Why do the Amish drive buggies?

Amish do not own or operate automobiles

amish buggy signOutside observers find Amish use of the horse-and-buggy puzzling. Amish refusal to drive or own cars can seem particularly unusual in an automobile-obsessed culture.  Yet what may seem archaic to the rest of us is a conscious decision by the Amish, based on a few important principles.  They include:

  • slowing the speed of life-the carriage acts as a brake on the pace of life
  • preserving family and community-easy auto travel can fragment modern families
  • maintaining distance from the world-choosing the horse-and-buggy means consciously choosing transportation not “of” the world
  • symbolic value-the carriage, like Plain clothing and the Pennsylvania German language, is a marker of “Amishness”

The Amish Buggy as transportation

Opting for such a slow form of transportation means forgoing the speed and convenience of the automobile.  Yet the Amish do not choose the buggy as a manner of self-punishment. This approach to transportation, as with other technologies, is based in the idea that accepting every technology can be harmful to a family, community, and church.

amish buggies pennsylvania
The horse-and-buggy literally restricts the speed of Amish life

Amish base their interpretation of Christianity in living out Christ’s beliefs in close community.  They see ownership of automobiles-which allow travel at a moment’s notice, and provide easy access to cities, typically considered by Amish to be places of sin and temptation-as hazardous to that vision.

The automobile represents freedom and mobility.  Yet the Amish see the open road as more threatening than liberating.  Relying on the horse-and-buggy, with its range of about 20 miles, physically limits Amish mobility, helping to keep families and communities close.

Do Amish think cars are immoral?

Some observers misinterpret the Amish stance on automobiles, supposing the Amish see them, like other modern technologies, as evil.  Some find it hypocritical that Amish accept rides or hire “Amish taxis” to take them places while refusing to own or drive cars themselves.

Yet Amish do not consider car ownership or usage to be immoral in and of itself.  In fact, they see practical value in the automobile, which is why they use them selectively.  They simply are concerned about what unrestricted access to automobiles can do to a community and family.

Therefore, Amish do not ban car use outright, because they see it as a necessity in certain cases.  Some Amish business owners, such as carpenters, depend on the automobile transportation that an English employee might provide.

yellow amish buggy
A buggy’s appearance may indicate the community or affiliation of its owner

Amish also ride in motor vehicles when traveling to visit family in another state, when doing large shopping trips, or when being transported to the hospital in an emergency situation, for example.

Selective use in this manner is often inconvenient (often requiring planning a day or more ahead) and expensive (numerous individuals in Amish communities make a full-time living from driving the Amish), thus discouraging overuse.

Some Amish groups interpret the use of cars more strictly, however.  Swartzentruber Amish, for example, only accept rides in emergencies, which compels them to use public transportation when visiting other communities.  This also limits the businesses they can engage in, restricting carpentry crews, for example, to working within horse-and-buggy range.

Symbolic role of the Horse-and-Buggy

The carriage also plays an important symbolic role.  Amish realize the importance of the buggy—like plain clothing and the Pennsylvania German language—as a marker of identity.  Replacing the buggy with the car would not only mean forging closer ties with the world, it would mean discarding a symbol partially responsible for the strong sense of Amish identity.

amish buggy ohio
The buggy is an important symbol of Amish identity

Without visible symbols marking them as separate, the danger of drift would be greater.  Amish feel that true Christians should not follow the ways of the world, and holding fast to the buggy is one way that they distinguish themselves in a world obsessed with newness and fads.

Amish buggies may vary in their color and design, but share the common characteristic of being simple, unadorned, and horse-drawn.  Widely recognized, the Amish buggy embodies Amishness in a way that a national flag denotes one’s patriotic alliance, or a sports uniform declares allegiance to a particular team.

The buggy is not only a literal brake on the pace of life, but a symbolic reminder of the Amish charter to be “in the world, but not of the world”.  This easily-seen visual marker denotes the Amish as different, for all the world, Amish, and non-Amish alike, to see.

For further information, see:

Plain Buggies: Amish, Mennonite, and Brethren Horse-Drawn Transportation, Stephen Scott

On the Backroad to Heaven: Old Order Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren, Donald B. Kraybill and Carl Desportes Bowman

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    1. Tayler Johnson

      The amish should keep driving the buggies because it is what they believe in and the buggy was here before any automobile. The amish don’t even cause any trouble while they drive they trouble is the people that pass them and don’t ever slow down and have any respect for them. Any body that has any comments please post them:) Thanks!!!

    2. Tayler Johnson

      I just got done reading this article about why the people don’t want the buggy on the road. Some reasons are that the horses crap everywhere and certain tires can’t be on the road because the marks make the horses slide and they hold traffic up.

    3. Patsy Bingham

      I read this article and really respect the Amish’s way of life. I wish there were Amish people in Washington state, I might think of joining them if they were. Of course they should always be able to drive their horse and buggies on the main roads, we could all slow down our pace a bit, it’d be good for the USA.

    4. C Rastovski

      Thank You!

      This is a great article. I didn’t understand before why it was ok for the Amish to ride in cars but not own them. They have a unique view of the world. Thank you for sharing their story.

    5. Nobody Knows

      Amazing Amish

      It is so amazing how the legacy of the Amish Lives on in the USA Canada. It is also hard thinking about walking in there shoes from living in the modern world, and not being brought up as Amish. I am all about safety for the Amish people. Everyone plays an important role in keeping them safe on the road, but with the Semi’s and cars trying to share the same road, the modern world keeps closing in on the safety for the Amish. I have seen horse and buggies driven on busy highways in the poring rain, with semi’s and cars flying buy them unable to see. I have also seen them dodge
      cross two different lanes of highway in the poring rain (while holding a umbrella) with fog and darkness. They are the most gutsy people alive on earth living in the modern world. They need there own separate road system within there community away from the dangerous modern roads, or they need less people driving on the roads around them. When someone causes a accident with a horse and Buggy including all the occupants, it’s a tragic act of god, but in reality the automobiles fault in most cases. There are also the situations where it’s raining and they can’t be seen, or a car gets a flat tire, and fly’s off to the side of the road.. or worse a Semi has a problem and can’t get over due to lack of space…hills and automobiles are a big problem. Either way there are so many unknowns, but speed limits need to be reduced for Amish communities to horse and buggy speeds. Its like having a Amish Zone, Similar to School Zones, maybe flashing light speed zones when Amish Buggies are present. Crossing zones would make life easier for the Amish, and drivers. The government can afford to make this happen. There are so many grants, and the state governments could find a way to fund the project. The Amish have contributed so much for society, they need the respect from what the modern world refuses to consider (even if they don’t have to register for the draft and fight in war). Amish deserve the recognition and safety from the modern world. They bring a since of reality to the modern world if people are willing to see it. I have dreamed of living this simple, but the modern world has spoiled that personally. They show the world that they achieved Peace, simplicity, and freedom to be Amish. This article Struck a nerve, and needs more readers, and less questioning there ways of why they do what they do.