Driving around Amish requires anticipation, caution

Amish buggies often are among the vehicles traveling local roadways, especially in more rural areas. Here, a buggy travels along Sandy Ridge Road outside Barnesville, near the scene of a crash involving another buggy. T-L Photo/JENNIFER COMPSTON-STROUGH

MARTINS FERRY — Motorists in eastern Ohio share interstate highways with all types of vehicles from across the nation, but they need to pay special attention in more rural areas where they are likely to encounter a different type of vehicle — Amish buggies.

According to worldatlas.com, Ohio has the largest population of Amish in the United States, with 69,000 people identifying as Amish in 2015. Sgt. Robert Bodo of the Ohio State Highway Patrol Steubenville Post wants motorists to be aware that Amish horse-drawn buggies are out on rural roads in the region — and to use caution to avoid collisions.

“Drivers just have to be aware on the roads where there are Amish because rural roads have hills and curves. Country roads also can be dangerous because they are narrow and unlit,” Bodo said.

Two crashes involving Amish buggies occurred in Belmont County within the past three months, one in Barnesville and one near Somerton. The Barnesville accident involved a van striking the buggy from behind, sending the four buggy occupants to the hospital. The buggy in Somerton was also struck from behind. The driver was injured but refused medical treatment, according to the OSHP.

Bodo said he handled a fatal accident about two years ago near the village of Bergholz in Jefferson County, which has a large population of Amish.

“In that case, the buggy was rear-ended and a young girl was ejected and then run over. It was terrible,” Bodo said. “I know OSHP posts around Wooster (Ohio) that do safety day outreach with the Amish. They handle a lot of crashes because of the sheer numbers of them around.”

Bodo noted that Amish buggies are required by state law to have a “slow moving vehicle” placard posted on the backs of the vehicles. He said many Amish drivers also have a battery-powered flashing light on the backs of their buggies as well.

“If I saw a buggy without the required sign I would definitely pull them over and give them a warning, but I have never seen one without one,” Bodo said. “People need to realize that those buggies are being pulled by an animal, and they can be unpredictable. Always be cautious when approaching and passing.”

The Ohio Department of Transportation cites statistics that show that more than 65 percent of all traffic deaths occur in rural areas and that Ohio reports more than 120 buggy accidents per year, on average.

“Normal speeds for horse-drawn buggies range between five and eight miles per hour. Horse-drawn vehicles may be even slower when pulling large farm equipment or when crossing intersections because horses are not tractors or cars and will eventually become tired,” ODOT states. “Another hazard to consider is restricted vision from the driver of the horse-drawn vehicle. When pulling large loads of hay or other equipment, drivers may not be able to see cars behind them. Car drivers, therefore, need to be extra cautious when passing horse-drawn farm equipment. To avoid other possible collisions, car drivers should anticipate left hand turns made by horse-drawn vehicles into fields and driveways.”

ODOT also warns that a vehicle traveling 55 mph coming up on a vehicle traveling at 5 mph requires a much quicker reaction time to slow down before colliding than it would when approaching a vehicle traveling 45-55 mph.

“Therefore, immediately upon seeing the slow moving vehicle emblem, slow down and prepare to pass with caution,” ODOT states.