Horses and buggies, used as a means of transportation by members of plain religious sects like the Amish, have been involved in hundreds of crashes that have killed nearly two dozen people in Pennsylvania over the past ten years, according to state data.
Twenty-three people have died in Pennsylvania in crashes involving horse and buggy vehicles from 2007 to 2016, according to Pennsylvania Department of Transporation data. There were 633 total crashes during that time involving horses and buggies. These crashes resulted in hundreds of suspected or possible injuries, the data says.
But those numbers represent a tiny fraction of total traffic fatalities, and — according to a PennDOT spokesperson — most of the time horse and buggy operators aren’t at fault in a crash.
Fritzi Schreffler, PennDOT safety press officer, said speeding and distracted driving are often to blame in crashes involving horses and buggies. Particularly dangerous: Motorists speeding over hills, where their view of an upcoming buggy may be blocked.
While Schreffler says many motorists consider buggies a nuisance, she reminds motorists that “they have every right to be on the road.” She said bicyclists often deal with similar attitudes.
Schreffler says horse and buggy drivers, who may be Amish, Old Order Mennonite or other plain sects, “do their best to fit into our world.” She noted that the community has collaborated with government officials to produce a Horse and Buggy Drivers Manual for Pennsylvania to increase safety awareness.
For motorists, the Automobile Association of America, Central Pennsylvania has several recommendations to help them drive safely in Amish country — Particularly Lancaster County, which leads the state in horse and buggy crashes.
– Don’t spook the horse: Public Relations manager Doni Lee Spiegel said that drivers can unintentionally create a dangerous situation by distracting the horse, causing it to behave erratically. Especially dangerous: beeping a horn, yelling or using high beams.
– Pass with care: Spiegel suggested that horses don’t always travel in a perfectly straight line and driving too close to them can also spook the horse. She said drivers should allow plenty of room when passing. Schreffler also cautioned that passing a horse and buggy should only be done when there are clear sight lines for hundreds of feet — not on hills or curves.
Drive slow and distraction-free: A speeding car can bear down on a buggy going under 10 miles-per-hour very quickly, and a distracted driver is less likely to notice the danger. It’s never advisable to drive distracted, but it’s especially dangerous in Amish country.
Although Schreffler emphasized motorists’ responsibility to drive safely, she acknowledged that sometimes there are issues with buggy operators, including driving under the influence. Such an incident happened in Indiana County in 2016, when an Amish teen faced a DUI charge for driving a buggy while drunk.