More than 20,000 Amish live in Elkhart and Lagrange Counties in Indiana, and that makes driving in the area different from driving in other communities. The Amish have a distinct way of life, and most do not drive motorized cars, trucks, and farm equipment. Instead, they use horses to pull their carts, buggies, and farm equipment.
In Indiana, horse-drawn vehicles have the same rights and responsibilities as any other vehicle, but the very nature of these horse-drawn vehicles puts them at risk for serious accidents with motor vehicles. The following types of accidents appear frequently in the news:
- Rear-end accidents that occur when a motor vehicle crashes into the back of a horse-drawn buggy
- Passing accidents that happen when a motor vehicle attempts to pass and hits a buggy just as begins to turn left
- Intersection accidents that occur when a buggy is struck by a motor vehicle as it enters an intersection from a driveway or local road
- Left-turn accidents that occur when a motor vehicle strikes a buggy that is making a left turn into a driveway or local road
Indiana Lawmakers Grapple With Horse and Buggy Law Reforms
In 2015, 20 crashes involving horse-drawn vehicles occurred in Elkhart County alone. Many of these accidents were severe, and some were fatal. Buggy occupants do not have seat belts, air bags, or a solid frame to keep them safe in a crash. In fact, they are often ejected from their vehicles when they collide with a car or truck.
Indiana lawmakers have wrestled with the idea of reforming horse and buggy laws to help prevent buggy accidents. Because Amish children regularly drive horse-drawn vehicles, some believe that a minimum driving age should be established. Others believe a driving skills test might help prevent accidents. But most are hesitant about imposing on the Amish way of life, so horse and buggy laws remain untouched for now.
Top Reasons for Horse-Drawn Vehicle Accidents
Understanding why buggy accidents occur can help prevent accidents and save lives. Buggy accidents occur for the following general reasons:
- Speed Differences. Horse-drawn vehicles travel much more slowly than motorized traffic, and it can be difficult for motorists to judge the speed. A motorist may underestimate the time it takes to overtake a buggy, and close in on it too quickly. A buggy driver may have a similar problem, misjudging the speed required to safely enter an intersection or make a left turn.
- Risky and Careless Behavior. Motorists may be impatient with horse-drawn carriages and drive aggressively or try to pass a buggy when it is not safe to do so. They may also speed, drive while distracted, or drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Buggy drivers, on the other hand, may also engage in risky behavior, ignoring traffic signs and signals to beat traffic or to avoid waiting at a red light with an impatient horse.
- Miscommunication. Buggy drivers may fail to signal their intention to turn or stop, and even when they do signal, motorists may miss the gesture.
Education Promotes Understanding and Prevents Buggy Crashes
Education is key to preventing accidents. Steve Nolt, a professor of history at Goshen College who has been involved in the Elkhart County Amish population for many years, recommends that all drivers become more educated about horse and buggy issues and that Amish schools consider teaching buggy safety at a young age instead of waiting until children are in their teens.
In the spirit of cooperation and education, the Elkhart County Sherriff’s department worked with members of the Amish community and various safety organizations to publish a Horse and Buggy Driver’s Manual, aimed at helping Amish drivers stay safe on Indiana roads. This manual is also useful for motor vehicle drivers who share the road with horse-drawn vehicles.
In addition, motor vehicle drivers may want to keep the following in mind when driving in areas frequented by Amish buggy drivers:
- Approach buggies slowly because it can be difficult to gauge their speed.
- Remember that horse-drawn vehicles have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles on Indiana roads, and they are not required to pull over or move to the shoulder when a car approaches.
- Maintain a safe following distance.
- Watch closely for hand signals that show the buggy’s intention to slow down or make a turn.
- Be patient, and allow a little extra time to get to your destination.
Have you been harmed in an accident involving a horse, cart, or buggy in Indiana? Contact us today to speak with an injury attorney about your case.