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BUGGY SAFETY

I turned off my headlights and passed the horse-drawn buggy. The Amish occupants of their 18th century vessel and me and my 20th century automobile passed in opposite directions like silent ships in the night under the starlit sky.. After years of traveling to Elizabeth's and unintentionally blinding buggies with my high-beam headlights, I thought I would be extra-considerate and turn off my lights completely as I passed the buggy. Instead, the next Amish community church gathering was filled with gossip about a dangerous stranger turning off his lights as he passed buggies. So much for being considerate!

I've passed many Amish buggies which gently travel the gravel roads that criss-cross Indiana's Pennsylvania Dutch country. As suburban sprawl creeps into areas that were once traditionally Amish, an increasing number of accidents are occurring between cars and buggies. A car colliding into a horse-drawn buggy is like a sledgehammer going into a house of cards. Buggy occupants face certain death from a direct automobile hit.

The most obvious tip to sharing the roads with Amish travelers is to GO SLOW. This holds true at all times of day, but especially at night when the buggies - illuminated only by small reflectors - can be extremely difficult to see. So another common-sense tip is to stay alert. I've turned my attention to tuning my car radio for just a second only to look up and see my car approaching the back of a buggy. While driving at night in Amish country, I now keep my eyes pasted to the road at all times.

While you shouldn't turn off your headlights completely when you pass a buggy, do dim your lights to their lowest beams. Bright lights can spook the horses and be very annoying to the people inside the carriage. An Amish man by the name of David Zehr residing in the Reading, Michigan area once told me that he and his family were virtually blinded by the high-beams.

Dry weather can turn many of the gravel roads in Amish country into a dust bowl. Slow down so you don't kick up a dust storm for the buggy occupants.

Some communities with large Amish populations are adding "buggy lanes" in the shoulders of roads. This allows cars and buggies to share space on the road, while lowering collision risk. Other states are requiring buggies to equip themselves with battery-powered headlights for better visibility at night.

These measures help, but most accidents could be prevented with just a little common-sense. The best tips for sharing roads with buggies are simple - like the Amish way of life - be alert, drive slow, and be considerate.

COMING SOON: An extensive updated "Ask Elizabeth" section, with many, many reader questions answered by Elizabeth.


Kevin Williams
Executive Editor
Oasis Newsfeatures