By Esther Leggett
Wayne and Holmes counties in northeast Ohio, along with parts of their surrounding counties, are home to the largest concentration of Amish in the world. Approximately 32,000 Amish reside in this area.
The main mode of transportation for the Amish is the horse and buggy. The charming clippity-clop of the horses' hooves and the sight of a buggy full of barefoot Amish children bring smiles to the faces of many visitors to our area. The average buggy is six feet wide and travels at a speed of five to eight miles per hour.
Most roads in Amish Country wind up, down and around our hilly terrain. The county and township roads are often narrow, often dirt and gravel, and often with sharp, 90-degree turns.
There is an unusual mix of vehicles on the roads in Amish Country: semi trucks, box trucks, tractors and farm equipment, large cars, small cars, tour buses, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians and yes, many horses and buggies.
For those living in the area, coming up behind a string of traffic slowed by an Amish buggy can often bring frustration, because the locals are just trying to get from point A to point B in the quickest amount of time. Once I was on my way to an appointment and came upon a string of 40 to 50 Amish buggies going from a funeral to the grave site. There was no way I could pass all those buggies, so I turned around in the nearest driveway and found an alternate route. Of course I wasn't upset, but it did alter my plans. Those living in the area get used to situations such as this. Also, we often follow a horse and buggy up a long hill; it's not safe to pass, as someone may be coming over the crest of the hill at any moment. We just have to patiently follow along behind and enjoy the scenery going by at one to two miles per hour.
But for tourists, the slow crawl usually isn't a problem; it gives them time to look around and enjoy the view they came to see. The driver of the car, however, must be sure to concentrate on the task at hand ... driving the car. It's just too easy to be sight-seeing and not notice what's happening in front of you.
Often, you can be driving along at a comfortable pace, go over the crest of a hill and suddenly come upon a slow buggy on the other side. When motorized vehicles collide with a buggy, the result is usually quite serious " injury, and sometimes death, to the occupants of the buggy and to the horse. Buggies are constructed nicely, but they can't withstand the impact from a large vehicle at a speed higher than 10 mph.
Did you know a car traveling 55 mph will close a 500-foot gap between the car and a buggy traveling 5 mph in just 6 1/2 seconds?
The State of Ohio requires animal-drawn vehicles to have a slow-moving-vehicle emblem and/or reflective material that is black, gray or silver mounted on the vehicle, making it visible from a distance of not less than 500 feet to the rear when illuminated by lower headlight beams. The Amish community, especially the more conservative orders, has been resistant to the use of buggy-safety devices because of their belief in simplicity and determination to avoid anything that attracts attention or could be thought of as prideful. However, more and more Amish are adopting safety practices, and you're more likely than not to see reflective tape and the orange safety triangle on the buggies.
Some roads have a wide paved berm for buggy traffic, thus freeing the regular lanes for motorized-vehicle traffic. State Route 241, north of Mt. Hope, is a good example of this. In other locations throughout the area, sometimes there will be such a buggy lane beside the right lane going up a long hill, allowing faster traffic to pass safely.
Sgt. Stephanie Norman of the Wooster Post of the Ohio State Patrol, said when coming upon a horse and buggy, "remember the buggy driver is dealing with an animal that is often unpredictable."
When you approach a horse and buggy from the rear, and you do have to pass them, keep in mind even the most road-safe horse can spook at a fast-moving vehicle. Slow down, give them plenty of room and pass only when it is legal and safe. Rural roads are usually narrower than main roads, giving you less room to maneuver around a horse and buggy. Many country roads have a surface of loose gravel, and too much speed can cause a car to lose control.
Another consideration is coming upon a horse and buggy or a team of horses pulling farm equipment when the Amish driver may not be able to see traffic behind. A slowing buggy or farm equipment may be attempting to make a left turn, so be extra cautious if you are about to pass.
Also keep in mind, when you're behind a horse and any type of non-motorized vehicle at a stop sign, both the animal and the vehicle may back up a few feet after coming to a complete stop. A good practice is to stop your vehicle far enough back you can see where the rear wheels of the buggy touch the road (this gives you about 10-12 feet of clearance). If you're driving a mini-van or any other vehicle with elevated seating, you must stay back even farther.
It is prudent to know your "closure time." What is that? Well, it's something that could save your life and that of others on the road. Closure time is the time a driver has to recognize and respond when coming upon another vehicle, usually from behind.
I know this is going to sound like those old algebra problems (train A leaves at 2 p.m. going at 60 mph, train B leaves at 3 p.m., etc.), but here are some mathematical statistics related to driving in Amish Country.
If you are traveling at 55 mph and coming upon a car traveling at 45 mph that is 500 feet ahead of you, after six seconds you will have 412 feet to react before colliding with that car. However, if you are traveling at 55 mph and come upon a horse-drawn vehicle only going 5 mph that is 500 feet ahead of you, you'll have only 44 feet to react before colliding in the same six seconds. This is why you must keep your eyes pealed for slow-moving vehicles at all times.
The same goes for other slow modes of transportation. You'll see many bicycles on the roads here, ridden by the Amish and by sight-seers. Many Amish walk to town, to their jobs and to their neighbor's, so be careful to watch for them. Also, many Amish children hitch a pony to a small cart and take a ride. These ponies and carts are very low to the ground and often hard to see, especially if they're in front of an automobile you approach from behind. And, here and there, you may come upon a herd of cattle being ushered from one pasture, across the road, to the barn or another pasture.
Therefore, there is much concern for careful driving when coming to Amish Country. It is such a wonderful area to visit, and there is so much to do. Don't be in a hurry; slow down and enjoy all there is to see.
And always be aware of all the others with whom you're sharing the roads. Drive safely and come back soon!