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The Break Room: Amish Paradise

Visiting my hometown reminds me of some very specific driving safety tips.

My hometown, Lancaster, Pa., is located in the heart of Pennsylvania Amish Country and is famous for its farmland, pastoral charm, Pennsylvania Dutch food and a large Amish population. If you visit, you can take buggy rides, eat shoo-fly pie, tour an Amish farm and more. (I should note that I have done nearly none of these things, at least not during the 2 decades I lived in Lancaster.)

While I moved away from Lancaster years ago, I still make an effort to visit the area after the holidays to catch up with old friends. So it’s understandable that around this time of year, my mind starts wandering to all things Lancaster – and that includes the Amish, and ultimately, driving safety.

Because they largely reject modern technology and strive to live a simple life, most Amish get around the old-fashioned way: via horse-pulled buggies. But adding these buggies to modern roads frequented by cars, vans, tractors and trucks can be a recipe for disaster. The result of a buggy crash can be heart wrenching – people, property and horses alike are at risk when cars collide with the Amish’s slower pace of life.

Sharing the road with horse-drawn buggies might not be an obstacle that the average person faces on a regular basis. But according to the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College, the nationwide Amish population has swelled to 261,150. Amish live in 28 U.S. states as well as in Ontario, Canada. Many tourists visit places like Lancaster County or Holmes County, Ohio, every year to get a glimpse of the Amish, which results in more drivers meeting buggies on the road.

According to the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), more than 120 buggy accidents are reported in Ohio alone every year. ODOT offers safety information for drivers traveling on roads frequented by buggies:

➤ When you see a buggy ahead on the road, immediately slow down.

➤ Pass horse-drawn vehicles with caution and give them plenty of room. Only pass a buggy when it is legal and safe to do so.

➤ The average speed for a buggy is 5-8 miles per hour, and even slower when pulling equipment or crossing intersections.

➤ Be aware that buggy drivers may be unable to see cars behind them, especially if they are hauling something.

➤ Anticipate that buggies might make left-hand turns into driveways or fields.

➤ Be aware of possible blind corners created by wooded areas, cornfields or other crops when driving on roads that may contain buggies.

➤ Remember that horses may spook at speeding vehicles or in response to loud, sudden noises.

➤ When traveling behind a buggy, leave plenty of room between your car and the buggy. You should be far enough away so you can see where the rear wheels of the buggy touch the road. Minivan or van drivers must maintain an even greater distance.

I live in Ohio now, a state that actually has a larger Amish population than Pennsylvania. Of course, you don’t see many buggies traversing the roads here in Cleveland – you have to travel south to Holmes County for that. But no matter where I may come across an Amish buggy, I use caution and care when passing – and I hope you will do the same.

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