Safety concerns continue for Amish, with state decision needed

Published 9:52 am Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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Area counties are relying on increased signage and education to improve safety for Amish buggies traveling area roads. This is because General Assembly action is needed to mandate options such as flashing lights that would make them more visible to drivers.

Buckingham County saw another buggy accident Thursday, April 18 when the horse was spooked by the revving engine of a passing car, according to Buckingham Sheriff Billy Kidd. The buggy flipped, injuring a young girl.

Buckingham County Department of Emergency Services Chief Cody Davis said they are using an approach that makes education the priority.

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“Various public events have been attended by county staff, such as the annual Mayfest event at Historical Buckingham, where informational booths were staffed,” Davis said Monday. “Additionally, frequent social media posts are shared regarding this topic.”

He went on to say he believes the Virginia Department of Transportation has done “a fantastic job of maintaining extensive signage” around the county, reminding Buckingham drivers of the increased buggy traffic.

“Signs are posted at all entrances and exits to the county on its major roadways, at major intersections, and many bad curves,” Davis said.

Meanwhile, in Charlotte

Charlotte County Administrator Dan Witt said the board of supervisors brought the issue up a year ago with VDOT Farmville Resident Engineer Scott Frederick. As a result, VDOT installed signs at all Charlotte County entrances. 

Witt added that elders in the Amish community wanted the county to mandate the use of flashers on all buggies. Witt said that elders have told him “young people think they’re invincible” and are not following guidance to install them. 

As they investigated options, Witt found that localities cannot mandate use of flashers. This option “cannot be done except through legislation,” he said.

The same goes for Prince Edward County where County Administrator Doug Stanley shared an email from Frederick stating that VDOT and the county “are both always looking for ways to adjust to the presence of animal drawn vehicles.”

Frederick said their best tool is the relationship between VDOT, the board of supervisors and residents to serve the traveling public.

“I did participate in a safety focus group in 2021 into 2022 that included VDOT, county officials, VSP, and the Amish community leaders,” he wrote in the note to Stanley. “We added some more signage to our roadways and the counties that were involved in that group worked to increase public awareness.”

Despite their efforts, Davis said accidents involving buggies remain at the three or so a year mark. “Thankfully, severe accidents maintain at one or less a year in Buckingham,” he stated.

Witt noted that his neighbors are Amish.

“I’m aware of them,” he said. “I’m always looking.”

Easy not to notice Amish

When motorists are driving 55-60 m.p.h. on state routes 40 and 47, Witt said they come up on Amish buggies very quickly. On a cloudy day or when the sun is in a driver’s eyes, he said it can be even more difficult to see buggies on the highway.

The Buckingham County Board of Supervisors created a committee to spearhead the county’s efforts to address safe buggy travel, Davis said.

“Since then, the committee finalized its educational approach and continues to look for ways to educate the county and achieve safety as much as possible,” he said. “As previously reported, Amish members of our committee committed to prioritizing safety and education within their community. Additionally, they vowed to ensure that all buggies would maintain reflective decaling and flashing amber lights.”

Witt noted that the Amish community is split on the issue and must come together to determine the direction this needs to go. The idea of mandating flashers at the state level met with opposition by strict Amish in Brookneal who do not want such regulation, he said.

He contends that the community needs to see that everyone is using flashers.

“The Amish need to self-monitor this,” he said.

Additionally, Davis said motorists need to be sure they educated about safety issues with buggies and be vigilant at all times.

“Our entire community is responsible for the health and safety of all of its members and the Amish now comprise much of our membership,” he said.

Advising caution

At the end of the day, Davis said people need to remember that buggies frequent our roadways regularly, at all times of the day and the night.

“Additionally, these buggies travel one-tenth or so the speed of a regular automobile in most areas and speed zones of the county,” he said. “The reaction time we would typically have when approaching another vehicle from the rear is drastically reduced when approaching a buggy.”

The region has seen many tragic accidents involving buggies in recent years.

One of the worst occurring in Cumberland County when a pickup truck hit an Amish buggy in October 2021 killing two parents and injuring eight of their children.

Buckingham County saw 15 people, ranging from age 5 to 35, injured in September 2020 when a car came up from behind hitting an Amish buggy that was pulling a wagon behind it.