe step by step they will learn to adapt safety features like the rest of us.

      1. Thanks Rebecca for the comment. I think the brightest buggies I’ve seen anywhere are in northern Indiana, with some features more attention-getting than cars.

    8. Mark -- Holmes Co.

      Very well said, Rebecca!

    9. what is the right thing

      All across America, in all driver’s safety classes we are taught what the smv triangle is and WHAT IT MEANS AND OUR RESPONSIBILITY to it. If we change that on our own and some kid from a different location drives into our area and sees some unknown sign, he will not know how to react to it. Remember that all drivers may not have the wherewithal to make quick judgements, but are trained to act as they have been trained. For you own safety, please use the smv triangle

    10. Mark -- Holmes Co.

      That’s a very good point, Homer. While i wish the Swartzentrubers WOULD use the SMV, these reflectors are at least better than nothing, but you are right — the car drivers might not know what they are seeing. Hopefully it is enough that they will see there is SOMETHING there and proceed with caution.

      1. Mark since you know the Swartzentruber dynamic firsthand, any guess how likely it would be that Swartzentruber churches in Holmes County might adopt this, assuming it is a success in the Lodi community?

        1. Mark -- Holmes Co.

          Erik, I spoke with a Swartzentruber friend yesterday and asked him about these safety improvements. He made it sound like this was done in Lodi because of the high accident rate due to straighter and more level roads. (Allowing cars to travel faster.) To hear him talk, it didn’t sound like this would be considered here, but that was just one man’s opinion. His one comment really summed it up — “We never had anything like THAT before.”

          1. Thanks for checking Mark. Would you be surprised if I said I’m not surprised by that response? As I think you or someone noted earlier, it is interesting that the areas with straighter roads supposedly has a higher accident rate. I’ve always thought the curvier hillier areas were tailor-made for accidents.

            1. Mark -- Holmes Co.

              No,Erik, I’m not surprised that you’re not surprised. 🙂 You know your facts and understand the differences.

              1. Thanks for the compliment Mark – though I wasn’t fishing for it – actually the intent behind that question was more along the lines of “are you thinking the same thing” though it might not have come off that way 🙂 Anyway, thanks for sharing that with us, it was interesting to hear.

                1. Mark -- Holmes Co.

                  No, not at all, Erik. I didn’t think you were fishing for a compliment. 🙂 I think we were indeed thinking the same thing.

    11. Jack Mitchell

      Innovative and a Reasonable Compromise

      I found this article very interesting to see what solution the Swartzentrubers came up with. It’s nice to see the innovation and compromise with the white rectangle and pipes on the wheels. I really hope it will improve safety on the roads for all concerned.

      I think the most important thing when it comes to road safety is to be able to see what there is as far ahead as possible in order to prepare for it – slow down in good time etc.

      1. Well said Jack. I just updated the post above with another photo showing the full buggy. This photo captures how the plastic add-ons have a more silver appearance from the reflective tape.

        Also I added some points from the Amish side on ways drivers can help too, from the Akron Beacon Journal article. Here they are again:

        Don’t rev your engine when passing because it spooks the horses.
        Slow down on rainy days because tires can send up a wall of water.
        Give buggies room when passing. If possible, try to keep your vehicle left of the center line when passing and don’t pass on hill crests.
        Dim lights at night when approaching a buggy head-on because bright lights can momentarily blind the horse.
        Flash headlights at night when you approach a buggy to let the buggy driver know you see them.

    12. An unexpected benefit of this tailor-made Amish safety solution?

      There is also a cantonrep.com article which I’ve linked above, with interesting comments from a member of this community. The most interesting part is what he says at the end of this quote – that SMV triangles are for vehicles that can go up to 25 mph (which would include tractors and other farm implements), significantly slower than typical buggy speed. He seems to suggest this new reflector array may have the advantage of indicating that these are the very slowest slow-moving vehicles, going 5 to 10 mph:


      Even a safe horse with a lot of experience pulling a buggy can swerve, said Levi Hostetler, who is hopeful the decals and tubing can improve driving safety. In addition to a car passing, trash on the roadside, rocks or plastic bags fluttering in the wind can cause a horse to swerve.

      “There’s always a concern about a vehicle hitting a buggy like that,” Hostetler said. “The biggest problem between a buggy and a motorized vehicle is the difference in speed. At 55 mph, you’re gaining approximately 80 feet per second. If you come over a knoll in buggy country, and a buggy is about 250 ahead, then you have 3 seconds to stop or turn.

      “That’s not very much.”

      Add to the speed distance driver distraction, and it could make for a serious crash. Consider in about 6 seconds, a vehicle driving 55 mph can nearly cover the length of one-and-a-half football fields.

      Hostetler has seen many close calls, and his mother died of injuries sustained in a buggy crash.

      “There have been so many crashes, we decided to put 10-inch by 12-inch white rectangles (on the buggies) that we call white buggy markers,” Hostetler said. “They have reflective tape on the boards.”

      Hostetler explained the Swartzentruber Amish have always shied away from the slow-moving vehicle emblem, in part because of the color and the shape. But, it is mainly the bright color.

      “We don’t wear bright colors in our clothing,” he said. “We are plain people who live for God.”

      Hostetler said he is hopeful drivers will see the markers and tubes and recognize the buggies are the “slowest of the slow,” he said. The slow-moving vehicle emblem can be used for vehicles traveling up to 25 mph, but the buggies are moving at a 5 to 10 mph clip.

      “At night, they really get your attention,” he said.

    13. NA

      I don’t think it matters. Just saying. People get in accidents all the time. People riding bikes, motorcycles, cars, trucks, boats, etc. you name it. There is no full proof way to avoid accidents. There are tens of thousands of accidents in the U.S, how many of them are actually horse and buggy?

      The best solution is for drives of both vehicles, the buggy and the car, to be aware of each other.

    14. Sue in Wi

      Safety is an issue esp. at night

      I noticed when passing a buggy at night I cannot see the horse at all once I pass the buggy. I told one of my Amish friends that it is very difficult to estimate in the dark when you are far enough past the horse to pull back into the lane. So I suggested to add reflective strips to the horse’s harness or add a light at the front of the shafts to brighten up the horse.

      He agrees it would help safety much and will bring it up in a church meeting. How well the idea is received remains to be seen.

      But, from our end + the non Amish end that is – there are things we can do to ensure the safety of everyone and everything on the road. Living in the country means we pass a lot of deer on or by the road. Eagles flying up from dining on roadkill… Owls flying out of a tree at night… Even black bears depending on the season will cross our paths. Not to mention the od cow or horse that got loose, dogs chasing cats… And of course kids playing in the roads.

      In other words there are numerous reasons for always driving mindfully. There is never a reason good enough for speeding down the road when a precious life is lost or irreparable damage is done.

      As the drivers of powerful machines in our speed and competion driven world the responsibility lies with us to pay attention and be aware of the power and capability to destroy that is in our hands. We must not let our need for haste be a hazard to those who move at ease and in complete harmony with the pace of nature.