Last week's traffic safety article was about sharing the road with bicycles, in-line skaters, and pedestrians. On North Country roads we also must share the road with our Amish friends, which means horse-drawn buggies. Bicycles and pedestrians have been around on our roads forever, but the Amish buggies are newer to our area, and the numbers of buggies has increased to where we need to understand each other in order to safely share our roads.
To achieve this understanding, several members of the Franklin County Traffic Safety Board along with members of the enforcement community from Franklin and St. Lawrence counties met with leaders from the Amish communities of western Franklin and eastern St. Lawrence counties on March 21st to discuss the safety concerns with buggies and motor vehicles sharing the same roads. This "Did You Know" article will try to convey some points that will better enable both motorists and buggy drivers to co-exist safely on the same roads.
From a motorist's point of view, often traveling at 55 mph or more, buggies present a potential problem mainly because of the difference in speed, similar to bicycle riders. Buggies are black, and thus do not present a clearly visible object on the shoulder or side of the road until the motorist is relatively close to the buggy, especially at night. Furthermore, religious beliefs of many of the Amish sects prevent them from displaying the slow moving vehicle emblem, a brightly colored orange and red triangle, on the back of the buggies. However, they do agree to use gray reflective tape that does not violate their religious beliefs. At night, they will use one red lantern mounted on the left rear of the buggy.
Based on concerns voiced at the meeting, buggy drivers will make a better effort to keep the reflective tape and their lanterns clean for better visibility. They would even appreciate it if enforcement officers inform the driver of the buggy if they find that their tape is barely visible or the light from the lantern is dull. Motorists observing a problem with a buggy should contact their local law enforcement agency to report any problems, the same as you would do if you observed a motor vehicle driver acting irresponsibly.
From a buggy driver's viewpoint, motor vehicles can present some problems to them as well. Buggy drivers rely on hearing a motor vehicle approaching from behind. Because of noise from the buggy's wheels on the pavement and the horse's feet clomping along, they often cannot hear a vehicle approaching until it is upon them. Motorists should reduce their speed and move to the left side of their lane, and if there is no oncoming traffic, move over even farther, providing as much room as possible between your vehicle and the buggy to insure safe passing. Horses, or any animal for that matter, can be very unpredictable, and may not react the way you would like them to.
Another concern is motorcycles that have loud mufflers. This noise can scare the horse, and buggy drivers would appreciate it if motorcycle riders would pass without "revving up" the motor.
Amish citizens often go to town in their buggies, meaning they may have to stop for a traffic signal or stop sign. As a motorist, don't pull up close to the rear of the buggy as the horse may back up slightly while waiting at the light or stop sign.
Additional things that give buggy drivers difficulty include on-coming drivers not dimming their headlights at night and snow plow operators throwing snow on the buggies and their horses as they pass. The Traffic Safety Board will make highway departments aware of this concern before next winter.
One other safety issue - some Amish children are not bussed to school - they walk, as much as one-and-a-half miles one way. Motorists need to be very careful when children are walking along the roads to and from their Amish schools.
Motorists and buggy drivers can share the road safely if we all understand each other's viewpoint. As motorists, V&T Law (articles 1146 and 1146-a) requires us to "exercise due care to avoid colliding with" basically any person or domestic animal along a highway whether they are on a bicycle, walking, riding a horse, or driving a buggy. Let's do it.
To access the previous "Did You Know" articles and more information on vehicle and traffic law and traffic safety, go the Franklin County Traffic Safety Board's website at www.franklincony.org/ and click on the Traffic Safety Board under departments.