Crashes between cars, horses a concern in U.S. Amish country

Sat Dec 7, 2013 7:13am EST
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By Daniel Kelley

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - When a horse owned by an Amish family ran out onto a highway in rural Pennsylvania and collided with the van Amanda Mattern was riding in over the Labor Day weekend, the 37-year-old's injuries left her in a coma.

Unusual as that may sound for 21st-century America, that kind of accident is not uncommon in rural Lancaster County, about 80 miles west of Philadelphia in the heart of the Keystone State's Amish country, where horses and covered black buggies are a common sight and a challenge for traffic officials to manage.

"Eventually, if you live in Lancaster County, you are going to have a close encounter with a horse and buggy," said Jason McClune, Mattern's brother and the transportation director for the Solanco School District in Quarryville, Pennsylvania.

McClune is one of a handful of traffic officials in states with high concentrations of Amish seeking legislation to reduce the risk of horse, buggy and motor vehicle mishaps, such as a minimum age for buggy drivers. Since his sister's accident, he has been pushing state officials to consider new steps.

In the past 18 months, two of the district's buses have been involved in accidents with Amish vehicles - and McClune's wife was involved in another collision with a horse-drawn vehicle, he said.

The descendants of 18th-Century German immigrants who practice the Amish and Old Order Mennonite religions are concentrated in rural sections of Pennsylvania and Ohio, where they live in tight-knit communities and eschew much modern technologies, including automobiles and most electronic devices.

Transportation planners and engineers in Amish country have already adopted a range of techniques to help motorized and horse-drawn vehicles share roads more safely, including widening shoulders, adding some dedicated buggy paths, and in Pennsylvania issuing a driver's manual for buggy drivers that mirrors the one for motorists.

"It's the only manual of its kind that we know of," said Barbara Zortman, of the Center for Traffic Safety, a Pennsylvania-based organization that helped write the manual. "It's gone to Canada, Germany, across the entire country. This is also in the hands of high school driver education teachers."   Continued...

An Amish horse and buggy travels on a road in Bart Township, Pennsylvania December 1, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Makela